A fresh experience sealed with confidence

Whilst caps and closures are often the last part of the food manufacturing and packaging process, it marks the beginning of the consumer experience with the product. Moreover, these solutions are integral in ensuring food safety and product integrity of the product throughout its shelf life. Food & Beverage Asia speaks with Astrid Hoffmann-Leist, chief marketing and innovation officer, business director Asia-Pacific, United Caps, on the company’s latest innovation breakthrough, and the balance between sustainability and product safety.

Astrid Hoffmann-Leist, chief marketing and innovation officer, business director Asia-Pacific, United Caps

What are some of the most widely-adopted capping and closure solutions for food and beverage applications in Asia-Pacific, and why are they particularly so?

Astrid Hoffmann-Leist: In the area of infant nutrition, demand has focused on assuring the integrated of the contents from naturally occurring threats like ants, and more malevolent factors like people seeking to interfere with the contents. This drove us to develop our 127 SAFE-TE closure, which was recognised as “Most Welcomed Packaging Solution of the Year” by Duxes in 2019 for a good reason.

Not only does the 127 SAFE-TE closure address concerns about product purity, it includes effective security solutions and a more premium look, both of which are important to consumers in the Asian market.

The new SAFE-TE line takes United Caps offerings for infant nutrition products to the next level, addressing the need in the Asian market for increased tamper evidence (TE) indicators and a more premium look. Like the PROTECSCOOP, SAFE-TE is a flip-top hinged closure whose innovative design allows easy preparation of infant feeding bottles, for left- or right-handed individuals.

127 SAFE-TE’s tamper-evident presents highly visible evidence of any tampering with a ‘drop down’ lock that makes it obvious if the product has been opened. Thanks to the new Flexband, it is literally impossible for a malevolent actor to remove the closure, tamper with the contents, and return the closure to its original condition. United Caps’ award-winning anti-counterfeiting solutions add even greater levels of reassurance.

127 SAFE-TE’s contamination-free foil-sealed chamber protects the included scoop until use, and an integrated hook keeps the scoop handy for further use. SAFE-TE is offered in the standard blue, green and white United Caps colours, plus a premium gold, which offers the overall look of higher quality and standout shelf appearance that is a growing requirement in Asian markets. Advanced in-mould labelling (IML) options further enhance opportunities for brands to differentiate themselves with a large area for IML or engraving.

United Caps’ 127 SAFE-TE closure

We’ve seen huge interest in our Everything You Need, Nothing You Don’t range of edible oil and vinegar closures in the Asia-Pacific region, too.

Caps and closures in the edible oils and vinegars portfolio are available in a wide variety of colours for on-shelf standout and a premium look with optional tamper evident and tear-off membrane security features. The portfolio contains closures that flip, click, switch and flow. It offers a variety of exemplified by a range with maximum and minimum pour options. The edible oils portfolio includes the new United Caps 26 family of user-friendly, lightweight closures designed to enable brands to maximise weight-saving potential without impacting the end-consumer experience. These caps are the lightest products in our edible oils portfolio, weighing in at less than 1g.

Caps and closures in the edible oils and vinegars portfolio contains closures that flip, click, switch and flow

What other capping and closure trends do you see taking place in other regions that will have a sustained impact in Asia-Pacific? Can you also elaborate on the strategies you have developed for United Caps in building on its growth in this region?

Hoffmann-Leist: At United Caps, we talk a lot about differentiating total packaging solutions. Our closures are the gateway to the product they protect and the beginning of the customer experience with the product. Plus, closures enable unique branding concepts, and are a critical part of the total packaging solution for the brand. The trend is very much towards closure that enhance the overall packing concept to deliver on-shelf standout.

Our business is split 50-50 between off-the-shelf closures and bespoke developments. This is because brands see design and functionality of closures as having the ability to power their brand differentiation strategies.

Other macro-trends converge around sustainability and security. We see lightweight closures and bio-based ISCC+ certified resins gaining popularity. Studies have shown us that the appetite in Asia for closures that both differentiate today and sustain tomorrow will grow.

What are some of the capping challenges operators face today, and how is United Caps helping them to address these issues?

Hoffmann-Leist: Worldwide, capping operators want to minimise potential changes to existing capping and filling lines. This is especially important for infant nutrition manufacturers, for whom extensive changes can be very expensive and time consuming. United Caps has over 80 years of experience working with plastics. We know how to deliver, and recognise the importance of delivering products that perform both on the line and in the hand.

Other challenges include managing light weights, speed on the line, and reliability. At United Caps, we believe We’re Better United; and by that, we don’t just mean making great products. It also means that we recognise the value of working with the entire supply chain to deliver better performance. It is that holistic approach to meeting challenges that helps address those issues.

KINDCAP is an environmentally-friendly snap cap for infant milk powder cans

How does functionality impact the operator’s choice of capping and closure material, and how will these factors ultimately help portray a positive product image to consumers?

Hoffmann-Leist: Not just functionality, but sustainability, too. Because we have knowledge to make bio-based closures that perform at the same levels as traditional materials, the discussion about choice of material also involves how it performs for the planet. This was why we introduced our Define Your Circle initiative.

Our goal with Define Your Circle is to provide our customers a tool to make informed choices in consideration of their environmental impact, compare our products with each other, and with competitive products to reach the most sustainable solution possible.

Instead of depending on the complexities of a full lifecycle assessment (LCA), we have chosen to leverage one of the industry’s largest LCA databases, GaBi, which is constantly updated as new technology and new insights come to the fore.

As part of this holistic approach, Define Your Circle allows customers to analyse the environmental footprint of caps, closures, and the containers they are used with, making better decisions about many aspects of product manufacture and distribution. It is important to recognise the complexities that surround making the right sustainability choices. United Caps have adopted an approach that places an emphasis on data-driven transparency to aid decision making.

With greater consumer awareness on sustainability and reducing plastic usage, how will tethered closures contribute to a circular economy? And in your opinion, will tethered caps set plastic waste free?

Hoffmann-Leist: Tethering closures are important for the beverage sector, no doubt. It might sound an obvious point to make, but plastic is only single use when it is separated and disposed of in an uncontrolled manner. Therefore, keeping more of the plastic intact gives us more plastic to recycle. That is how they can help contribute to a circular economy.

Plastic is an important material; it is highly resistant to aggressive environments and to most chemicals. It does not corrode and is stainless. It has a long lifespan. It is hardwearing and easy to look after. It is a material that has shaped innovation in the 20th and 21st centuries. But we all, as a human race, have to be more responsible in the disposal of it.

Work needs to be done to make plastic too valuable to waste, whether that is through recycling schemes or other such initiatives. That is why we are behind the tethered closures regulations. But equally, we recognise it as only part of the equation that will drive a truly circular economy for plastic.

This article was published in Food & Beverage Asia April/May 2021 issue.