Trend of Food Packaging Materials in Japan

1. Foreword

The once in a century financial crisis, triggered by the United States, is behind and the global economy is picking up at a slow pace. According to most private-sector economists, despite the real gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 1.3% in fiscal 2010, a dramatic improvement over the minus 2.8% of fiscal 2009, deflation and the appreciation of the yen could dampen economic recovery in Japan. Accordingly, the Japanese economy, hit by the unprecedented financial crisis, may take longer to recover.

Amid the extremely severe business environment, businesses cannot expect increased demand in the domestic market due to prolonged low consumer spending, worsening employment conditions, declining birthrate and aging population, and other problems. Businesses must consider what to do to grow and to survive, such as making inroads into emerging markets and exploring new business opportunities.

2. Packaging Industry and Food Packaging

Amid such uncertainty, the packaging industry is in the midst of the sweeping trends of globalization, highly-developed information networking, a declining birthrate and aging population, and the establishment of recycling-oriented society. The industry is further required to deepen understanding of relations between corporate social responsibility and packaging as well as to address higher-grade product appeal and capacity for technological development that harmonizes with our social needs.

Ongoing concerns and doubts about the safety and security of food remain; the industry must continue to supply safer foods. Quality improvement for safety and security is more indispensable than ever for future food packaging. Addressing quality control standards and management systems equivalent to those in food factories is important. For food-sector businesses, the sector where packaging industry demand is greatest, approaches to consumer protection aiming to create sellable commodities and new markets are imminent issues. Efforts to address these issues include establishing safety and security, addressing universal design for our aging society, reducing the environment load to establish a recycling-oriented society, protecting depleted resources, and developing and promoting high-functional packaging that enhances convenience.

3. Leading-edge Technology Trend of Food Packaging

Technological innovation in food packaging is accelerating. While innovative changes gather momentum throughout our entire society, focusing on higher-grade product appeal and capacity for technological development of food packaging that meet consumer needs is further required to sustain growth and meet our corporate social responsibility. According to the Ministry of the Environment, container and packaging waste accounts for 61.6% of the domestic garbage volume with food containers and packaging accounting for the overwhelming majority. The importance of sustainable packaging is an approach for protecting our global environment. Product development and sales promotion strategies for packages that rapidly meet the changes in social needs are called for, including the establishment and spreading of traceability system to protect the safety and security of food, and universal design that meets the needs of our full-scale aging society and provides enhanced convenience. Along with meeting these demands, there are many issues to address such as high functionalization, higher-value addition and cost reduction.

(1) Paper and Paperboard Products (Corrugated boards, paperware, paper containers, and the like)

Corrugated boards have the highest production volume among paper and paperboard products. In 2009, they marked the 100th anniversary of their production start in Japan. As the recent approach to recycling-oriented and environment-friendly corrugated boards boasts a recycling rate of 95.5%, a shift to the C flute is now rapidly under way to reduce waste. Corrugated board containing tea dregs, contributing to an enhanced recycling rate under the Food Recycling Law, has been increasingly used for the corrugated board boxes for soft drinks in which a green tea residue is mixed in the paper-making process of the corrugated board liner, producing odor eliminating and antibacterial effects.

G flute, the thinnest corrugated board in the world, approximately 1 mm thick, is used for paperware packaging of decorative printing, enabling direct offset printing that requires no process of pasting sheets of paper together. The paper long-life container, which uses more than 30% domestically produced wood including timber from forest-thinning as materials, demonstrates stable protection of contents for ordinary temperature distribution and long storage by using film with excellent barrier properties. The container was developed as a paper beverage container that enables extending the best-before date by suppressing oxygen penetration. The retortable carton container, which will attract attention in the future, is a system for pressurization and heating treatment, together with the pasteurization of containers and contents such as solid materials, after filling the carton up.

(2) Plastic Products (Film sheet, molded container, and the like)

Along with diversified consumer life styles, food packaging materials meeting a variety of needs have been highly functionalized. The first leading-edge technology appropriate for the New Year is the space Japanese food packaging that evokes the dream of space. Developed to provide Japanese food to astronauts in space, the flexible packaging materialized excellent preserving properties and weight saving, increasing the reputation of the worldfs leading Janpanese packagings as well as Japanese foods. The standing pouch for retort food, which is in the spotlight and easy-to-eat with microwave cooking along with the habit of eating alone, retains high sealing performance and strength that are necessary for retort pasteurization. The pouch also adds to the opening performance of straight cutting properties thanks to the development of the transparent high barrier PET film.

Next, a heat-resistant cup for baked confectioneries produced by a confectionery factory satisfied the required container functions from cooking to over-the-counter sale of commodities by withstanding 220 heat.

Biomass feedstock that will attract attention in the future includes the plant-based biodegradable resin bottle that has been newly employed for cooking oils and potato starch employed for instant noodle cups. As biomass feedstocks that will be expected in the future, businesses have made aggressively approached the challenges of the environment-responsive age including wooden chips based on timber from forest-thinning, combining rice produced two years ago, and resin, sugarcane and corn. The lightest (12g) PET bottle in Japan developed for soft drinks materializes weight savings with a polygonal rib structure that combines pentagonal and hexagonal ribs and can be crushed by being lightly squeezed after drinking. The recovery rate of plastic containers and packaging in fiscal 2009 was 59.0% and the recycling rate of PET plastic bottles was 77.9%, which was up approximately 9% over the preceding year.

(3) Metalware (Steel Cans, Aluminum Cans)

Approximately 130 years ago canned goods started production in Japan. Steel cans account for approximately 80% of beverage cans for coffee, soft drinks, and juice. Approximately 18.4 billion aluminum cans, which are often used for beer and soft drinks, were produced in fiscal 2008. The resealing can often used for coffee beverages has a wider apertural area than the existing SOT can and features an easy-to-spread fragrance. The wide aperture type can that makes the coffee inside look tasty with the inside of the container a newly coated white has also appeared. The retort-use two-layer liner sheet cap for aluminum bottles suitable for retort pasteurization offers excellent sealing performance and impact resistance and can be opened easily. The recycling rate of steel cans in fiscal 2008 that materialized weight saving of 2.01% per can thanks to the progress of surface treatment technology was 88.5% and that of aluminum cans was 87.3%.

(4) Glassware (Glass Bottles)

The glass bottle that was first created in Egypt 5,000 years ago with sand melted by heat was first produced in Japan in the Meiji era. The ultra-lightweight bottle developed by advanced molding and coating technology for weight savings has produced weight savings of the home-delivered milk bottle by 40% and the beer bottle by 20%. An ecology bottle that uses over 90% cullet blends and a UV cutoff transparent bottle that protects the contents by blocking ultraviolet rays are also being employed. The R mark bottle, a new standardized bottle developed to spread the returnable bottle, has steadily been used more frequently. The recycling rate of glass bottles in fiscal 2008 hovered at 66.5%.

Table 1. Production Volume and Composition Ratio of Soft Drinks by Container (2005 - 2008)

Units: production volume (1,000 kl)
Composition ratio: year-on-year%

*The above statistics exclude milk and alcoholic beverages.


Decline in demand due to the global financial crisis and intensified price-cutting competition due to deflation both weigh heavily on the food industry and promote drastic restructuring and consolidation for survival. The domestic food consumption structure in the future cannot expect quantitative expansion due to the arrival of the age of the declining birthrate and aging population as well as the dwindling population. Beyond the framework of the Japanese market, the industry must look toward business deployment throughout the world and address global market innovation.

The transformation of food packaging that has accelerated with the changing times has certainly raised awareness through food, amid changes in social structure, against the backdrop of increases in shared and senior households, womenfs social advancement, and more. Key terms such as tastiness, pleasantness, peace of mind, health and gentleness have greatly affected how food packaging should be. The challenges for food packaging that has so far supported the modernization of food include : (i) providing the safety and security of food, (ii) addressing the declining birthrate and aging population, (iii) addressing the low-carbon society and establishing a recycling-oriented society, and (iv) enhancing convenience and developing high-functional packaging. Among other challenges, amid the heightening global environmental protection, approaches to the carbon footprint system have entered a new stage for practical realization. The permeation of traceability and the establishment of a traceability system have been a major proposition to restore trust in food safety and security. To promote the restructuring of food and distribution domestically as well as internationally for survival among businesses, differentiated product appeal, capacity for technological development and enhanced ability to make a offer are the key points. In conclusion, it is an important duty and role for those involved in food packaging to take interest in and appropriately address the trends of the establishment of and amendments to the regulation of food packaging-related laws such as the ISO, JIS standards, the Containers/Packaging Recycling Act, and the Food Sanitation Act.

Reported by Mr. Toshihide INADA, Japan Packaging Research Institute, JPI