The carton and board sector has a solid future according to several international research and data reports that predict a 4-5% CAGR, leading to a $100 billion global market by 2020. Folding cartons continue to be one of the most versatile, sustainable and cost-effective ways to package and deliver goods, with endless possibilities in visual appeal. Matthew Rogerson takes a closer look into the developments of this exciting market.
The paperboard packaging trends in 2017 affect mature markets and developing nations at different levels. However, they share common traits that predict sustained growth in their folding carton industries. For example, as consumer demand for quick and easy foods continues to rise, microwave meals and frozen foods are the obvious answer. This, in turn, translates to a greater demand for folding carton packaging.
Demographics changing habits
In developing nations, the most educated members of the population have access to more qualified jobs and a higher disposable income. This category is replacing some of the traditional meals with more ‘modern’ processed, frozen and packaged food. In these markets, the potential for growth is incredibly high as many of foodstuffs simply do not exist in this format, or, at most, have but a limited reach.
In many cases, packaging machinery and paper converting equipment are outdated and cannot perform at the level required to fulfil this growing demand. This is an obvious opportunity for paperboard packaging machine manufacturers. The Freedonia Group has projected a 7% yearly growth in the sector, and it is set to be one of the top packaging trends for this year, through to 2019.
As the rural population continues to migrate to more urban areas, these consumption patterns are reinforced (fast-paced life, use of packaged and frozen foods, fast food, delivery and takeaway). In fact, the United Nations predicts that by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s people will live in cities, quite a jump from the current statistic of 54%.
The battle now occurs in the supermarket aisles. Products must stand out from the crowd and grab a consumer’s attention within a very limited time frame. To help in this endeavour, brands are putting increasing pressure on printers and converters to deliver more colourful packaging, with high-end finishing such as hot-foiling, spot varnishing and embossing.
This year’s packaging trends confirm that products are not only selected and purchased physically in-store, but also online. So the front face of a folding carton has increased importance, becoming a billboard that must quickly identify brand and unique selling point with clear visual cues.
Productivity with sustainability
In mature markets, paper converters have struggled to extract every bit of productivity from their equipment. To remain competitive, they are investing in next generation paper-converting machines that enable them to reduce waste and decrease changeover times, including clean-up, make-ready and start-up operations. The newest folding carton machines work with less energy, which is not a negligible expense. In an industry where margins are narrow, every bit counts, and by achieving these savings, printers and converters are reducing their environmental impact too.
The need for higher productivity is accompanied by the necessity to comply with environmental regulations and satisfy a growing consumer base that demands eco-friendly products. A recent Nielsen surveys highlighted that 66% of customers would be willing to pay a premium cost for sustainable products.
Consumer brands have approached this by redesigning their products to use less packaging. Kraft Foods reduced its Easter egg packaging by 10%, Kleenex subtracted 30% of the packaging material used to make its tissue boxes, and Kimberley-Clark cut down its ink consumption and cut corrugated board use by 55% for some of its product lines.
McDonald’s announced that all centrally purchased packaging in Europe is 100% sustainably sourced; being either recycled or from certified sustainable forests.
Coca-Cola has been continuously improving its PlantBottle that uses 100% bio-based raw material.
Paper mills have responded to this consumer trend with a lightweight paperboard that can achieve comparable compression strength and printability at a lower grammage. Lower weight also means less shipping and storage costs.
Recycled versus virgin paperboard
The growing concern regarding the disposal of packaging has sparked ideas about edible packaging, and packages that match the lifespan of the product, degrading or decomposing quickly after use. However, the issue of product contamination is subject to continuous review.
There are additional challenges for paperboard manufacturers, folding carton printers and converters in the food industry, as packaging must safeguard consumers’ health at every step. Migration of chemicals from paperboard, coatings, linings, inks and glues to the actual product can be potentially hazardous. Attention must be paid to the use of recycled paperboard, as the original composition of the substrate is unknown. For example, recycled materials made from newspapers could pose a health risk to consumers if used to package foodstuffs due to the mineral oils present in newspapers. In order to monitor this, the most stringent package printers and converters keep a detailed record or every element they use from paperboard (and the paper mill’s raw material sources and chemical used) to inks and glues. Converters across the market anticipate an increase in the use of virgin paperboard in order to tackle this issue.
Packaged food brands are also researching new barrier coatings to prevent moisture and odour transfer, and preserve a product’s freshness, aroma and shelf life. In addition to traditional polymer-based coatings, new water-based compounds, biopolymers, nano-materials and antimicrobial barriers will become more popular than their solvent counterparts.
Smaller and more practical packaging with shorter runs
Downsizing was a major trend of 2016, and remains an important element within the packaging industry this year. Paperboard package designers must juggle this with a demand for higher functionality from packaging – certainly no mean feat. For example, consumers who follow a portion-controlled diet need individual or partitionable units, and/or resealable containers.
On top of this, the demand for quick, on-the-go foods is on the rise. According to research by The Hartman Group, 15% of all eating is done within one hour of purchasing. Another study, completed by Mintel, reports that 36% of people are interested in packaging that simplifies eating on the move, and 23% often buy individually portioned packs. In fact, 41% stated that they would pay more for single-serve vegetable packages, to prevent food waste. So individual packages, or multi-unit versions, have a growing market ahead.
This trend will no doubt be met with some controversy. On the one hand, it could potentially reduce product waste, but on the other, an item that was packed in one carton is now packed in two, three, or more, increasing the amount of packaging material used.
Paper converters are also finding themselves under pressure to achieve shorter runs, while reducing waste, emissions, and chemicals and hazardous processes in packaging. Shorter runs allow companies to customise packaging for specific markets, and to perform graphics variation tests.
Digital printers developed by major manufacturers are steadily improving their performance. Though not mainstream yet, they solve many of these issues regarding small-scale jobs.
Premium brand packaging needs
Recent years have seen consumer demand for sophisticated packaging has increase. Packaging for the premium and luxury brands uses impeccable colour reproduction, decoration, embossing, varnishes and overall strength. These formats tend to use higher paperboard grades such as GC1 (pigment-coated virgin bleached pulp) and SBB (solid bleached board).
Package printers and folding carton converters are investing in newer equipment to satisfy these needs, according to PostPress magazine. High-end craft/gourmet brands are driving these packaging trends for 2017, combining short runs and numerous changeovers, with foil and specialty coating application.
Making ‘natural’ evident
According to Deloitte, 55% of consumers would pay up to 10% more for a healthier product and 26% would pay even more. Healthy food consumers need look for signposts that the product is as natural and fresh as possible. Photographs, illustrations, iconography and labels must clearly ‘prove’ this fact. Transparent packaging or at least see-through windows can be of great help too. Research by Mintel indicates that 38% of consumers would rather pick products that allow them to view the contents. Consumer brands are getting on board with this packaging trend, with 12% of new packaging designs including cut-out windows, compared with 8% in 2013.