Pet food packaging: Nutrition labeling, strength and protection from PFAS come top in consumer demand
15 Nov 2023 — Pet food packaging has changed over the past two decades, with the demand for a shift toward paper-based materials rather than traditional plastic options arising in the sector, according to experts. Reducing or eliminating harmful chemicals like PFAS has also targeted improved animal health conditions.
While these trends are ubiquitous in the F&B packaging sector, some key differences separate pet food packaging designs from standard food-contact grade materials.
Alexander Korolchuk, Mondi’s business development manager for PetCare Europe & Regional Sales CEE, tells Packaging Insights that “[pet food] packaging needs to be high quality with good printability, to convey the pet food in the best light. On a functional level, pet food packaging frequently prioritizes durability and resealability to maintain freshness over longer periods.”
“Pet food packaging often also comes in larger bags to accommodate pets’ needs. This reflects the distinct priorities and requirements of each target audience.”
Coveris spokesperson Eric Valette, Business Unit innovation director, also says the first main difference to F&B packaging is size. “For dry pet food, the range is between 1-20 kg. Although some dry food applications use similar size ranges (like rice, powders or snacks), it is not common for F&B packaging. Interestingly, with wet pet food, we see an opposite trend, with the most popular pouch size of 85g.”
Eric Valette, Business Unit innovation director for Coveris.Another difference is the choice of the material, he explains. “Most pet food is packed in pre-made bags rather than using form, fill, seal films. This makes the pet food market quite unique.”
Protecting pet health
As with human F&B products, concerns over chemicals used to aid the transition away from plastics, like grease-resistant materials such as PFAS, are growing among consumers who fear for their pets’ safety.
Valette explains that in the early 2000s, most pet food was packed in paper bags. Discussions started that the barrier properties of plastic packaging offered better protection against grease, vapor, oxygen, mites and odors than paper, he says.
“Currently, there is a demand to go back to paper-based solutions. However, paper products are not always able to fully satisfy product protection needs. The new paper-based solutions must also comply with future recyclability standards, like CEPI 4evergreen and the potential ban of PFAS. Coveris’ paper-based solutions already comply with these requirements and offer similar standards to plastics.”
“However, many pet food manufacturers prefer to switch to fully recyclable plastic packaging instead of paper, where Coveris has a wide range of packaging options available. We have already worked with a number of clients to support them in changing their standard bag range to fully recyclable monomaterial solutions.”
Market examples include Irish Dog Foods, C&D, Ultra Premium Direct and Demavic, Valette points out. Some customers are also considering paper packaging solutions but want to maintain the freshness and preservation of kibbles achieved with plastic packaging, he says.
Design and nutritional standards
Another key differentiator for pet food packaging is design, according to Korolchuk.
“Visual aesthetics and marketing strategies vary significantly [compared to human F&B packs], with pet food often featuring images of animals and a focus on health benefits for pets, while F&B packaging emphasizes taste appeal and nutrition for people.”
“Pet food packaging typically also includes more detailed nutritional information tailored to specific animal needs, such as protein content and ingredient sourcing, whereas F&B packaging may focus on calorie counts, allergen warnings and serving size recommendations,” he says.
An example of Coveris’ pet food packaging.This is important as proper labeling and packaging must adhere to regulatory standards for pet food, providing pet owners with accurate information about ingredients, nutrition and safety.
“Pet food packaging needs to maintain the freshness and nutritional value of pet food by protecting it from moisture, air, and light, ensuring that pets receive the best possible nutrition,” continues Korolchuk.
In recent research, 79% of pet owners in Italy said they would like to know more about the eco-footprint of different pet foods.
“This shows that, like the human food market, there is a demand for sustainable packaging for pet food. Consumers are expecting brands to deliver meaningful ethical and environmental commitments and initiatives, and we help our customers reach these goals. Aspects like recyclability, recycled content, monomaterial solutions are becoming more important,” says Korolchuk.
Valette says that Coveris has made a number of changes to answer the specific needs of the pet food market.
“To satisfy the changing size and material needs of pet food brands, we must ensure that our large MonoFlexE premade bags provide the same benefits as other structures to allow easy opening and resealing for extended freshness. We have developed our MonoFlex bags to offer a variety of reclosable systems such as top zip, top hook, and loop, front or top pocket zipper.”
The pet food market also requires long shelf life products with quite complex logistics, he explains. “Thanks to our in-house R&D capabilities, the new packaging solutions offer customers the same convenience and product protection as the standard designs while minimizing material waste.”
Korolchuk draws attention to Mondi’s RetortPouch Recyclable, which is designed for recycling according to CEFLEX guidelines and is designed for a range of food and wet pet food products.
The monomaterial packaging uses a high-barrier film that replaces aluminum, keeps temperatures high and provides short processing times during the retort process. “It protects the product, provides exceptional shelf life and reduces potential pet food waste,” he says.
Ultimately, Coveris’ Valette concludes that “when it comes to safety for animal food, pet food packaging standards are not that different from human food standards.”
“The packaging material must offer appropriate barrier properties and allow easy opening and resealing for extended freshness. Packaging should also be ‘animal-proof,’ so that our pets do not open the bags by themselves.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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