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Premium Ingredients Raise the Bar for Pet Food Packaging

Pet owners increasingly want their pets to eat as well as they do. Some of the hottest trends in pet food include gluten-free and grain-free options, sustainable sourcing and premium gourmet ingredients that wouldn’t be out of place on a fine-dining menu.

This creates an interesting quandary for manufacturers of pet foods. Dry pet food hasn’t traditionally been a demanding product to package, with many brands coming in a simple paper bag. That remains a viable option for mass-market commodity kibble, but any manufacturer expanding into the premium pet foods market will need to learn a whole new vocabulary, centered around high-barrier packaging.

Packaging and Pet Food Shelf Life

Higher quality pet foods made with human-grade ingredients require a different approach to packaging. These premium products are typically higher in fats and meat content than conventional kibble, with lower percentages of inert, shelf-stable ingredients such as grains and soy. The net effect is that these products are more perishable than their mainstream competitors.

To put it another way, human-grade ingredients demand human-grade packaging.

Much of the difficulty with these newer, higher-quality ingredients is in the way they react with oxygen. Oxygen is a vital part of the earth’s atmosphere, but it’s also one of the most highly reactive elements. When it interacts with volatile molecules in your pet food–most noticeably, lipids–it can cause rancidity, off flavors, spoilage and loss of both quality and nutrition.

There are a couple of different approaches to this problem. One is adding antioxidants to the pet food itself, which works but can involve a lot of trial and error to get right. Another solution is to choose packaging that places an effective barrier between your pet food and the oxygen that can degrade its quality. Flexible packaging does this by layering films that tightly control the flow of oxygen, which is represented by a figure called the Oxygen Transfer Rate, or OTR. OTR measures the volume of oxygen (in cubic centimeters) that can pass through a given area of film (either 1 square meter or 100 square inches) in a 24-hour period.

High-barrier films permit very little oxygen to permeate, and they provide maximum protection for your pet foods. These are ideal for foods that need extended shelf life. You can push that shelf life even further by vacuum-sealing the bag, extracting as much air as possible, or by replacing the air in the bag with nitrogen or a mixture of neutral gases (Modified Atmosphere Packaging).

For products composed of less-demanding ingredients, or those that sell more quickly, making shelf life less of an issue, medium-barrier packaging may be a perfectly acceptable option. Medium-barrier films allow a modest amount of oxygen transfer, suitable for quick-turnover products and pet foods or snacks with lower fat content.

Sustainability and Pet Food Packaging

A second, related change in consumers’ attitude to pet food is driven by environmental concerns. Shoppers who demand ethically, sustainably or organically sourced ingredients in their own foods expect their pets’ diets to meet the same standards.

For decades, pet foods were a dumping ground for slaughterhouse trimmings and other by-products that couldn’t be used in human food. For a significant percentage of modern consumers, that’s not good enough anymore. They want their pets to eat well and to enjoy healthy, high-quality foods that meet high standards of ethical production.

It’s easy to argue that these customers anthropomorphize, but that’s immaterial if creating a saleable product requires artisanal ingredients together with feel-good messages about how those ingredients are sourced. The product itself shouldn’t be too great a stretch: meeting such expectations with an up-market product is probably just an extension of what you’ve always done if you’re a long-time pet food producer. And if you’re an artisanal start-up, this may be the whole reason for your existence.

But settling on suitable packaging to showcase your product while reinforcing your message of quality and sustainability is a different matter entirely. That calls for a level of expertise you may not have in-house. The engineers of Flair’s process management team can help you determine which combination of barrier and structure will keep your products most fresh.

A second question is how well the packaging itself supports your brand message. Will sustainability-oriented buyers embrace the high-quality flexible packaging required for these premium foods? Flexible packaging is lighter and uses less material than plastic tubs or metal cans, so it’s innately low-waste, but eco-conscious consumers may find it hard subjectively to opt for polymers over a familiar, easily composted paper bag.

Flair’s recently introduced ENVi™ line of recyclable flexible packaging provides a superior option if your buyers are especially eco-sensitive, or if you wish to offer the most environmentally friendly packaging possible as a matter of principle. Whether you choose ENVi™ from conviction or pragmatism, it’s another way to differentiate your product from competitors.

Empty pouches are approved for in-store drop-off where this is offered and are clearly labeled as such under the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s How2Recycle® program. The SPC’s labeling is a substantial upgrade of the old three-arrow recycling symbol, which simply announced the packaging was recyclable. The new labeling provides instructions on how to recycle.

Look and Feel are Important as Well

Selecting packaging that works for your product and your customers is still only part of the equation. That packaging is also part of selling your product and your brand and can help you stand out on a shelf filled with competitive products.

Customers expect convenience. Your packaging should give it to them. A package should be easy to open, for example, with a tear notch and film that tears properly. A good-quality zipper closure, one that stays closed in the pantry but opens easily when pulled, can help preserve product freshness after it’s opened.

The packaging should also tell your brand story, both explicitly and implicitly. The text tells the verbal part of your story: maybe you grow your own ingredients on the family farm, or have a staff veterinarian who signs off on the nutritional value of your unique formulas. The implicit part of your branding story comes from the overall visual design of the package, from the images and fonts to your choice of color.

Flair Packaging will guide you through the entire process, from design to execution. The in-house design and Brand Color Management team provide the expertise you need to maximize your product’s visual impact, while Flair’s rotogravure printing process ensures crisp, perfect and–crucially–consistent reproductions of your design.

Contact Flair Packaging today to learn how our expertise and extensive custom and stock packaging options can elevate your pet food products to the next level of polish and competitiveness.


Pet Food Industry:

Pet Food Processing: Best of Both - The Importance of Form and Function in Pet Food Packaging

Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry: Selected Quality Properties of Lipid Fraction and Oxidative Stability of Dry Dog Foods Under Typical Storage Conditions; Karolina Holda, Robert Glogowski

Pet Food Processing: The Balancing Act of Extending Shelf Life

Flair Packaging: Oxygen Transfer Rate (OTR)

Generon: What is Modified Atmosphere Packaging and How Does it Work?

Flair Packaging: Process Management at Flair Flexible Packaging

Flair Packaging: Sustainable Packaging Solutions: Recyclable Multi-Layer Pouch

Flair Packaging: New ENVi™ Pouches Bring Recyclability to Flexible Packaging

How2Recycle: A Cleaner World Starts with Us

Flair Packaging: Artwork Management at Flair Flexible Packaging

Flair Packaging: Print Management at Flair Flexible Packaging