Laminates Rise to the Next Level

Innovation sparks the development of new types of laminate tubes and decorating capabilities.

By Marie Redding
Freelance Writer

The demand for squeeze tubes is expected to climb 4.8% annually to $1.1 billion through 2014, according to The Freedonia Group’s industry study, “Tube & Stick Packaging,” published last May. “Prospects will be helped by improved barrier properties in extruded plastic tubes, and greater use of laminate tubes in applications beyond toothpaste,” the study predicts.

Foil laminate tubes have historically been considered the standard for oral-care products. Extruded plastic tubes were always most often used for beauty products, lauded for their high-end look and seamless structure. But today, when it comes to tube types, the lines drawn between these two markets are blurring.

In recent years, laminate tubes have been used more often by a wider range of products, including oral care and beauty. Also, more products are moving into foil polymer tubes, which are a type of laminate tube with a combination of features—the barrier properties of an aluminum tube, plus the ability to keep its shape without creasing, like an extruded plastic tube.

One example is the “brilliant” PolyFoil tube manufactured in North America by Plastube Inc. (www.plastube.com). “PolyFoil is an inner-seamed, over-extruded high-barrier tube that includes an aluminium substrate, providing the attractiveness of a seamless tube and a high-quality stiff feel,” says Paul Goodman, president and CEO. “Its unique aesthetic properties allow for an iridescent and metalized look, which affords remarkable shelf appeal.”

Doug Jackson, market manager, North America, Albéa (www.albea-group.com), notes that “many of the personal-care brands in mass-market stores have moved into cosmetic laminate tubes.”

Berry Plastics is responding to the increase in popularity of laminate tubes. “Laminates are a growing area for us. We recently invested in a new press,” says Jerry Ruud, vice president, sales and marketing, Berry Plastics (www.berryplastics.com).

Why the rise in popularity of laminates? “It’s a combination of price and the ability to use different decorating options, especially for graphics—as well as the properties of the laminate,” says Jackson.

Ted Sojourner, vice president, tubes and laminates, Essel Propack Americas (www.esselpropack.com), cites several reasons for the growing popularity of laminates. “More manufacturers are considering laminate tubes due to acquisition cost, decoration capabilities, and improved barrier properties,” says Sojourner. 

Laminate tubes offer extra barrier protection for formulations that may contain high amounts of essential oils or other ingredients that sometimes react with plastic. For the majority of products, however, compatibility is not often an issue.

“Graphic capabilities are often the major reason why laminates are being chosen more often lately over plastic extruded tubes,” says Ruud.

Jackson agrees. “Most formulations will be compatible with either extruded or laminate tubes, so the decorating options will often become [a] deciding factor when choosing a type of tube,” says Jackson.

A greater number of decorating techniques can be done on a laminate tube, in comparison to an extruded tube, because the poly-foil-poly laminate material is printed on while it is flat, before being formed into a tube.

Labels are another decorating option. However, printing on a tube is much more cost-effective than labeling a tube, according to Ruud.

The New Foil Polymer Tube

Graphic capabilities were the reason Victoria’s Secret Beauty chose a new type of laminate tube for its recent launch—World Wide Packaging’s new foil polymer tube, which the supplier is calling “FPT.”

The brand was the first company to use the tube, which has a standard neck finish. It is decorated with a cartoon-like image of a woman. “These graphics couldn’t be printed on a traditional plastic extruded tube,” says Jeffrey M. Hayet, executive vice president of global sales, World Wide Packaging (WWP; www.wwpinc.com).

The tube’s barrier properties weren’t a factor in the brand’s decision. “They liked the fact that it looks like metal,” he says. The tube’s silver color couldn’t be achieved with any other type of decorating process, on any other type of tube, according to Hayet. “Even if you wrapped a traditional tube in foil, it wouldn’t work because there would be a void between the head and shoulder,” he explains.

Because of its structure, which is a combination of foil and polymer material, Hayet calls this type of laminate the “Rolls Royce” of tubes. “It offers the benefits of both functionality and aesthetics,” he says.

A Custom Cap, an Industry First

WWP is in the process of developing an innovative, custom cap for its foil polymer tubes. A hair care brand will be launching a new product line in June in this packaging. “We’re taking this complex, value-added tube structure to yet another level,” says Hayet. “This will be the first-ever flip-top, custom closure for a tube ever produced in the world.”

Standard head sizes and caps have always been typical for tubes. Interchanging head sizes with custom-designed caps have often been too cost prohibitive, owing to the smaller size of the production runs that are the norm for tubes, according to WWP. “Our goal was to find a way to customize the cap at a price where our customer could afford to bring the new product line to market,” says Hayet. WWP built its custom tooling in Asia.

“Using our in-house engineering and design capabilities, we developed a complex manufacturing system for custom heads and closures for our foil polymer tubes. We’ve altered our machinery so that we can do shorter runs more economically, and pass that savings to our customers,” he explains.

The custom cap for the soon-to-launch hair care line contains the brand’s logo, a swirl emblem. This emblem was reproduced on a SAN round disc, which was then metalized. The discs will be snapped onto the top of the injection-molded, polypropylene caps.
“Since the emblem is a separate piece and not injection molded with the cap, it has a more defined appearance,” says Hayet. “It appears to ‘jump’ off the cap,” he adds. “It’s a great way for a brand to make sure the package stands out.”

A New Neckless Laminate

Montebello Packaging (Hawkesbury, ON) is yet another supplier responding to the demand for new types of laminate tubes with a design innovation. The supplier’s new single-dose laminate tube has a revolutionary feature—it is neckless.

“We’re seeing more and more companies looking at laminate tubes because of their cost benefits and barrier properties,” says Meghann Bennett, marketing & sales coordinator, Montebello Packaging. 

In lieu of a cap, the 1-in. diameter tube has a hygiene seal. Designed to accommodate a long list of active ingredients, the laminate tube’s high level of barrier properties allows its contents to maintain freshness—suiting it for ingestible products. “The lack of neck and closure ensures that the tube’s weight is kept down, due to the use of less materials, which is a blessing to any company seeking to meet sustainability requirements. Empty, it weighs 50% less than the same size tube with a conventional neck and closure,” says Bennett.

The tube is currently being used for Montebello Packaging’s own private label nutraceutical supplement, Intuition, which launched in the fall of 2010. The tube has been recognized as the 2010 Ted Klein Tube of the Year (see page 8).

Solving the Side Seam Issue

Unlike extruded tubes, laminate tubes have a side seam—a deal breaker, some say, for using this type of tube for a high-end beauty product. “Laminate tubes have become more acceptable than they were years ago, for a greater variety of products. However, tubes with a side seam were once only toothpaste tubes. Today, this is not the case,” says Ruud.

Essel Propack is one supplier that has addressed this issue. “Inviseam” is a tubing parameter Essel Propack developed so that a laminate tube will resemble an extruded tube, without a noticeable seam. The supplier’s production method makes it possible for the overlap at the seam to be extremely thin.

“We’re also working on a decorating technique that will allow 360-degree printing with special inks. Soon, you will be able to look at a laminate tube, and swear it was extruded,” says Sojourner. 

Albéa handles the side seam by masking it, showing customers its 360° Total Color Print technique. “It’s a new decoration option for laminate tubes. Combined with ‘Pixel Graphics,’ brands can create custom body colors from the end seal to the shoulder instead of having the traditional silver or white on those parts,” says Jackson.

Upcoming Developments

Many suppliers we’ve spoken to are working on new developments for tubes, most of which couldn’t be described in detail yet. These new innovations include more types of liners that will provide greater barrier properties for both extruded and laminate tubes. These are designed to increase a material’s compatibility with new types of product formulations, as they are developed.

We can also expect to see even more choices in head styles from a greater number of suppliers, as well as more new types of dispensing options and closures for tubes.

“The bottom line is that tubes are still a preferred package. They’re very portable. The product is always right at the orifice, ready to be used. They have a convenience factor that’s tough for other types of packages to beat,” says Ruud.

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