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Holistic packaging by design

During the recent Interpack show, Matthew Rogerson met with Joceylne Ehret, Director Business Development Operations at Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions, Keith Damarell, the company’s Vice President, and Neil Darin, Senior Global Innovation Program Manager, to understand more about the process of packaging from an end-user’s perspective. They discussed some of the key issues being faced, as well as three major areas of focus: end of life, package design and e-commerce.

We started with end of life
Within foodservice packaging, the end of life story needs to resonate: with the consumer, with the environment and with the supply
chain. One immediate issue is what to do with the packaging. Biopolymers for example are not usually (some are recyclable, eg, Bio PE) geared to recycling, as they are designed to compost or degrade, and leave a minimal or ideally no trace. However, providing packaging that is shelf stable, can handle temperature fluctuations (from fridge to oven to plate, or simple changes in transportation temperatures from truck to shelf to home) and maintain integrity is difficult, and the search continues to identify the most effective and efficient source of addressing these needs.

If a company decides to recycle, the same performance is required to maintain integrity with the onus on the ease with which the
materials can be collected, sorted and reclaimed from the recycling process. As Jocelyne Ehret mentioned, there is as yet no
plastics product that is both compostable and recyclable (within the existing common waste stream), but if there was a packaging that could compost and any remaining materials were able to be recycled, this would be an exceptional innovation.

End of life involves a number of stakeholders, from the companies producing packaging that has a reduced impact (on resources,
environment and weight), through to the consumers correctly disposing of their package to the national and international municipalities that are responsible for collecting and reusing any residual waste. Due to the multi-faceted streams involved, it will always be difficult for a single simple solution, but the industry continues to improve and innovate.

Differentiation vs standardisation
There was an interesting discussion, indicative of the wider conversations I have had with industry executives on the subject of
personalisation and helping consumers to navigate the vast array of choice they are now faced with on shelves, in restaurants and at markets.

There is an overall trend towards personalisation that has seen a number of innovations across a range of packaging. For example, manufacturers have moved to smaller, convenient portions in multi packs from the large bulkier products of five or 10 years ago. Further, with the advent of the "share a coke" campaign instigated by Coca Cola last year, consumers were able to have their name or a friend’s name on the bottle, which connected a consumer to the brand directly and provided a connection beyond a simple transactional purchase.

Brand-owners are continually working towards the concept of an ‘deal package’ though no such ideal can be obtained. However, by starting with the right functionality, and combining the right quality and the minimal waste impact, an excellent facsimile can be produced.

Personalisation might only be applicable to a percentage of customers – too truly market a product to every individual customer would be untenable- but increasingly it is aligning with package development, and with legislation, for example with the incoming Food ingredient regulations, that will provide full ingredient details to protect allergy sufferers. Within foodservice, an additional area that has seen increasing growth is the use of company canteens preparing evening meals for workers, who can take the meal home with them and prepare it without the hassle of diverting via a supermarket to locate ingredients. This is in a very nascent stage but is a blossoming trend.

The final topic was e-commerce
As Amazon continues to target short delivery times of one hour from purchase, and to look to new markets such as grocery, this should grow into a sizeable opportunity for packaging. One of the overall difficulties has always been using mail to deliver perishable goods. While dry ice or insulated packaging might protect fruit or vegetables, up to a point, it is not the most efficient, or environmentally friendly method and it does not provide satisfactory protection against damage in transit.

Packaging that can protect the goods and avoid any damage while moving between different temperatures (warehouse to truck to
home) will see increasing demand. Finding ways of delivering products straight to the consumer without having the same logistics resources of a physical retailer will be one of the next major opportunities for growth.

Holistic packaging by design, which encompasses all of the above areas is the method by which packaging is designed with the bigger picture in mind; consumer needs, cost, sustainability, functionality, waste reduction all are included in order to ensure that ultimately a manufacturer puts the right product at the right price on the right shelf for the right consumer while meeting all legislative and environmental requirements and engaging the consumer individually.