Sweeter results - confectionery packaging

Packaging Professional magazine
17 Jan 2011
Sweets in recycled clear plastic containers

Fresh design features and the latest packaging materials are helping to boost confectionery sales. Liz Wells reports

In the past year, confectionery packaging has seen a significant change, coinciding with increased sales. UK chocolate sales, for example, climbed 3.1% according to market research firm Mintel, based in London, UK.

The growth has been bolstered by heightened media attention through increased advertising and greater shelf space for the category in the major supermarkets.

But packaging, too, has played an important role. As Peter Lennie, Director at Luton-based Bell Packaging, UK, explains, ‘Fundamental to this attention is the presentation, which must be so attractive that it makes a casual consumer want to pick up and hold the product. It is a fact that any product bought on impulse is 60% sold if the shopper picks it up.’

Lennie points to the number of confectionery items that are supported by licensed characters or celebrities. ‘If you put [a celebrity] on the front of a magazine, the sales will double. It is the same for confectionery – use a well-known and wellliked face and the product will fly off the shelf.

‘The cost of some chocolate or confectionery products is minor compared to that of its packaging and endorsement,’ he adds.

Another noticeable trend is the use of retro styling, says Kati Randell, Packaging Development Manager at Helsinki-based Fazer Bakeries & Confectionery in Finland.

Bob Houghton, Corporate Marketing and Communications Manager at Chesapeake, Old Amersham, UK, also acknowledges the retro trend. ‘Over the past year or so, there has been a move to retro styles, reflecting a wave of nostalgia that has also seen a surge in demand for 1950s homeware, vintage clothing and books. It seems quality is associated with things of the past.’

Tactile elements

Texture has also become an important design tool. The way the product feels in the hand is crucial, according to Randell, which is why embossing and packaging materials with different tactile finishes – soft, rough, cold or warm – are important to a brand’s image and values.

Adam Heath, Operations Manager at Meridian (Speciality Packaging) in Malvern, UK, notes that designers from nonpackaging disciplines are now shaping some interesting ideas, looking at visual packaging design with a different perspective.

‘I feel that very strong work can be produced when fresh eyes are involved. We have worked with a range of designers, from typographers to branding experts, and they often respond very well to the idea that the material itself should have a voice, and that seven-colour print and UV varnish can be a wasteful, and not a altogether environmentally responsible way to spend their clients’ money, whereas, for instance, blind embossing can have an enormous impact, yet it’s regularly under-rated.’

This appreciation of the different material strengths and weaknesses, along with elements that can create great on-shelf standout while reducing the amount and weight of the pack, is now at the heart of confectionery packaging design.

In achieving this, the field has seen a more predominant use of cartonboard and flexible packaging, representing a shift away from rigid plastics and metals. Lightweight plastic film packaging has come to the fore for multipacks in particular. ‘For large and multipack sales, 2010 saw a significant increase in plastic flow packs, which have great shelf impact and offer a resealable option – what a great innovation in keeping food fresh and protected,’ Lennie states.

Within the area of folding cartons, a move away from high gloss coating in favour of matt finishes, uncoated board and textures created through embossing has been evident.

Heath notes, ‘I see this as a reaction to the success of a number of artisan chocolatiers who have been driving the re-emergence of the UK as a global leader in high-end chocolate. These chocolatiers have developed direct links with the world’s best cacao producers in Latin America, Africa and Indonesia, and in doing so, they have inspired packaging designers, who have brought elements of a more rustic, natural and dynamic style to their packs.

‘This has, in turn, resulted in the resurgence of kraft/brown boards. That said, the development of paperboards that are whiter than ever has lead to a greater use of white space in designs to signal purity and quality, and accentuate printed areas.’

Fazer Bakeries and Confectionery, for example, has used white on its packaging to emphasise ‘the purity of the natural products’ used in its novelty KarlFazer Nordic Gourmet range.

Environmental considerations

The UK Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is having an increased impact in the industry and the second Courtauld Commitment will continue to drive down pack sizes and the use of secondary packaging. Indeed, many packs have been redesigned to remove mixed materials, such as plastic fitments and trays, so they are made from just one material to make recycling easier.

Heath adds, ‘This focus on reducing packaging works in our favour because we produce mostly in cartonboard, although some caution must be exercised as the desire to reduce the material weight ever further may encourage the use of higher and higher yield boards. This can reduce packaging performance and increase waste through damage even though the actual unit weight of the pack and the production waste is reduced.’

In this emphasis by brandowners to improve their environmental credentials, major players such as Marks & Spencer and Nestlé have also opted for compostable materials. Marks & Spencer’s entire Swiss chocolate range features a Plantic tray made from cornstarch, which is said to take about three weeks to breakdown on the garden compost heap. The outer carton is made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified board. Nestlé’s Quality Street sweets, meanwhile, are wrapped in a coloured renewable and compostable packaging film derived from wood pulp, called Natureflex.

While the sustainability and lifecycle of all such materials is under ongoing scrutiny from materials scientists, their use indicates a clear trend.

Valued commodity

Ultimately, Randell says companies either want to stress the premium or the economical value in their designs. ‘The premium is expressed either with rough, hand-made, natural, genuine-looking designs, or with shiny, luxurious designs, whereas economical value is expressed with [packs] that are simple.’

Lennie agrees that price is a main influence on design. He adds, ‘As supermarkets demand lower prices the effect will be a lower quality product. At the other end of the scale, high-end products will always have their own niche market – not such big volumes, but much higher pricing levels. In general terms, the higher quality products are displayed with clear windows or lids to ensure that the consumer can see what they are buying.’

The future of confectionery packaging, Randell predicts, will feature more new shapes, materials and surface treatments. ‘I believe that packaging will be used more as a communicative media to consumers and that packs might help brand interaction with consumers.’

In this vein, Houghton believes 3D print and constructions, which add the impression of movement and depth, will come to the fore. ‘This will include printed holographic effects that are eye-catching but reinforce the brand’s qualities, as well as truly 3D packaging that offers unique shapes.’

An example of this is Chesapeake’s ‘Glint’, which applies a 3D printed finish to labels. It was initially used for beer labels, but the technique is now being explored for confectionery labels and cartons. ‘It is easier to add these optical enhancements to labels than cartons, but pack designs incorporating clever fitments that hold/suspend products are being developed and will feature in the market over the coming years,’ Houghton suggests.

Lennie believes that the future will also see increased demand for transparent packaging because it offers designers much more flexibility. ‘While the last two years have seen plastic singled out as bad, the new range of recycled plastic packaging is going to change people’s opinions,’ he adds.

It’s not just consumers that will enjoy the comfort of confectionery, it is manufacturers too – through increasing sales and profits.

Above: An example of packaging from an independent chocolatier in Ramsbottom, UK – The Chocolate Cafe UK. Managing Director Paul Morris explains, ‘Our luxury chocolate packaging uses uncoated brown kraft paper, which is sourced from [sustainably] managed forests. The uncoated paper is overlaid by a red hot foil to enhance the Chocolate Cafe brand name and chocolate splodge logo. The foil gives the products the sense of luxury and lets the consumer know they are buying a premium quality product. The uncoated brown paper offers us a point of difference on the shelves, while making a real cost saving over several alternative coated papers we considered.’

Further information

Liz Wells is a freelance journalist