Shelf Life is the longevity of your brand

Consumers buy new products by first trying out a variant and then repeat a purchase if they were happy and if this happiness continues then this is a sign of a product that is catching on!  News spreads and volumes soar!

But what will disappoint the consumer that has given you their trust?  The claims seem to met as you, the brand owner, have put in all the right ingredients at the correct levels.  You have great fragrance and irresistable graphics to catch the eye, and look good in the pantry.  Break out the champagne because the initial six months evaluation says that consumers love the new product!

But what happens after the big promotions and consumer excitement and the immediate product experience?  Consumers buy the product with the intention to consume it but it lies on the pantry shelf a little longer with each purchase.  This may no longer be a new product and the hype may have settled, but when the consumer does decide to use the pack, the expectation is no different than from that first day.

What will she find?  That crisp free flowing granular powder and the aroma that immediately captures her senses?  The full bodied taste that made her fall in love with your concoction – the instant drink she raved about at the salon all those weeks ago?  Well any owner of a quality product will expect this to be the case, right?

The reality is that sometimes, no crisp free-flowing powder appears and a tainted oily smell replaces that hazelnut aroma that was so pleasurable.  The pack is peeled away to reveal a flat, hard cake of what was once powder.  Immediate attention goes to the “Best Before” date, and behold there is still six months’ shelf life remaining!  By this time she is already scanning your beautiful artwork for the consumer care line number!

So what went wrong?  All the ingredients were in specification (global specifications too!) at the time of manufacture.  The packaging was as per the global recommendations.  The storage tests were done for 12 weeks – the same as all your other products, and the shelf life of your coffee sachets has always been one year!

There are many factors that can contribute to product failure (physical and aroma/taste)  over time and this is driven by two environmental factors:  Water Vapour transmission, and Oxygen transmission are the main party poopers of food product quality.  And there is no packaging material that provides 100% barrier to these elements throughout the shelf life.  However 2 factors need to be considered:

1. How vulnerable is the product i.e. in the absence of packaging how much moisture and oxygen is required for the product to fail?

2.  What is the target shelf life and what packaging specification will provide the barrier over this time to meet the minimum desired quality at the end of the shelf life period?

The answers to the above will theoretically map out the lifespan of the product quite broadly but the specification will still be vulnerable to the environmental conditions i.e. at what conditions does the above hold true?  This means that the in vitro and in vivo environental data needs to be factored in.

The result is a theoretical shelf life that will need to be proven, but how does one prove a 1 year shelf life without waiting a year to go to market.  In the current competitive climate this is truly absured.  Therefore the test conditions must be accelerated to represent the overall shelf life conditions.  This means higher controlled temperature and humidity and shorter testing time.  Of course this must be accurately calculated so that there is a strong alignment.

If all of the above is conducted with careful considerations to changing specifications of climate, materials and packaging, then our dear loyal consumer will have the same delight when opening that pack on the expiry date, as when she did on that first purchase!

Sanjeen Deosaran is Director of Packenger Packaging Consultants

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