A Flexible Future: Adopting Reclosable, Flexible Pouches for Pharmaceutical Packaging

Equipment and Processing Report, PharmTech Equipment and Processing Report eNewsletter 01-20-21, Volume 14, Issue 1

Flexible packaging benefits align with challenges including an aging population, compliance requirements, e-commerce, serialization, and a need for recyclability.

Like the world around us, the pharmaceutical market is constantly evolving. Whether it be the rise of e-commerce or consumer demand for sustainable options, the pharma industry continues to push into the future. Making an emergence in the pharma market, flexible packaging with child-resistant closures brings a variety of advantages to pharmaceutical manufacturers. Flexible pouches offer a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials to meet the needs of a range of prescription medications. Additionally, flexible packaging benefits also align with challenges including an aging population, compliance requirements, e-commerce, serialization, and a need for recyclability.

Functionality as a focus

Flexible packaging offers several features that enhance the package’s ergonomic design and offer benefits to consumers. Stand-up pouches are easy to grasp and store, and with the addition of sliders, offer an easier-to-open option. Ease of opening becomes especially important for pharmaceuticals as the Baby Boomer population ages. Blister packs and rigid bottle caps can be difficult to peel back or grip to open, making medications hard to access. 

Although zippers and sliding closures are relatively new within this industry, the technology is commonplace throughout food, cleaning, and other consumer-focused markets, meaning people are already familiar with these packaging solutions. Additionally, emerging closure solutions are able to meet the packaging compliance requirements associated with the pharmaceutical industry while maintaining easy access for intended users. 

Compliance considerations

Pharmaceutical packaging is subject to a variety of regulatory requirements, which poses challenges for introducing new formats. Flexible packaging, however, has already been put to the test in the food industry, making producers well-versed and ready to comply with FDA policy.

Child-resistant closures are another major concern for pharma brands. The 1970 Poison Prevention Packaging Act, Title 16 Code of Federal Regulations 1700 (1), sets forth guidelines requiring a number of household substances to be packaged in child-resistant packaging. At the time of the legislation’s introduction, rigid packaging, such as pill bottles, was one of the few viable options for the pharmaceutical market. Since then, flexible packaging has evolved and become a suitable material for pharma with the introduction of child-resistant closures. The laundry industry was an early adopter of the new packaging technology and has had great success in adopting flexible pouches featuring child-resistant sliders. Pharmaceutical manufacturers can follow the lead of the laundry market and begin implementing similar technology to create a convenient, yet secure, solution.

Protecting the product

A growing trend for the pharmaceutical market, e-commerce has also proved to be a challenge as manufacturers struggle to maintain compliance while simultaneously optimizing packaging for the rigors of shipping. The traditional rigid container makes for bulky packaging and requires a large mailer to accommodate the width of the bottle, driving up shipping costs. Flexible pouches are easily mailed within a secondary envelope and are significantly smaller, lighter, and more efficient for e-commerce applications. Not only does this reduce materials used, it also reduces the risk of damage while in transit. The flexible package, unlike a pill bottle, is able to withstand the complex supply chain as it bends, adjusts, and absorbs shock more easily. While the bottle could be crushed and expose the product, the flexible package can maintain its integrity.

In addition, flexible pouches can also create peace of mind for consumers with the addition of tamper-evident seals. These seals are torn away at first use to expose the closure, ensuring medications arrive through the mail untouched.

Clear communication with enhanced labels

The rise of digital printing partnered with the versatility of flexible pouches enables brands to incorporate more detailed graphics on flexible pouches. These “billboarding” opportunities allow pharma brands to prominently display logos and company graphics on stand-up pouches, making them easily recognizable and distinguishable from other medications.

Additionally, digital printing can be used to enhance product tracking and traceability. Because graphics can be altered on each pouch during printing, manufacturers can serialize products, creating unique codes that can help to identify the product’s date and place of origin in case of recalls or other incidents.

Sustainability sells

Flexible Packaging Association research found that 86% of consumers and 84% of brands value sustainability in general (2). With that, the study found that 79% of consumers prefer products in sustainable packaging. Adopting sustainable packaging solutions reduces materials, waste, and shipping costs, while offering another valuable asset—product differentiation.

The introduction of mono-materials films and compatible closures for flexible packaging creates the opportunity to use fully recyclable pouches for the pharma market. Typical rigid packaging features a bottle, seal, liner, multi-material lid, and cardboard box, making it difficult to recycle. Mono-material pouches are entirely recyclable with significantly less waste.

Conclusion

As the world and the pharma market continue to evolve, the brands and manufacturers that adjust and adapt to new technology and trends will have the competitive advantage. While exploring new technology can be intimidating at times, implementing flexible, reclosable packaging offers benefits that not only appeal to consumers, but also addresses current pain points within the industry.

References

  1. CFR Title 17, Part 1700 (Government Printing Office, Washington, DC).
  2. Flexible Packaging Association, “Flexible Packaging: A Case for Elevating Sustainability,” flexpack.org (2019).

About the author

Todd Meussling is the Fresh-Lock senior manager market development. Fresh-Lock products are designed and produced by Presto Products, a business of Reynolds Consumer Products.