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We’ve summarized some key questions to consider for your business when purchasing packaging for your milk. Use these as a reference whether you’re a first-time milk producer or looking to establish a new production line.
What types of milk packaging are available?
Milk is generally packaged in one of three container types: plastic, paper, or glass.
- In the United States, milk is most commonly purchased by the gallon in plastic jugs. These jugs are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Plastic milk jugs provide several advantages. They are lightweight, durable, and recyclable. Plastic containers also come in a range of sizes from gallon to pint.
- Milk cartons made of paperboard coated in polyethylene are also extremely popular and come in a range of sizes and types. The most recognizable milk carton is probably the gable-top. These can be found from half-gallon containers all the way down to single serve 8oz milk boxes. They are available with both the tradition spout opening and with resealable caps. Unlike plastic and glass jugs, cartons keep out light. It’s believed that UV light can degrade vitamin content, making cartons a good choice to preserve milk’s healthy nutrients.
- Until the 1960s, when HDPE was introduced, glass bottles were widely used to package milk. While heavier and more delicate, glass bottles are again growing in popularity both for their nostalgia factor and their ability to be rinsed and reused. With the rise of small-scale dairies and cooperative business models, milk delivery in glass bottles is becoming more widely available. Grocery stores now offer glass bottles of milk that can be rinsed and returned to the store.
Aseptic packaging and UHT?
Another common type of paperboard milk packaging is known as aseptic packaging. This is the process used to produce shelf-stable milk that can be stored without refrigeration for long periods.
Aseptic packaging requires a specific form of sterilization known as ultra high-temperature (UHT) pasteurization. Milk is heated to 275-284 F for 3 seconds rather than 161-167 F for 15-20 seconds, as in the common pasteurization process. UHT pasteurization requires special machinery, which may push up investment and production costs.
Do I need specialized equipment to package my milk?
According to the Grade A Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, Grade A milk cannot be packaged by hand but with “approved mechanical equipment”. That extends to bottling and capping machinery as part of the production system.
Aside from marketing considerations, the cost and size of equipment should be taken into account when choosing packaging for your milk.
What are the latest trends in milk packaging?
As with all products, innovation in milk packaging is being driven by evolving consumer demands and a search for increased economic efficiency. While aseptic packaging has been widely used in Europe for many years, it has recently gained in popularity in the United States. Aside from the benefit of longer shelf-life, one of the great advantages of aseptic packaging to the producer is the opportunity to provide expand distribution outlets beyond traditional retail outlets.
According to, Jeff Kellar, vice president of plastic packaging systems at Tetra Pak, “the fragmentation of the retail channel, the development of new channels and the on-the-go American wanting products to be readily available will vastly increase the relevance and applications for aseptic products in all package formats.”
Innovation within the realm of aseptic packaging is also on the rise. With the UHT process now in place, packaging companies will continue to find new and better ways to increase shelf-life through better, more secure containers.
Another trend picking up speed in the United States is the milk pouch or milk bag. While popular in Canada, bagged milk is largely a mystery to Americans. Recently, however, some struggling dairy farms in Nebraska were able to achieve a renewed competitive advantage in the market by switching to less expensive pouches for their milk. Their pouches have now replaced milk cartons in 150 schools.
Pouches and bags can be cheaper and more energy efficient to produce and ship, making them an attractive option for farmers looking to differentiate their product, save money or self-distribute.