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The plastic dispensing closure is one of the fastest growing closures in the packaged food industry with a CAGR of 3% over 2015-2020. In 2015, 20.5 billion units of food packaging with plastic dispensing closures were sold worldwide, with a forecast to grow by a further 3.7 billion units by 2020. Although the volume growth for plastic dispensing closures comes from established categories as table sauces and oils and fats, it is baby food products, especially powder milk formula that is more recently contributing to growth. Apart from the convenience of having the closure attached to the packaging, there are two solid factors driving this growth: parents’ rising concern over the hygiene and safety of their babies’ food, and brands adding functionality through closures in an attempt to capitalise on this trend and position themselves as the safest option.

China’s need for quality assurance in baby food to support plastic closure innovation

Baby food is one the fastest growing categories for food packaging with a forecast CAGR of 5% and a volume growth of five billion units from 2015 to 2020. China, which already holds the lion’s share of the global baby food packaging after Russia, is expected to contribute 47% of the global babyfood volume growth over 2015-2020.

In 2010, only 43% of the baby food sold in China came in packaging fitted with a closure, however by 2020 this number is set to rise to 55% as consumers increasingly shift from products in folding carton and flexible plastic to resealable ones in metal tins with plastic overcaps and composite containers with plastic dispensing closures. Aside from external environmental factors such as rising purchasing power, dual-income parents and the relaxation of the country’s one child policy, it is internal factors such as baby food safety concerns that is driving this steep growth and the change in consumer choices in China.

Despite the implementation of stricter quality control for baby food since the 2008 scandal of melamine-tainted milk formula caused by local Chinese producers, 2015 still saw cases of product recalls, namely affecting three producers from the central Shaanxi province. Subsequently, such events led Chinese consumers to be suspicious of local brands and turn to foreign-owned brands such as Nestlé and Danone, which they trust to be of quality and safe. However, as domestic companies increasingly rely on imported milk powder, notably through joint-ventures such as that between Huishan and Dutch-based Royal FrieslandCampina, consumers are expected to regain trust on these brands’ product quality standards. This, in turn, is likely to increase competition, forcing foreign brands to reposition themselves as the safest options in ways beyond the product content, for instance, through packaging.

Western brands count on plastic dispensing innovation to support safety in baby food

In order to capitalise on consumers’ concern for safety in baby food, brand and packaging manufacturers alike have started to invest in designing innovative closures that are not only functional but safe.

In the summer of 2016, Aptamil (Danone) launched in Western Europe a new and enhanced version of its standard fortified functional powder milk formula, the Aptamil Profutura™ (picture below). Besides the additional ingredients in the Profutura range, the packaging – the SAFEBOX – is another key selling point created to win over concerned parents. The 800g thin wall plastic container has a lockable plastic dispensing closure with a tamper-evident seal and an inner foil that prevents counterfeits and contamination after the first use. The scoop, kept outside of the foil to avoid contaminating the contents during production, is attached to the top of the lid. It also has a placeholder in the corner to rest the scoop for when parents are preparing the formula. Additionally, United Caps, a closure manufacturer, has developed Protecscoop™ (picture below) – a composite container that also comes with a lockable plastic dispensing closure, an inner ring pull-style peel-off foil and an integrated scoop outside the foil. However, what sets this apart from the SAFEBOX is, as the name suggests, the scoop protection. The scoop, which is kept in a moulded placeholder in the upper part of the plastic dispensing cap, is covered with a peel-off lid that guarantees that the parent was the first to touch it, thus providing them with the extra safety assurance.

To conclude, despite growing from a lower base, plastic dispensing closures is likely to be a key closure for baby food brands wanting to emphasise their product quality standards. Although such innovations are being seen primarily in developed regions, opportunities lie in emerging countries such as China, India and Turkey, the income and baby populations of which are increasing and most importantly, have recently encountered safety issues with their baby food products. Furthermore, as consumers’ food safety concerns expand beyond baby food, safety-driven closure innovation is expected to be key for plastic dispensing growth in other packaged food categories.

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