Box clever - how P4CK got into the packaging industry
When Luke Booth and Chris Eves won a Starpack Award with their innovative McDonald’s takeaway food box design, little did they know it would reach Olympic heights. Melanie Rutherford examines the successful launch of family business P4CK into the packaging industry.
Not every 24-year-old can say they have successfully launched their own business, been a part of the London 2012 Olympics and are in talks with Hollywood movie directors. But the CV of young designer and 2010 Starpack Gold Award winner Luke Booth boasts just that. If it hadn’t been for Luke scooping first prize in the packaging design awards, he and his uncle, designer Chris Eves, might never have started up P4CK, the packaging company they recently launched.
It was in response to a McDonald’s brief set by Boxer Creative to design a carrier for their drivethrough and take-away counter service that Luke, then a second year student at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, developed the BevBax®.
‘The Starpack brief was to design a package that held food and drink in one container – to improve the customer experience by making it easier to transport, and to help staff load products for faster service times,’ he explains. The BevBax is based around a conventional cardboard box without sides, in which a pick-up paper bag can be placed.
The Starpack judging panel was impressed that the cost-effective BevBax, created by Luke with the help of his uncle, Chris, who mentored the young designer throughout the process, reduced packaging and waste while effectively retaining the fast-food items inside the box.
The partnership worked well from the off, Chris drawing on his experience in the design industry to help his nephew develop the unique packaging. After completing a degree in Transport and Product Design from Coventry University and an MA in Industrial Design at Central St Martins, Chris began his career in the design industry at start-up footwear company Sneakart.
After a stint designing toys for the Lego concept lab he was approached by Lotus cars, where he worked on the Esprit concept and the 2012 Exige, ‘…along with some other top-secret projects. But I had some spare time to help Luke with the Starpack brief, and we worked well together.’
It soon became clear to Luke and Chris that the BevBax could be a commercially viable product. Key to this is the box’s large, visible sides, specially designed to allow high-quality print and branding for on-shelf presence, significantly improving its viability as a retail product.
It wasn’t long before the innovative design was spotted from further afield. Impressed by the BevBax, Empire Cinemas approached Chris and Luke with a view to adapting their patented fast-food carrier to accommodate popcorn and a drink. And so the Empire Kids BevBax was created, in a design that uses the same cardboard and paper bag technology as the original to create a robust packaging solution that proved both sustainable and cost-efficient.
And more good news was yet to come – in the shape of five Olympic rings. The announcement that none other than London 2012 mascots Wenlock and Mandeville would grace the branding space on the cinema snack box is something Luke describes as ‘a great honour’.
While the successful launch of BevBax can be largely attributed to the Starpack Gold Award, for Luke the journey began at a much earlier age – at breakfast time, to be precise. ‘When I was young I always liked playing with cereal boxes,’ he remembers, and his fascination for simple materials stayed with Luke through to university, where his design interest focused around card and plastic, as ‘they were readily available, easy to mock up sketch models for and easily tweaked’.
Having tasted success with his BevBax design, in his final year at university Luke conducted a selfinitiated brief around drinking and socialising. The result was ‘a selection of beer bottles that featured six scratch-away labels, designed help guys to socialise with the opposite sex – I called it Six simple steps to get her phone number. I presented the designs to InBev, which owns the UK licence for Beck’s. They liked the concept and created a Beck’s Beer competition featuring one of my labels.’ The company even commissioned a graffiti artist to spray Luke’s promotional artwork on a wall in Shoreditch. ‘Getting recognised by industry gives me confidence in getting our products into the marketplace,’ says Luke.
Combined with their commercial exposure and new relationships within the industry, this led to the pair’s next packaging concept. Chris explains, ‘The main contractor operating the catering and leisure concessions at Twickenham Rugby Football Union (RFU) became aware of us after seeing the BevBax. They asked if we could help to resolve the problems they faced with fans causing injury while throwing card-based beer carriers into the air.’ The pair’s solution was the FlexiCarry®.
‘Existing products on the market for carrying beverages lacked robustness and often caused spillage. They used excessive material and have been identified as health and safety risks.’ says Luke. He and Chris came up with a simple design comprising four flexible polyethylene rings (similar in appearance to the six-pack yokes used to secure beer cans) with a handle in the centre. One, two, three or four plastic pint cups can be carried using the FlexiCarry, without spillage – even when moving it up and down or when travelling at speed. Low-density polyethylene was the chosen material, as ‘it is fully recyclable and can be layered with a proportion of recycled material sandwiched in the middle,’ explains Chris. ‘The PE is food-grade and, like BevBax, was designed to retain high-quality branding and graphics.’
The FlexiCarry has since been successfully launched at the RFU and the London O2 Arena, and in collaboration with Molson Coors at Carling sponsored festivals. The concept proved particularly popular at the recent V-Fest, the annual music festival held across two locations in Chelmsford, Essex, and South Staffordshire. ‘It was the creation of these two products that convinced me and Luke to create the P4CK brand,’ says Chris, who now works with Luke at their offices in Berkshire developing a range of innovative packaging concepts.
Chris and Luke have received interest from manufacturers and retailers in a number of countries, although their immediate focus is getting their products estsablished in the UK. ‘Once we have achieved the key milestones we have set, we will be looking to commercialise our proven products in all major global markets,’ says Chris.
Attention has even come from the bright lights of Hollywood. ‘Film producer Spike Jonze, who is producing a movie set in the future called The Rick Howard Project, spotted the BevBax,’ says Luke. ‘He thought it would be a great showcase of future consumer technology.’
P4CK’s most recent concept is Coffee2go® – a multi-cup carrier that can safely carry up to four hot drinks in one hand without spilling a drop. ‘This opens up the possibility of consumers being able to safely transport eight hot beverages at a time, using both hands,’ says Chris. The design, for which P4CK holds an international patent, offers further benefits of sustainability and low cost. Using 25% less packaging than its closest cardboard competitor and 60% less than pulp trays, Coffee2go also takes up 25% less storage space than its conventional counterparts and is easier to dispose of. To make the product appealing to a variety of coffee retailers, the carrier has space for six-colour print display graphics.
Chris draws on his diverse experience in the design industry when developing new concepts for P4CK. ‘My experience has enabled me to build extensive knowledge of different manufacturing techniques and material knowledge in a broad range of industries, from footwear to automotive. This breadth of knowledge enables me and Luke to apply insight and technical solutions from different industries where collaboration may have never taken place. Our beer carrier, for instance, is an innovative application of gasket technology from the automotive industry.’
But when it comes to creating a successful packaging concept, he adds, ‘Consumer experience is also key. If the user is happy, then the product will be successful.’
Undoubtedly contributing to P4CK’s early success are the brand’s core values and philosophies, namely ‘revolutionising the consumer experience, delivering improved commercial margins for manufacturers and suppliers, reducing waste and increasing sustainability,’ says Chris. ‘Ultimately, the test of any package is the way it makes consumers feel. However, with an emerging focus on cost control and sustainability, it is no longer about one factor but a balance of many factors.’
Sustainability is something Chris and Luke try to incorporate into all their designs. The BevBax is a good example of this, reducing the equivalent box size packaging by more than 50%. ‘Sustainability of packaging is not solely defined by its ability to be recyclable or compostable, or by the material it’s made from,’ says Chris. ‘Other factors include weight, shape, size, material treatment, context, manufacturing processes, transport, distribution – even fuel. Reducing packaging weight is the bluntest, but usually the most productive way to improve the environmental sustainability and cost of a package. That is always the first abiding principle we apply to concept development. The recycled material option is preferable but not always the most sustainable, strongest or most effective route.’
Indeed, on Chris’s ‘wish I’d thought of that’ list is industrial designer Yves Behar’s Clever Little Bag shoe packaging for sports brand Puma. ‘There is a great deal to learn from what he has created, designing out waste using different materials and manufacturing techniques to produce something that dramatically reduces its environmental impact,’ he says. Other designs he admires include Naoto Fukasawa’s ‘genius fruit juice packaging, which look and feel like the fruit they contain – absolutely amazing fun’.
With their business heads firmly screwed on and a sky’s-the-limit attitude, Luke is ambitious about where they want to take the brand. ‘By 2020 I’d like to see P4CK in its own sustainable office, pushing the forefront of design using new materials and manufacturing techniques,’ Luke envisages. ‘Within 10 years we’d like P4CK to be an industry leader in the FMCG, retail and leisure markets – effectively the go-to design consultancy for packaging innovation.’ If what the pair has achieved so far is anything to go by, they’ll likely get there sooner rather than later.
Inspiration ‘We take inspiration from everything around us – culture, emerging consumer trends, our work and social environment, playing with different materials, architecture, and observing people and objects around us. Many of our lightbulb moments happen as we walk around our local supermarket.’
Keeping it in the family ‘Chris and I work well off each other. I guess my age means I am full of energy, fresh thinking and naivety. I have lots of new ideas and approaches, some of which are a bit left-ﬁeld – Chris acts as a good balance.’
Who gets the last word ‘We disagree all the time! Working in the creative industry, by default we are constantly pushing each other on new ideas. Creating and testing a prototype overcomes any disagreements.’