Cheap, easy to manipulate and waterproof: packaging loves plastic. And with the right approach, plastic can be a friend of the Earth too. Emma-Jane Batey speaks to brands that use plastic packaging to see how they're making plastic work for them.
Plastic is the developed world's dominant packaging material, with over a third of all plastic used in packaging. Lightweight, strong and easy to bend and shape any way you want, plastic makes sense when it comes to keeping products – from creams and liquids, to snacks and household goods – exactly as the manufacturer intends.
Something completely different
Brands of all sizes love using plastic packaging and they're happy to listen to innovative solutions – as long as the price and the performance is right. For fast-growing skincare brand Sam Farmer, plastic packaging ticks all the boxes. And they're pretty cool boxes. A dynamic brand that is really doing something different, the packaging plays a big part in its rapid growth. The Devon-based brand is named after its founder Sam Farmer, a cosmetic scientist who is certainly one to watch.
Sam Farmer has created a bold, beautiful, highly effective range of personal care products that use packaging to stand out from the crowd.
Farmer tells Packaging Today, “Being a stay-at-home dad, I went to buy my kids their first teenage personal care products. Having seen the rows of products – pink, pouty and submissive packaging aimed at my daughter, and steel grey, macho stuff intended for my son – I left determined to do something about it. I wanted to simplify personal care and stop the gender segregation of young people at such a crucial stage of their development.”
Sam interviewed over a thousand 13–18 year olds and said it became clear that they wanted 'simplicity and efficacy' from their personal care products. He adds, “The beauty industry is full of products all shouting at their customers and claiming all sorts of nonsense; therefore, it made sense to pare back the design and take an almost 'anti-marketing' stance. We are spearheading a new movement, so the packaging needs to be striking; it was essential to stay clear of the stereotypical colours and messages currently being used in order to create a truly unisex brand.”
With the Sam Farmer range including effective personal care basics such as shampoo, conditioner and face wash, the eponymous product line has been called “one-of-a-kind in the teenager skincare market” by SpaceNK (the range is available at SpaceNK and Ocado, and is soon to be sold in Superdrug) and is praised by influential beauty journalist Sally Hughes. All the packaging is manufactured by Suffolk-based M&H, with Farmer designing the packaging himself. “The freedom I have is that I don't answer to anyone when it comes to design. Technically, the block metallic colour to the top of the tube was difficult to achieve, and caused a few issues in the sealing and cutting process. The colours all took quite a lot of work to get right as they looked slightly different in the manufacture. Thankfully, it's all down to me and the choices I make; it must be very hard when you're trying to design by committee.”
The fresh choice
So while plastic packaging has been the dominant material of choice across many product sectors for some time, it still manages to be the go-to for innovative brands that want to offer something fresh to the market. Take The Primal Pantry, for instance, a Maidenhead-based company that has gained great market share in the ever expanding protein-bar sector thanks to its energy bars, which are available in Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury's, as well as leading (and local) health food stores such as Planet Organic, Wholefoods and Holland & Barrett. Flavours include coconut and macadamia, almond and cashew, and brazil nut and cherry, with 30g multipack and 45g single formats.
Sophie White, The Primal Pantry's graphic designer, tells Packaging Today about the importance of packaging for its healthy products: “Our initial packaging designs were created by branding and design agency Midday. We went through a series of stages looking at different designs. The core principle of our brand is simplicity. All our products are made from only a few real food ingredients. We wanted our packaging to reflect this, hence the minimalistic design. We use the finest ingredients to give our products the best flavour, so a luxury feel was important. Like our product, our packaging is clean, simple and beautiful.”
The Primal Pantry chose plastic packaging in order to ensure its protein bars stay fresh and intact on the shelf and during transportation, with its brief of maintaining simplistic beauty a marked change from other protein bars on the market. Sophie added, “The bright, matt colour and minimalism of the Primal Pantry bar is not in keeping with many leading protein bars. Ultimately, we chose a bright, neon colour for each protein bar to provide the energy required to distinguish it as a more sport-specific product – although the bars are suitable for athletes and healthy snacker alike. What we created as a result is a clean, standout design that breaks the mould of conventional 'noisy' protein-bar packets.”
Brands that are keen to highlight their form, function and beauty are just as keen to pick plastic for their packaging. British cosmetics brand Bagsy has recently joined forces with fashion designer Savannah Miller to create a range of make-up essentials, and it takes its packaging as seriously as its products. Available at Debenhams and leading online beauty retailer feelunique.com, the Bagsy packaging is beautifully designed as well as user-friendly. Bagsy's public relations manager Louize Evison tells Packaging Today, “In essence, the brand was designed and manufactured in-house in the South West. We chose predominantly sleek, matte, white componentry with gunmetal accents to stand out against the plethora of gloss black you tend to see in our industry. The componentry had to look premium while being as ‘handbag-friendly’ as possible – we chose a very slimline plastic bronzing compact, for example, to reduce weight and clutter. The blusher, Pretty Cheeks, is designed to be applied directly from the component so you don’t need to also carry a brush. By combining the sleek componentry with the vivid and eclectic prints of the outer packaging, it felt like each product was very special and a little daily treat to use.”
Evison notes that using plastic gives great flexibility when it comes to creating products that pack a productivity punch. “Wonder Wand is a good example of where form meets function. We had the manufacturing capabilities to produce the split-lead formulation – half of the bullet is concealer, the other half illuminator – and the sleek chubby crayon with twist-up format really felt like the perfect combination, while the space theme of the print on the outer box adds to the magic of this product.”
As being responsible when it comes to packaging is increasingly the default setting rather than the USP of the green few, plastic packaging is able to continue to shine. Brands know it delivers what they want, how they want, and at a price they can afford.