Trends in Tubed Packaging
Today's tubes are different from the first ones used 100 years ago—not only are they more colorful and easier to use, but they have improved drug delivery and have paved the way for new drugs. In this supplement, PMP News explores the latest in tube and closure designs, graphics, and manufacturing.
Tubes have been around for more than 100 years. While that fact alone may lead some outside the industry to assume this market segment will soon become stale, that is certainly not the case. With tube production in North America reaching an all-time high last year—and with the continuing efforts of pharmaceutical companies to implement marketing techniques extensively used in other industries—the future for producers and users of these flexible, cylindrical packages looks promising.
Norden's iodine tube with a built-in applicator replaces the conventional three-part system used to apply iodine during surgery preparation. Photo by Roni Ramos.
SIGNS OF GROWTH
According to industry figures, more than 3 billion tubes were produced last year in North America alone—up 2–3% from the year before, according to Ted Klein, executive secretary of the Tube Council of North America (TCNA). Approximately 28% of those tubes were used for pharmaceutical applications.
To industry insiders, the increase in tube use doesn't come as a surprise. "We've seen continuing growth in the pharmaceutical industry for tubes over the last several years," says Michael Hoard, market manager for Glaminate tubes at Cebal Tubes North America (Norwalk, CT), a division of American National Can Co. "This growth is closely tied to an increase in the public's overall health consciousness and the number of products that are becoming available from pharmaceutical companies."
In addition to new product introductions and an increasingly health-conscious public, other factors are contributing to the growth of the market. As TCNA's Klein notes, "Pharmaceutical companies are continuing to take products that have traditionally been available only by prescription out of the doctors' hands and put them into the consumers' hands." Thea Hempel, manager of distributor marketing for Seaquist Closures (Mukwonago, WI), agrees. "There's definitely a move from pharmaceutical to OTC. The number of switches is amazing."
Also contributing to the market segment's growth are the demographic changes in today's adult population. Simply put, Americans are getting older. As Doug Stewart, vice president of sales and marketing for Montebello Packaging (Oak Park, IL), notes, "The market seems to be expanding as baby boomers seek to retard signs of aging." And, in addition to seeking age-defying products, this population segment is also one whose use of other prescription and OTC medications is expected to rise.
Another area in which an aging population is playing a key role is tube closure design. "With changing demographics, there's a greater need to move from traditional packaging to more-convenient packaging," says Seaquist's Hempel. "Within the pharmaceutical area, that means focusing on creating a closure that's easier to use."
Figure 1. Total tube shipments by industry.
Drug manufacturers agree. "We're looking for more consumer-friendly closures," says Paul Gilbert, packaging engineer at Pharmacia & Upjohn (Kalamazoo, MI). "Some of the tubes in the past have had fairly small closures that are difficult to grab onto and are difficult to open." As a result, suppliers are responding with closures that have slightly larger outside diameters. Both tube and closure manufacturers are also aggressively working on developing new designs.
Figure 2. Total tube shipments by type.
Seaquist, for example, has just released its SimpliTwist closure. The self-sealing dispensing system uses a silicone valve to seal the package from leaks and spills. "It's a three-piece closure. When you twist the closure a quarter turn, it opens a secondary sealing system," explains Shawn Storbakken, marketing communications specialist at Seaquist. "As soon as you squeeze the tube, the valve is forced open, and the product is dispensed at a preengineered rate. When you release the pressure on the tube, the valve closes and cuts off the product quickly and neatly."
Another development, recently announced by Courtaulds Packaging (Woodstock, IL), is the Smart-Seal tube, designed to combine the benefits of a self-sealing valve with the company's own twist-off, tamper-evident feature. "We focus a lot of new product development activity on the mechanical features of the tube, such as the head style and the closure, specifically trying to target OTC drugs or pharmaceutical products," says Ron Kieras, vice president of R&D for Courtaulds. "The Smart-Seal is ideal for pharmaceuticals because it offers superfine dispensing control and clean cutoff."
In addition to being convenient, innovative closure designs also help differentiate one product from another on the display shelf. "Now many pharmaceutical companies are going to specialty closures such as flip-top caps," says Cebal's Hoard. "The move to such closures is certainly more expensive than standard screw-top closures, but it's needed to meet certain consumer needs, and it's a way for pharmaceutical companies to distinguish their products from others."
Drug manufacturers must also determine whether they need to use child-resistant (CR) closures. Since April 1996, CR packaging has been required for drug formulations containing lidocaine and dibucaine. Then in January of this year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) went a step further, requiring adult-friendly CR closures for such products. "We changed the age of the adult test population in the performance test from 18–45-year-olds to 50–70-year-olds. Eighty percent of the children must not be able to open the package, and 90% of the older adults must be able to open it," explains Ken Giles, public affairs specialist for CPSC. "We did this to test products with people who may be losing their physical strength but still have their cognitive skills. As a result, the packaging must be more cognitive and less strength-dependent."
The self-sealing SimpliTwist from Seaquist Closures eliminates leaks and spills.
While lidocaine and dibucaine are the only tube-packaged pharmaceutical ingredients that currently fall under this requirement, Giles notes that CPSC is looking at another pharmaceutical ingredient, minoxidil. "I can't say it will require child-resistant packaging, because it has to go through our justification process," says Giles. That process includes first determining whether the substance is toxic and then whether there is appropriate packaging available on the market.
So will CR closures for plastic, laminate, and aluminum tubes become one of tomorrow's most-requested features? That depends on who you ask. According to Pharmacia & Upjohn's Gilbert, product reformulations—not new CR closures—may be the better solution. "We looked at child-resistant closures about three years ago, when we offered a product with lidocaine in it," says Gilbert. "We had a choice of reformulating the product or using a child-resistant closure. We looked into both options, and it's a good thing we did, because it took a long time to develop a CR closure. We actually had lidocaine eliminated from the product formula faster."
Gilbert thinks many pharmaceutical companies would generally choose to use ingredients that are not harmful instead of creating a new closure for the package. "It's just safer," he says. "If we have to rely on a package, then we'll rely on the package. But if we can eliminate any problems with the formulation, that's a much better way to go."
Yet others in industry are confident that the market for CR closures will grow well into the next century. According to Mike Meyer, U.S. sales representative for Pressta Ltd. (Kesswil, Switzerland, and Medfield, MA), his company is currently testing its new CR closure—which Meyer said will be the only one available for use with aluminum tubes—for compliance with existing CPSC protocol. "We think some companies may take a proactive stance and package other products that may not yet be classified by CPSC," he explains. "They may take the approach that having the child-resistant closure is preventive while at the same time provides a marketing advantage."
Göran Adolfsson, president of Norden Inc. (Branchburg, NJ), believes that most drug companies face this issue. "There are few discussions about packaging where the subject doesn't come up in one form or another," he says. "Everyone, including Norden, has been struggling with CR closures for years on end. I think the companies that successfully develop these types of closures will have a great market."
While Cebal's Hoard agrees that there is likely to be an increased need for CR closures, that's not the area in which he thinks greatest progress will be made. "The progression will continue to be in graphics, which have taken on higher importance today," he says. "For many products, we're looking at a move from simple line art to vignettes, shading, and more colors than have been previously used on the primary product package."
As Hoard and others point out, the capability for advanced graphics has been around for some time, but it simply had not been pursued in the pharmaceutical arena. "I think many pharmaceutical houses relied on the brand name or image to carry the purchase. But now with so many competing products as well as generic products pursuing customer interest based upon price, our pharmaceutical customers are looking to distinguish their products not only in advertisements but also with interesting packaging," Hoard says.
Prescription creams are brought to life with unique logos and color schemes. Photo courtesy Penederm Inc. (Foster City, CA).
TCNA's Klein notes that, traditionally, graphics came from the client. Now, however, tube makers actively tout their graphics capabilities, using them as a competitive tool. As a result of tube suppliers' expanding roles in graphics, they now work more closely with the companies that make the plates to fit the tubes. According to Robert Burslem, president of SS Studios (Union, NJ), drug manufacturers and tube suppliers are looking into using more colors or halftone screens, moving from an industrial look to one that offers a perceived image of higher quality. "Packaging leaves an impression and can maintain brand recognition, which is particularly important today with the number of generic products on the market," he says.
But not all pharmaceutical manufacturers buy into the need for increasingly higher-quality graphics. Mel Grundner, package engineer at Westwood-Squibb Pharmaceuticals (Buffalo, NY), explains that packaging for his company's tubed prescription products has changed little in recent years. "We have a color scheme for all our prescription items, with the idea that the pharmacist will see the color and immediately associate the product with Westwood-Squibb Pharmaceuticals," Grundner says. "It's nothing fancy, but it works."
In addition to higher-quality graphics and innovative closures, drug companies are also looking for more features in the same package, says Norden's Adolfsson. His company recently fielded a request for a package that features a built-in applicator. "Companies today want a package that can do more than just hold the product."
To meet this client's particular need, Adolfsson's company is working on a high-density polyethylene tube package to replace the traditional method used for iodine application during surgery preparation. Instead of dipping a stick with an attached sponge into a small, screw-capped bottle of iodine, practitioners will be able to use the new long, narrow, and easy-to-hold package that features a break-off tab buried into the built-in sponge. "You can just take the package, place the sponge down on the patient's skin, press the package to squeeze iodine into the sponge, and then apply."
Another innovative feature that Adolfsson predicts will be used increasingly in years to come is the two-point package. "We see this today in the dentifrice market, and I think it's going to filter into the pharmaceutical market. Mentadent toothpaste, for example, contains baking soda and peroxide, which don't live well together. So they're kept apart in the package until the consumer actually uses them," he said. The ability to keep ingredients separate until time of use will give lab scientists a vastly increased opportunity to come up with good products and medications, Adolfsson says, opening a new arena into which pharmaceutical companies can expand.
Such sensitive ingredients also need to be protected from contaminants. For instance, if the baking soda mixes with the peroxide inside the package before the consumer is ready to use it, the product will lose its effectiveness. To protect the ingredients, drug packagers depend upon high-barrier materials to keep out oxygen, moisture, light, and other elements or materials that could alter the chemical composition of the drugs. But some contamination results from tube manufacturing, so tube makers need to ensure clean tube production.
TUBES IN THE YEAR 2000
More-convenient closures, better graphics, and innovative tube and closure designs will lead the industry into the next century, offering pharmaceutical manufacturers the packages necessary to meet the needs of their products. Experts agree that those companies that keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry and respond accordingly will ultimately be tomorrow's leaders. As TCNA's Klein explains, "Where there's innovation, there's going to be success."
See companion piece, Minimizing Contamination in Tubes.