Dunn Paper Insights

Round Table Discussion: Clay Coated Paper

To clay coat or not to clay coat? That is the question. At Dunn Paper, we strive to create products that are sustainable and functional, and our clay coated paper products are just that. Kara Wojnowski, Marketing Manager, had the opportunity to sit down with Scott McNutt, VP of Technology and Product Development, Chris Mitchell, VP/GM Specialty Paper, and Joe Doyle, VP of Sales, to talk about Dunn Paper’s clay coated paper technology and its benefits.

Kara Wojnowski: What are clay coated papers and what can they be used for?

Scott McNutt: In the Dunn world, the clay coated grade series goes back to 1980, when we developed clay coated papers for flexible packaging used primarily for retail food and confectionary applications. The reason they are favored is because of the ink hold out. The clay coating keeps the ink on the surface, which provides get bright, vivid colors and exceptional gloss. That finished product has the visual snap that retailers and brand owners like in a package that consumers would be more likely to grab off the shelf.

Wojnowski: We categorize our technology into three elements: Appearance, Barrier, and Containment. Let’s start with appearance, Chris, can you talk about this element and the benefits clay has in this area?

Chris Mitchell: I learned the A-B-C’s very early on in my career. I was a young engineer at a converter and I was trying to work out a system that allowed for a simpler way to combine materials to meet all the functionality of a package. What was developed was A-B-C, Appearance, Barrier, and Containment. These represent the three primary functions of any package that you would put your hands on. So if you grab a potato chip bag, a candy bar, the paper liner inside a tray, a sandwich wrap, all of these have those three functions. Here at Dunn, we have taken that fundamental concept and applied it to our product development pipeline and technology. If we are focusing just on clay coated, it is very much designed for appearance as Scott mentioned. That clay gives you a great surface to print on, its smooth and has all the characteristics you would need in a package from a functionality standpoint that rivals plastic. So as brands are looking to get outside of plastics and look at more sustainable solutions, at Dunn we can remove that plastic layer from the outside of the package and replace it with a clay coated paper and not lose any benefit whatsoever from an appearance standpoint, and many times the packaging is enhanced.

Wojnowski: So, barrier and containment are all about keeping the outside out and the inside in when it comes to packaging. How do our clay coated products do with these elements?

Joe Doyle: With clay coated paper, the outside is mostly about appearance. Where Dunn Paper can excel with the B’s and C’s is with our other sustainable water-based coatings. As Chris mentioned, there are a lot of polyethylene and petroleum-based products in the industry for both Barrier and Containment. There is a lot of concern about plastics that cannot be recycled and don’t dissolve or compost, so they end up in landfills, and a lot of times, end up there forever. With our clay coated solutions we can also apply layers of Barrier and layers of Containment that performs the same functionality as these petroleum-based products but now, the brand owner can tell their customers that this is a compostable product. With the clay coating on the outside for Appearance and the other sustainable coating on the inside for both Barrier and Containment, if it ends up in the landfill you can sleep well knowing that it is going to compost and is also recyclable. It is a multifaceted story that should be appealing to consumers.

Wojnowski: We know that our clay coated products are great for retail food packaging, what other markets can benefit from clay coated paper?

Mitchell: Anything that would have a high-end graphic on it that traditionally uses a plastic. Our clay coated could potentially be a sustainable alternative to that. What comes to mind first is gift wrap or something that doesn’t necessarily have a sustainable story now. That narrative can change overnight with some of the products that we have in our clay coated business. If anyone wants to enhance their graphics appeal you would choose a clay coated paper. For example, labels, wraps, bags, high end luxury items, those markets could use and benefit from the sustainability characteristics of clay coated paper.

Wojnowski: What is the future of clay coated papers at Dunn and can you talk a little more about the sustainability features?

McNutt: Projects that we are working on right now for clay coated products fall into three specific areas: end of life, food safety, and printability. Today, clay coated papers are recyclable but not always compostable. Our goal is to deliver a product that can be both recycled and composted. The second area of focus is safety; there are some concerns today about the safety of food packaging. It is possible that food packaging can actively protect the user and the contents from harmful bacteria by having an anti-microbial feature. We are actively testing the ability to incorporate that capability into our clay coatings. The third area would be improved printability. It’s all about the appearance and how life like the graphics appear on the packaging. We are always working to improve that print surface so that the graphics and resolution are the best that it’s ever been. Very exciting times ahead for clay coated products!

Mitchell: Scott you’re right, what an exciting time to be here at Dunn Paper! Our capabilities really separate us from any other paper company out there. We are really well positioned to help brands and enable them to reach their sustainability objectives through our unique capabilities and functional papers to replace plastics where they see fit.

McNutt: Yes, because of Dunn’s multiple coater capability we can incorporate other functionality on the side opposite of the clay coated graphic side. As we explore the new families of water-based barrier coatings, we can also include other attributes of oil and grease resistance and oxygen barrier. Possibly even heat seal capabilities on the back side of the clay coated paper! A lot of opportunity there to enhance the value of that excellent print surface.

About Dunn Paper

With nearly a century of history behind us, Dunn Paper has been a leader in the paper industry ever since we opened our first paper mill in 1924. With a focus on eco-friendly specialty paper and tissue, we work with top converters to create innovative sustainable paper products that have thousands of possible applications. Dunn has maintained its position as a trusted wholesale paper supplier, continuing to thrive, grow, and manufacture some of the finest sustainable paper and tissue products in North America by making tomorrow's paper today.