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FLEXO Magazine : June 2008
PLANTS & PROCESSES fII ... : Printers & Questions Retort Packaging By Christian R. Bonawandt Market studies on flexible packaging, specijically those that include information on pouches, often claim massive gains over metal con- tainers, particularly retort packaging. While these reports have been saying such things for more than a decade, store shelves continue to be stockedfull of canned products. It seems that retort pouches just aren't digging in like the experts claim. What's worse, those few retort pack- ages that are popping up are almost always printed gravure. Brian Votaw, vice president of sales and marketing, Master Packaging, Tampa, FL, has had a lot of experience with retort pouches in his 22-year career. He worked in lamination, as well as with the military's Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) program and its wide usage of packaging, including retort. He took afew moments to speak to FLEXO and offered an "in the trenches" perspective of this unique sub- segment of flexible packaging. Retort is often predicted to have large, double-digit growth, taking share away from cans. But trends from year to year rarely seem to shown that. Do you agree with this statement, and why? I do agree with that. To some degree, it's been a lot of wishful thinking. The products lend themselves to ease of use and are very unique and useful. But it's like trying to move a SOO-pound stone. While there are a lot of really useful applications in the market, you're trying to take from a well-established package, which is the can. It's proving to be a difficult process for people to move away from. I thought all along that it was a long shot, and that it would happen over a period of time, but not at the speed they are projecting. What would you consider a more realistic rate of growth? Every year you get two or three more products that pop up that introduce a new food product in a pouch technology. Realistically, you are looking at modest growth of 5 to 8 percent. You've got a lot of factors working against those products. Barriers to entry into retortable flexible packaging are substantial. What are some of those barriers? The capital investment to start doing retort is significant. The expertise on staff is also an issue. Going into a retort product in- troduces a whole new set of issues regarding protecting the prod- uct, requirement for the retort itself. Right now, retort is largely handled by the few people who have made that investment and are already producing retortable pouches. Flexo tends to be the preferred process for flexible packaging, but not for retort, which is largely gravure. Why is that? - Mainly, it is an ink limitation. The inks used in gravure for retort are vinyl-based. Only recently has a suitable flexo ink sys- tem been developed for this market. Some other factors are that its foil-based, and some converters don't have the equipment to handle that material. Also, converting a retort pouch requires a level of quality assurance that many small to mid-sized flexo con- verters do not undertake. What does flexo have to do to grab more of this market share? You have to get more flexo printers to jump in the pool. Go out there and look at some applications and start getting some prod- uct in the field. Get comfortable with the fact that, flexographical- ly, you can put out a good, reliable and consistent product. Right now, when people think retort they think gravure, and it's going to be tough to change that. Is this a market segment that flexographers should try to break into? It's a value-added market that converters ought to consider. It's hard right now to find good value-added products. This could help you carve out a niche and is a more profitable business ven- ture than some other commodity types out there. . JUNE 2008 www.f I exog ra p hy.o rg FLEXO