Aseptic packaging adds convenience, lowers costs

Those rectangular multilayer boxes, called aseptic packages, that keep foods fresh without refrigeration, have made such an impact in the marketplace they may change the way Americans drink, according to the beverage industry analysts at the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. With convenience its major attraction, the aseptic box is currently used for packaging fruit juices, milks, and drinks.

It has several advantages over cans and glass containers. No refrigeration is needed for milk and other perishables packaged this way until they have been opened.

The packages are also lighter and take up less shelf space than cans and bottles.

Aseptic packaging has economic benefits, too, according to a report on packaging by the Cooperative Extension at Cornell University.

Processors and retailers save on costs of materials, transportation, storage, and marketing over using metal and glass containers, the report states.

A survey by the USDA concluded that the retail price of some beverages can be lowered as much as 35 percent if aseptic containers are used.

After labor costs and farm costs, the USDA says the third-largest portion of our food dollar, 8 percent, goes to packaging. This includes not only the packaging on the shelf, but the shipping carton, other distribution materials, and the packaging equipment.

While the cost of packaging as part of the food dollar is small, some foods cost more to package than others.

The more processed or complicated the food product is, the higher the packaging costs. According to the USDA, food packaging and container costs average nearly one-third of the cost of ingredients.

However, in a paper published recently by the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, Dr. Joseph Hotchkiss cited USDA data that showed in some cases the cost of packaging far exceeded the cost of the ingredients.

Soft drinks, breakfast cereals, baby food, frozen dinners, and canned fruits and vegetables all had packaging costs higher than the total cost of the ingredients. Cake mix, bread, and cookie costs for packaging were all between 50 and 100 percent of the ingredients costs.

Frozen fruit and vegetable costs were 39 percent of ingredient costs. Frozen seafood, flour products, and coffee all had packaging costs less than 15 percent of the cost of ingredients.

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