Unintended Consequences of a Clean Label: Understanding and Managing the Impact on Packaging

Anyone who’s worked in packaging long enough knows that while the package is the most visible component on the shelf, it is often overlooked during new product development and product reformulation.

As consumers demand cleaner labels, food products are changing. CPG’s are busy reformulating their products to remove preservatives and additives and switch from artificial ingredients to natural ones.  While the goal is to offer consumers a healthier version of the products they love, they may forget that the package may also need to change.

At DuPont, we have spent countless hours evaluating the complex interaction of variables that determine good film performance in applications like dry foods, processed meat and fresh meat.  Each food product offers unique challenges for the film.

Here you’ll find three examples that highlight potential packaging consequences:

  • Shelf Life Implications - Eliminating preservatives may make the product more sensitive to oxidation.  A package that formerly provided only moisture barrier, such as (HDPE-EVA), may now require a layer of nylon or EVOH to control oxygen ingress.  A simple 2 or 3-layer structure now becomes a more complex 5 (or more) layer structure with tie resins included.
  • Abrasion/Puncture Resistance – Food products made with natural grains such as whole wheat and oats may be more abrasive than their more refined versions.  This can be compounded by the presence of food oils that may swell and soften the polymer that makes up the package.  The result may be more package failures during handling and transportation.  Surlyn® ionomer resins from DuPont have outstanding abrasion and oil resistance that may prevent these failures.
  • New Pasteurization Techniques – High pressure processing (HPP) is catching on as a cleaner way to extend shelf life.   HPP uses high pressure water to inactivate pathogens without heat, chemicals and additives.  Not just for clean label, it has found its way into many mainstream food and beverage applications.  As the shelf life is extended, other mechanisms may start to become limiting factors, such as oxidation.  The package may need to be redesigned for light and oxygen barrier to fully take advantage of this technology.

Addressing the Consequences - Optimizing film structures

Our approach to optimizing film structures is based on both our engineering and experimental capabilities.

Engineering Approach

DuPont experts have created an extensive set of predictive modeling tools based on both academic understanding and extensive real-world experience.  Using modeling as a first step in the design process saves time and cost by taking the guesswork out of understanding how changes will affect film performance.

While performance is important, we also recognize that cost is a key driver.  Our tools are focused on optimizing packaging to meet performance AND cost targets.  The table below highlights a few of our modeling tools.  

Modeling Tools
Modeling Tools Model Description & Advantages
Sealant Selector Tool
  • Identifies best sealant for specific conditions
  • Output ranks expected performance of sealants based on user's input of important attributes
Bending Stiffness
  • Calculates bending stiffness of multi-layer film structures
  • Supports structure design that optimizes resin usage (downgauging/cost reduction) without loss of stiffness and package integrity
Permeability Calculator
  • Calculates the oxygen and moisture permeation of multi-layer packages - useful for designing barrier films for enhanced shelf life
  • Takes into account relative humidty to achieve the permeation targets by varying the layer composition and thickness

These tools offer a way to streamline the development process and ensure that only the most likely candidates are produced and tested.  We can help you evaluate multiple film structures to solve a current packaging dilemma or narrow the options for a new application.

Experimental Capabilities

Once the candidates have been narrowed, DuPont is uniquely positioned to help produce and test the remaining film structures.  Our technical team has lots of experience using Design for experiments (DOE) and can help construct a plan that will fairly consider all of the key variables.

Our film production lab includes:

  • A 9-layer blown film line
  • An extrusion /coextrusion coating line (one to five layers)
  • A cast film (one to five layers)
  • A sheet line (one to five layers)

Once the film candidates have been produced, our in-house testing laboratories can perform tests to identify the best candidates for real life tests like shelf life and distribution testing.

Physical Testing:

  • Sealability: Including seal strength, hot tack and seal through contaminants
  • Optical properties: Including transparency, haze, and gloss
  • Physical properties: Including flex testing, tensile, melt index, impact, puncture resistance, tear resistance, hardness, abrasion, interlayer adhesion, COF (Coefficient of Friction), and weatherometers

Barrier Testing:

  • Permeability: Including H2O, O2, CO2, and hydrocarbons
  • Structures: Film, substrate, and containers
  • Sensory testing: Including helium leak and head space

End-Use Packaging Equipment

To complete the packaging development process, full-scale packaging equipment is used to create packaging prototypes in real-life packaging line situations, testing for shelf life, extreme cold, heat, and humidity.

If your team could benefit from design support from the DuPont packaging team, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.