Canadian plastics manufacturer, IPL, said the thin-walled containers are aimed at the functional yogurt, specialty cheese and dips sector, worth an estimated $200m. Brand differentiation IPL has been supplying packaging to the prepared salad and desserts market but the company claims some consumers are willing to pay extra for functional dairy products and it aims to establish a niche within the sector. "We see the value-added dairy sector as a real area for growth and we have invested $4.3m in an injection press, robots and moulds at our manufacturing facility. We plan to triple that investment in the coming years," IPL marketing director Jason Savage told FoodProductionDaily.com "There is very little brand differentiation currently in this category. The margins allow for appealing packaging and, to capitalize on this, we have incorporated in-mold labelling (IML) graphics into our new containers to offer product enhancement opportunities for dairy processors," said Savage. The company claims that IML offers visibility and graphics not achievable with processes such as dry-offset or screen printing. IML has been a popular labelling solution in Europe, but has just started to make significant headway in North America. Growth opportunities According to market analysts, Leatherhead Food International, commodity-style products, such as milk, cheese and butter make up the bulk of the US dairy sector and profit margins in these categories are slim. As a result, many of the leading dairy companies in the US have turned to more value-added, processed dairy sectors in order to generate profits. It is a sector that has grown from being virtually non-existent to $500m in little more than four years, according to estimates. Environmental drivers IPL claims that its new containers use 10 per cent less polymer than its other plastic products. The company said that this weight adjustment demonstrates its strategic objective to achieve sustainability across the supply chain. "We are now transporting less raw material to output a greater percentage of final product,' added Savage. Performance IPL said that the new light-weight container successfully passed tests conducted to determine its ability to withstand the critical points throughout the supply chain. Savage said that IPL chose to use polypropylene in its containers for its versatility and performance capabilities despite the increasingly high cost of petroleum-based plastic and the difficulties incurred in the recovery of that particular polymer. "From the perspective of the life-cycle of a resin, the amount of container breakages and product spoilage that would incur from the use of bioplastics in the injection moulding process would completely offset the gains achieved from using non-petroleum based product," claims Savage. Savage did concede, however, that IPL is in the early phase of developing products that will enable it to reduce its reliance on petroleum-based plastics. IPL said that the IML round containers are only available in limited quantities until the company's upgraded facility in New Brunswick becomes fully operational in November.