On trend - driving packaging innovation

Packaging Professional magazine
,
4 Mar 2014

A range of drivers – both external and consumer – influence packaging and spur innovation. Jocelyne Ehret, Director of Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions (Europe) at HAVI Global Solutions, UK, discusses these drivers and examines some of the new packaging and innovative materials they have inspired.

It’s easy to think of the latest packaging trends, such as pouches, flexible packaging, easy-open designs, single-serve packs and greater use of renewable materials, but what were the drivers that inspired these developments? Drivers are the sparks that ignite innovation and alter the course of behaviours. There are eight primary drivers that strongly influence packaging and represent the need behind the need. When organisations view the future of packaging through the lens of each of these drivers, it is possible to develop the foresight necessary to take packaging forward.

Emerging markets
Over the next two years, 70% of the world’s growth will come from emerging markets. Meanwhile, more than two billion people in BRICS and the Next 11 nations are expected to move to the middle income bracket in the next five years. This new middle class is global, urban, educated, mobile and connected. To reach these individuals, brands must adapt across languages, borders and cultures, and design their packaging accordingly.

Retailer impacts
Retailer and consumer interaction has evolved to fit better with busy lifestyles and the pressures of a constantly connected world. Consumers can shop anytime, anywhere and they can access information and engage in real-time two-way conversations with retailers. Brands are expected to provide packaging that similarly informs and interacts with consumers, for example QR codes on food packaging that link to recipes or augmented reality apps on cereal boxes.

Holistic thinking
By taking a holistic approach to design that considers the emotional (look, feel, sound) and technical (cost of ownership, sustainability, performance) aspects of packaging, brands are able to differentiate commodities such as detergents, beer and packaged foods. European brands HAK and Stabburet, for instance, are leveraging award-winning Orbit closures on jamjars to deliver product protection and an easyopen experience for consumers, regardless of age or gender.

Sustainability
Consumer perceptions of, and brand owner responses to, the issue of sustainability have become increasingly sophisticated. Where consumers once were once concerned with whether products were harmful to the ozone layer or had been tested on animals, they now are inquiring about fair trade, food miles and carbon footprints. Similarly, brands have evolved from reducing materials use to alternative materials sourcing, refillables, product concentrates and zero waste. And while sustainability remains a global trend thanks to retailers and brands continuing to push suppliers to meet sustainability goals, it is also a packaging innovation driver, with designers seeking renewable materials increasingly looking beyond the conventional to alternatives such as oil, corn and sugarcane.

Consumers, social media and personal technology
Consumers’ use of social media platforms is impacting packaging in several ways. In the past, consumers might have been influenced by an advertisement, visited a store and considered the product on the shelf (First Moment of Truth), then experienced the product at home (Second Moment of Truth). However, social media has added another step in this process: the Zero Moment of Truth. Today, consumers have instant access to product information and can check reviews and public opinion of a product on their mobile devices before they even see the packaging and product. Likewise, brands can monitor social media channels for insights into consumer behaviours and reaction to their products. In this situation, packaging plays a less crucial role in providing proof of advertising benefit.

Science and technology
Key areas of packaging technology application in the next decade will include digital printing and mass customisation, coatings and barriers for paper, renewable non-food feedstocks, high-speed sorting for recycling and small-scale manufacturing. We are already seeing innovations in barrier materials, with new coatings that are more sustainable and cost effective than plastic, and still deliver the same performance.

Law and regulations
Landfill and material bans, timber regulations, extended producer responsibility legislation and recycling targets are impacting packaging selection throughout Europe and driving innovation. For example, mineral oil migration concerns with printed fibre and recycled materials could inspire a new, repulpable protective coating, while BPA bans will drive development of alternative material solutions.

Anticipatory issues
How organisations manage anticipatory and emerging issues that affect packaging can provide a competitive advantage. A recent survey of 20 leading North American and European companies across the packaging value chain demonstrated how they manage anticipatory issues. Each has a process in place, including a dedicated team of people and internal regulatory experts monitoring emerging topics. They meet regularly to identify issues, develop high-level risk assessments, establish plans and assign next steps and accountabilities.

Consumer drivers
In addition to the above primary external drivers, there are four overarching consumer drivers that motivate purchasing and influence packaging: peace of mind (‘It won’t hurt me, my family or the planet’), wellness (‘It’s really good for me’), enjoyment (‘It makes me feel good’) and convenience (‘It’s so easy for me’). When it comes to package design, brands can predict what consumers want and plan future packaging by uncovering the driver behind consumer actions, thoughts and behaviours.

A great example of this is the personal computer. Desktop computers brought new technology and a conduit to the web – and the information and connectivity it affords – to the masses. Apple transformed its insight about consumer drivers into foresight and re-packaged the computer as an ultraportable device (the iPad) that offers the benefits of a computer on the go and accommodates consumers’ desire for freedom, mobility and connectivity.

Each of these drivers, though evolving and changing, is always present in some form and impacts packaging. They are what compel innovation and inspire trends.

Packaging innovation
The evolution of barrier materials used in food packaging is an example of packaging innovation inspired by sustainability goals, technology advances and consumer demand for convenience and peace of mind. For years, plastics such as ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) have been used to coat fibre-based materials in packaging and act as barrier agents against water, vapour, grease and heat. Their effectiveness is proven and they are competitively priced, but increasingly organisations and brand owners are looking to replace the plastics in their barrier materials with more sustainable water-based coatings. In some instances, anticipated legislation and material bans are prompting a call for replacements.

Plastic-free barrier materials are not new, but new technologies are making replacement materials more readily available, more reliable and more effective than ever before. Increasingly, they are becoming a direct replacement for PE, PP and EVOH. For instance, new water-based coatings can be heat-sealed and glued. Unlike plastic coatings that must be separated from paper substrates for recycling purposes, plasticfree barrier coatings are mono-material, making them biodegradable without removal of the coating. Pricing of alternative barrier materials has also become much more competitive with plastic coatings.

Commercial applications for these materials include PE-free sandwich boxes, clamshells, prefabricated and frozen food boxes, folding and pressed trays, plates, cups and heat-resistant packaging, resistant paperboard for paper bags and bakery, weatherproof industrial bags and inner coatings for corrugated paperboard. PE-free barrier paperboard packaging can be used in the oven or microwave and heat-sealed during packing for longer storage. The packaging is reliable, userfriendly and customisable. It is also recyclable and compostable, and consumers perceive it to be ecologically safe with a light carbon footprint and short lifecycle.

Material advancements in coatings will continue as new technologies are introduced to create higher barrier functionality. Organisations are actively working to develop mineral oil barriers and other capabilities such as gas absorption to replace plastics and, in some cases, aluminium (both metallised and foil), in instances where packaging is used for long shelf-life applications. The goal is to develop packaging that is cost effective even if it is not cheaper than plastic, has environmental credentials for compostability and repulpability and ultimately is sourced from nonfossil fuel materials.

As this example demonstrates, external and consumer drivers – in this case, sustainability initiatives, new technologies and consumers’ demand for environmentally friendly, safe, convenient products – are continually influencing packaging. And, as packaging is playing an increasingly important leadership role in the value chain, organisations that leverage the impact of external and consumer drivers on packaging are best positioned to create new ideas and move packaging forward.