Tetra Pak's first 50 years have seen it become the undisputed world leader in liquid food cartons. Now it wants to grab a share of the food market.
We are used to seeing milk, juices, soups and even wine in cartons, and Tetra Pak still sees growth potential in these areas around the world. But now pet food, breakfast cereals, sugar, rice and snacks are also targets for new carton sales.
The worldwide Tetra Pak group offers processing and packaging systems, as well as plastic packaging. But cartons remain at the core of the business, and the surge of innovation in opening systems; new designs like the Prisma; and ever-improving decorative techniques, have ensured firm foundations.
The UK carton business, Tetra Pak UK, recently moved its HQ from offices near London to the manufacturing plant at Wrexham. It was a statement of intent from managing director Mike Ansell, formerly boss of Tetra Pak Philippines, who moved back to Britain to take up the post.
Ansell says his period away from the UK scene helped him to establish a clear vision of how Tetra Pak UK should operate. And part of that vision was the need to strengthen the flagging image of the carton.
"With fresh eyes I saw that in the 90s there was a switch to plastics." It was a mindset waiting to be broken, in his view.
Plastic has the flexibility of shape on its side, but Ansell believes the minimalistic approach has its merits, too. For instance, cartons can build on the perception that they hold wholesome, natural products. In the UK this year own-brand organic milk in Tetra Top cartons came on the shelves of Somerfield, Safeway and Asda within weeks of each other.
Ansell believes the market is favouring the carton for packaging sizes of 2-pints and below, for juices and juice drinks and in the niche dairy market such as organics. They are "the natural habitat for cartons" he said.
With supremacy established in milk, milk products and juices, (chilled and long-life) sectors, Tetra Pak UK now has different food sectors in its sights. Packaging for wet foods arrived last year with the retortable aseptic Tetra Recart pack, first used commercially for chunks-in-jelly dog food.
And the company is building up to the May 27 launch of what it believes to be the first ever use in the UK of the Bio Gaia LifeTop probiotic straw, by Orchard Maid, a development of the functional drink concept.
The LifeTop straw is individually wrapped and attached to the outside of beverage cartons. The probiotic is released from the straw as the consumer drinks. Orchard Maid organic yogurt drinks in Tetra Prism aseptic packs will be sold in Tesco supermarkets nationwide.
So Tetra Pak's heritage, cartons, can also be the shape of the future: as Ansell put it, there's life in the old dog yet.
And the sky's the limit for new sales, thinks Malcolm Waugh, Tetra Pak UK's marketing director. On the prospect of moving into dry foods, he said: "We see it as an opportunity, investing in the category."
Dry foodstuffs, such as sugar, rice, nuts and baked snacks are seen as likely candidates. Used for breakfast cereals, the integral barrier qualities remove the need for a protective bag. All this means that having one less element in the chain brings cost and environmental benefits, and the pack can be filled full, saving space in-store and in the home.
Tetra Pak has supplied Budelpack March with a gable top filler for testing the process, with a first commercial outcome expected soon.