The global infant formula market is enjoying healthy growth by any standards. With sales forecast to grow 5.8% over the next six years in the US alone, there is a need for systems that help producers maximize efficiencies and keep utility costs to a minimum. It is here JBT’s PLF division is making an impact globally, with innovative filling technologies that are not just effective, but also increasingly offer sustainable solutions.
Aided by the high nutritional content of many products, the infant formula industry in the US, which was worth $3.65 billion in 2019, is expected to reach $5.81 billion by 2027, according to a 2021 report from Allied Market Research.
Since 1994, PLF International has designed and manufactured what is considered to be one of the most flexible, gentle, user-friendly powder filling machines – for rigid and semi-rigid containers – in the world. Each machine, which can be fitted with PLF’s accumulated or individual head-update weight control systems to ensure maximum accuracy and minimum giveaway, are designed to be flexible so as to accommodate a variety of filling methods – containers can be filled by vacuum for more static powders, and by volume for free-flowing products.
Amedeo Scapin, JBT’s Global Director for Diversified Food & Health, Packaging, Automation & Filling, agrees that North America is likely to experience significant growth in infant formula sales over the coming years, although Asia and in particular China remain major markets.
This growth, he continues, appears to originate in a diversification in both products and packaging across the industry. Firstly, Scapin says added-nutritional value formula for mothers-to-be is finding favor, while there has also been a growth in formulations for children with specific needs, such as nutritional supplements for physical growth or brain development.
While the traditional metal can remain important, he says there has also been growth in new packaging options, especially in regions such as Africa and the Indian sub-continent with more limited purchasing power. “In these, and other emerging markets, you can buy little pouches or sachets – flexible packaging – which have a single shot for the babies,” Scapin explains. “So the actual spending is on a single shot because the spending is based on the weekly or daily income that such countries usually deliver. It’s designed to fit the purchasing power of consumers or families.”
Additionally, Scapin says there has been cross-industry movement towards more sustainable forms of packaging, such as composite mixes of cardboard or recycled plastic. “This is still virgin territory, but the tendency towards having more sustainable packaging is there,” he says.
One of many advantages PLF offers is the solidity of engineering in its the equipment, which results in a significant reduction of the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). The system’s outstanding filling accuracy is also hugely important for a valuable product such as infant formula, as it leads to a significant reduction in give-away.
With two major developments in the pipeline, both of which are likely to be announced over the coming months, the remainder of 2021 looks set to be a significant one for PLF, and one, Scapin says, where the company expects to take a major step forward. “PLF is a trusted partner in integrated projects for full production lines in the infant formula segment, and with these new developments we expect to continue building on our status going forward,” he adds.