October 8, 2020

PET Multi-Layer Technology: attractive, sustainable and uniquely innovative for shelf stable dairy products

Find out why the shift in focus to PET packaging as “the” solution for liquid-dairy products stemmed from its ability to perform better in terms of shelf stability.

We’ve all heard our grandparents talk about him or seen him depicted in a quaint 1950s family sitcom: the milkman. A few mornings per week, the friendly dairy driver delivered a bottle or two of milk, which mom retrieved as she made the family breakfast. The glass bottles and delivery system served liquid-dairy consumers well at a time when milk was basically used for morning cereal, a splash in coffee, and for cooking and baking. Consumption was minimal, especially as children moved out of their childhood homes. Through the later 1900s a few changes were in order—the milkman disappeared, replaced by liquid-dairy products in half- and one-gallon plastic bottles and paper cartons on store shelves—mainly driven by the advent of an “on the go” society and the decreasing number of stay-at-home parents. With no time to return glass bottles and a growing need for a person to be able to pick up a gallon of milk whenever needed, the in-store plastic and carton options were a welcome evolution. But still, milk was milk—whole, skim, 1%—the options weren’t many, nor was anyone looking for them.

Packaging and delivery for liquid-dairy products remained status quo for decades. It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when suddenly, decades of the National Dairy Board’s “Milk. It does a body good.” campaign really took hold on millions of consumers—from moms to athletes to body builders to your average health-conscious individuals of all ages—caused demand for liquid-dairy products to skyrocket. Manufacturers and brands were right there, driving further demand with a broad and deep product line diversified by flavor offerings, vitamin enrichment and everything in between. Consequently, liquid-dairy products broke out of the “cereal and coffee” mold, and today we see them dominantly secured in their position alongside a full range of products in the beverage and health food categories—located in traditional supermarkets, convenience stores and even vending machines.

All of this history offers important insights as we consider the evolution of today’s liquid-dairy products’ role and value in modern society. While the products and demand have evolved considerably, until recently one of the greatest challenges for dairies, manufacturers and brands looking to meet the demand—as well as profit from it—was the fact that packaging options remained stagnant. This offered tremendous opportunity for PET packaging researchers, developers and manufacturers to innovate solutions focused specifically on meeting the demands centered around providing greater convenience, more options for grab-and-go lifestyles, more eco-friendly attributes and longer shelf stability for liquid-dairy products.

Husky Injection Molding Systems saw that early adopters of PET packaging solutions in the liquid-dairy arena became increasingly open to using technology similar to what was being used for packaging of other non-alcoholic beverages. And with good reason: over the past 10 years, PET packaging for non-alcoholic beverages has experienced an annual growth rate of 6%, which is 3% higher than any other package type. Further, the use of PET packaging for liquid-dairy products is forecast to grow by 4.4% through 2020.

Without a doubt, the shift in focus to PET packaging as “the” solution for liquid-dairy products stemmed from its ability to perform better in terms of shelf stability. PET’s innovation of the next-generation, multi-layer barrier solutions provides light-blocking properties, which means products are fully protected and have an extended shelf life. More and more, consumers are gravitating toward what personally “speaks to them” in terms of how it looks, how it makes them look, how it fits their lifestyle and how well it supports their environmental mission. As a result, liquid-dairy brands, as well as the wholesalers and retailers who bring them to market, are turning to PET packaging to provide options and flexibility that help them stand out from the competition because their products meet the most criteria for the greatest number of consumers.

Providing the right products in the right beverage packaging is not an easy task—consumer tastes are extremely varied and constantly changing. However, there are several consumer trends that are keeping companies like Husky ahead of the curve in terms of the solutions being offered in the liquid-dairy industry. In turn, a look at these trends can also provide everyone—from dairy farmers to flavor innovators, from top-tier niche product brands to no-frills brands, and from huge retail outlets to mom-and-pop shops—with powerful foundations for success in the liquid-dairy arena through 2020 and beyond.


Trend #1: Consumption of shelf-stable milk is growing.

The number of health-conscious consumers is growing, and they are increasingly seeking fresh and all-natural products in protective beverage packaging, such as those being delivered by the liquid-dairy industry. In fact, ultra-high temperature (UHT), shelf-stable milk is witnessing strong growth in mature and emerging markets worldwide. In addition to the overall trend toward healthier living, this growth is being driven by accelerated rates of urbanization, rising incomes, and an increased demand for portable, on-the-go and nutritious beverage options. We also factor in that UHT dairy products have a longer shelf life and that larger quantities can be stored unrefrigerated until they are opened—adding to the cost savings, eco-friendliness and convenience. These attributes also make UHT products more attractive to manufacturers, who save on cold-chain cooling and energy costs, as well as retailers, who can display UHT near, but not necessarily in, the dairy case.

The elevated demand for UHT milk has driven an elevated focus on high-quality production and maintaining integrity and safety of the product right up until the end user consumes it. Until PET multi-layer barrier solutions became available, dairy companies were limited to relying on non-recyclable, gable-topped cartons containing an internal aluminum sleeve. But today, PET bottles are optimizing UHT milk quality and shelf life. In fact, with the capability to produce PET preforms and packages in three layers and to precisely dose barrier content, Husky Multi-Layer Technology blocks 99.9% of light. For global and regional liquid-dairy companies, this breakthrough development is delivering a competitive edge through the combination of product quality and innovative packaging, which we will dive deeper into below. Some of the top UHT milk brands now leveraging Husky Multi-Layer Technology in PET bottles include the multi-national Lactalis Group (Parmalat and Elege milk brands), Granarolo (second-largest dairy company in Italy), Jussara (a leading dairy brand in Brazil) and Yili (largest dairy producer in China).


Trend #2: Looks can mean everything.

Long gone are the days when consumers saw two basic distinctions on the shelf: the colorfully packaged name brand and the black-label no-name brand. The decision was easy. Today’s consumers are bombarded with choices in every category, from pancake mix to sparkling water, and more often than not it’s the uniqueness of the packaging that will grab their attention. Even if they have a preferred brand, a package that offers something special in terms of branding, shape, ease of use, portability/convenience or all of the above can quickly disrupt a consumer’s thought process. Moreover, the packaging alone can trump the quality of what’s inside it.

Enter PET packaging in the liquid-dairy product industry, which for years has been limited mostly to square paper cartons and white plastic bottles with very limited options in terms of design, shape or anything novel that would stop a consumer in their tracks. However, the inherent properties of PET and the design freedom offered by Husky Mono- and Multi-Layer Technology mean options are virtually endless when it comes to package size, shape, colors and designs and even “cool” closures that demand attention. All these options translate into brand distinction and a competitive edge.

Jussara is a great example of “scoring big” in a highly competitive marketplace with the creative possibilities and marketing potential of PET packaging. In a market dominated by cartons, Jussara knew the success of its new “Jussara Max” hinged on how it looked compared to everything else on the shelves. After more than a year of investigating creative, user-friendly and eco-responsible packaging options, the company turned to the flexible design possibilities of PET bottles and Husky technology to ensure product protection. With an eye-catching iconic cow and the Jussara name engraved on the attractive PET bottles, the commercial launch of Jussara Max was extremely well received by Brazilian consumers.


Trend #3. Consumers want premium packaging.

It’s not just how a product looks that matters, but how it makes a consumer look. This fact is becoming ever more important for brands as the number of city dwellers continues to increase at the rate of 65 million each year. Translation: urban populations—with their higher incomes and demand for premium products that offer a more upscale experience—make up a significant percentage of consumers. More and more consumers are reaching for packaging that not only conveys a high-quality product, but a high-end status for the person consuming it. And let’s not forget: it has to make life better and easier at the same time. All of this combines to define what consumers consider premium packaging.

There are two additional contributors to the definition of premium packaging that are worth noting—and that are becoming more and more influential. First, consumers want something that speaks to them, that is personal to the needs of where they are in that moment.

The second contributor is perception of others in that moment. A consumer grabbing a dairy product for herself and her toddler before a play date needs family-friendly packaging. However, if that consumer wants to make an impression on a date, she’ll want packaging that is edgier and bolder. A more sophisticated look will be required for a work meeting. Even with the exact same product inside, a brand’s packaging can mean everything. Moreover, consumers are showing they are willing to pay higher prices for the “right fit.”

Given this, it’s no wonder that many shelf-stable milk brands have turned to PET packaging to win market share, boost sales volume and significantly increase retail prices. Again, by its very nature and flexibility, PET offers a host of options for brands to create a distinctive, premium package for any or all of its liquid-dairy product lines. Furthermore, attributes of PET—and specifically of Husky Multi-Layer Technology—offer unique options for enhancing convenience and the distinctive closures and features that offer better grips and portability. An example of the power of a PET packaging strategy: when the Lactalis Group launched its international Parmalat brand in PET bottles with Husky Multi-Layer Technology, it experienced a 20% increase in sales volumes. Yili is another great example—while starting from an existing carton, when they added a differentiated PET option, they saw dramatic increases in sales volume and were able to increase retail prices as well.


Trend #4: Packaging must protect the planet.

Sustainable. Eco-friendly. Environmentally responsible. Green. No matter how you refer to this trend, the momentum continues to increase. The need to be environmentally mindful has permeated almost every industry—and dairy farmers, manufacturers and brands are no exception. For these three groups, having a sustainability mission is no longer just seen as “doing the right thing” or being the business-savvy thing to do. It is quickly becoming imperative for maintaining customer loyalty, attracting new consumers, being profitable and, ultimately, surviving as a business. The same holds true for suppliers like Husky—manufacturers and brands have been switching to eco-friendly choices, and the trend will continue.

Important to note is that PET plastic packaging is not the plastic milk jugs from past decades that continue to occupy landfills. In fact, PET is 100% recyclable, potentially infinitely, and has virtually zero direct impact on the environment. Moreover, it is the world’s most commonly recycled plastic, and in the U.S. more than 1.5 billion pounds of PET is collected annually for recycling, while that number is 1.69 billion pounds globally. Also, on the global front, 57% of PET beverage bottles were collected last year, and by 2029, forecasters estimate that 68% of PET bottles will be collected.

And when we speak of PET as an alternative for more common liquid-dairy products, the advantages continue to add up—PET packaging extends shelf life without the need for less eco-friendly components such as laminated paper and aluminum lining. Lastly, while being better at protecting the environment, PET also contributes to a circular economy. PET recycling is responsible for 260,000 jobs in the U.S. and Canada, and if 200,000 people recycle just one PET bottle a day, $800 million can be added to the U.S. economy alone.

For these and other reasons, Husky supports increased recyclability through innovation and by working with industry partners to develop improved materials and processes for sustainable packaging solutions. One example comes from Logoplaste in Brazil, who leverage Husky Multi-Layer Technology to precisely inject a barrier layer of recycled PET in the mid-layer of the package, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint and less strain on recycling streams. Similarly, some brands, such as Parmalat, Elege, Danone and Jussara milk brands, are realizing the benefits of employing a closed-loop cycle that typifies a self-sustaining circular economy with a well-organized and economically viable bottle-to-bottle recycling process.

These are just a few examples, and the topic of PET’s sustainability benefits is one that deserves a more in-depth look to be fully understood and appreciated. As society becomes exponentially more conscientious about doing what’s right for the planet and ensuring a thriving economy, multi-layer PET packaging for liquid-dairy products is in step, meeting the demands of consumers and the businesses that serve them.


What’s next?

We’ve come a long way from the time of milkmen going house-to-house delivering unlabeled glass milk bottles with nothing more to protect them from the morning sun than a tin box! The variety of products, labeling, branding, quantities, packaging shapes, sizes and colors that hit you when you step into the dairy aisle attest to this fact. The growing amount of shelf space occupied by these products also makes it abundantly clear that the popularity of—and demand—for a deep diversity of highly shelf-stable liquid dairy products isn’t going to decline anytime soon.

As the competitive landscape continues to be shaped by constantly evolving consumer preferences, PET packaging will also continue to evolve. The dairy industry is just getting started in leveraging the advantages of PET and addressing untapped potential—making it an exciting time for more development. All of this means that PET will continue to be the ideal partner for the liquid-dairy industry, offering greater flexibility in response to changing consumer needs as well as more attractive product portfolios tailored to the audiences and objectives of every brand and business.


Discover how Husky multi-layer capabilities and beverage expertise can add shelf life and visual appeal to help your products earn premium position and price.