Spiroflow In The News

COVID-19 & Beyond
Shift #4:
Packaging Lines


This our last installment in Spiroflow’s 4-part blog series: “Making Manufacturing Shifts: Adapting During COVID-19 & Beyond.” Our previous series installments have covered the shift to remote site management, increasing production line capacity and shifting manufacturing lines to make different products.

Shift #4: Modifying Packaging Lines: Commercial to Household Demand

Life at home means more use of household products and groceries. As the pandemic continues to keep workers away from office buildings and minimize allowed capacity at restaurants, grocery and household, or small, packaging has become more in demand. For manufacturers who have traditionally sold bulk packaged food, ingredients and products to commercial buyers this shift has proved challenging.

What industries have had to adapt their packaging lines during COVID-19 events?

Food and beverage manufacturers are seeing the greatest impact of this shift. To give an idea of the extremity and suddenness of this change, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said in April that before the pandemic, about 50% of food was made and consumed by its population outside the home. Since the pandemic almost all food is eaten at home.

In fact, it was packaging, not supply, that prevented many grocery stores from being able to stock their shelves.

“So much of our food packaging has been in the commercial scale, commercial size and not enough, as we’ve learned, when everybody shifts to eating at home,” said PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Food service buys 20 pounds of bacon in a box. Consumers want a pound at a time. So they’ve made those kinds of shifts.”

In the UK, Foodservice Packaging Association Executive Director Martin Kersh echoed packaging challenges and their impact on the supply chain. “[Government] needs to understand how integral packaging is to the food supply chain,” said Kersh in April. At the time, supermarket sales had increased almost 800% due to lockdowns and packaging executives were feeling the increased demand for household food and beverage packaging products. Somerton-based Kingsmoor Packaging’s Managing Director said that his organization was ready to take on the shift “even if that means fully re-aligning our manufactured output to meet customer’s changing requirements.”

Bottlenecks in the food supply chain due to small packaging shortages has been a common theme through coronavirus shutdowns. The dairy industry in particular has struggled to package milk at outlets once focused on providing milk to food service establishments and schools – and don’t have consumer friendly jugs in stock. Similarly, the brewery industry, which used to stock bars and restaurants with kegs on tap, is now focused almost entirely on bottling and canning. In the UK, alcohol sales have increased 291% during the pandemic and resulting lockdowns – and one can assume that increase has been mostly in the sale of bottles and cans.

One grain and milling industry expert confirmed to Spiroflow that production has been increased to full capacity at a number of facilities, but that the main impact of COVID-19 was to increase small packaging capabilities as demand has shifted from commercial to household packaging quantities.

The food industry is not the only industry challenged with getting products on shelves due to packaging.

In the UK, between March 9-15, 2020, home improvement and gardening retail grew by almost 50% compared to the same period in 2019. More time spent at home has heightened homeowners’ awareness of home improvement projects deferred and thus increased purchases of DIY home improvement materials once mostly packaged in large quantities for contractors and construction companies. Building materials and paint are just a few of the DIY products that home improvement stores – which were deemed essential businesses by the US and have remained open with restrictions in the UK – have been selling more of during the pandemic.

Before coronavirus the lion’s share of toilet paper – the now symbol of coronavirus panic buying – largely went to the commercial market – office buildings, college campuses, airports. Aside from the commercial product itself being inherently different (read: thinner), toilet paper was typically shipped on large pallets vs. being wrapped in groups of 18 or less in branded shiny packages as is typical for the household variation. For those manufacturers to shift to the residential toilet paper market, they will have to shift to consumer packaging and likely make many other changes up the production line, including to the product itself.

Hand sanitizer manufacturers, who once packaged the product in large cartridges to stock commercial hand sanitizing stations, are adapting packaging lines at lightning speed. “We are seeing a significant increase in requests for filling of hand sanitisers into various formats – sachets, bottles and pumps – and all wanting them tomorrow,” said UK-based Complete Co Packing Business Development Manager Jeff Parry.

How can Spiroflow help us to update our existing production line for small packaging?

Packaging occurs at the end of the production line, but changes to packaging may require accommodations across production line equipment. If COVID-19 has necessitated a change to your packaging lines, Spiroflow can help update your material transfer process to accommodate.

Our engineers can recommend the best transfer method of your product to the infeed point for your packaging machine so that the product arrives in the right amount and condition for small packaging. Spiroflow bulk bag unloaders can discharge products by either volume or weight and Spiroflow conveyors transfer the product without degradation for optional condition and shape for consumer packaging.

What are other considerations for shifting production lines from commercial to consumer packaging?

  1. Labeling – Packaging of household and grocery items have different labeling requirements than commercial packages. In many cases, shifting to consumer packaging may require additional approvals from the FDA and USDA. To help overcome this challenge, the FDA has issued temporary guidance to provide flexibility in packaging and labeling requirements to support food supply chains in getting food to consumers.
  2. Small Packaging Supplies – The small packages themselves must be manufactured and are in short supply. Even if manufacturers are able to update your production line to fill small packages with the product, there may be challenges in sourcing the small packaging. 12-count egg carton shortages have been an example of this challenge during COVID-19 events.
  3. Distribution – Shifting from commercial to household products often will mean manufacturers must find new buyers. While demand is high, the time it may take to establish new relationships and contracts may mean perishable products going bad or household supplies sitting in warehouses. In some cases, this challenge may make a strategy of shifting production lines to meet household demand a risky endeavor.

Thank you for reading! If you need support with modifying your process and production line to accommodate a shift to small or commercial packaging, Spiroflow engineers can help. Contact us today to discuss the most effective way to shift your production line during COVID-19 and beyond.