• Transform magazine
  • February 21, 2020

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Bright futures: Sustainable and flexible packaging

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Interests in sustainability, flexibility and colour palettes have changed the way packaging is approached globally. What does the future hold for FMCG and food and drink brands in terms of packaging design, production and supply chain management? Matthew Francklow reports

Over the past 10 years, the packaging and print industry has evolved, often beyond recognition, as a result of economic, social and technological change. The recession saw consumer budgets squeezed and a move from weekly grocery shopping to daily top-ups and convenience-focused purchasing. Luxury goods remained strong as consumers held on to their treats and seasonal purchases and the household and personal care products markets further segmented and tailored to changing demographics.

The packaging industry itself only grew in line with GDP in western Europe and continued to consolidate as a result of globalization drivers; brands extending their reach across continents and industry supply chains shortening, particularly to eastern Europe and Asia. While most would consider recession damaging to an industry, in fact in terms of packaging design, development and innovation, it seems that recession might have focused the industry on innovation at all together different level.

Olivia Winkworth, from Creation Reprographics says, “As brands expand globally the challenges for flexible packaging and print design grow enormously. Time pressures at flexible packaging and label printers, due to the large demand for their services, can often mean time constraints on projects with little time for preparation. The biggest brands establish their credentials through delivering strong brand identity and consistent branding around the world and yet, if a range of printers had the same image to reproduce, it’s guaranteed that the result will be a range of performance as a result of their different ink, roller, machinery and plate selections.”

By taking an active interest in their flexible packaging print supply chain, brands, procurement teams and marketing managers have a greater opportunity to improve quality and consistency level, speed to market and save on costs. There has been a surge in interest in the development of fixed colour palette printing for that very reason. Brands will have often inherited, from various range launches over the years, a huge palette of brand colours that they are trying to manage across a number of print types, substrates, machines and locations. By working closely with their print supply teams – including a graphic designer, reprographic house and printer – brands can reduce the number of colours and standardise the colour gamut they are prepared to work within, the savings can be enormous and the consistency and quality can increase.

Matthew Thompson, new business executive at Martin Dawe Brand Design says, “The importance of teamwork isn’t always understood by big brands. They have a great vision of the final result, but know little in how this is achieved. With new clients, we take them on an educational process that they find rewarding explaining how they can improve consistency in colour, etc. They soon realize preparation is everything. collaborative meetings with all the key parties (suppliers designer, Repro, printer) is vital to getting the best results for your packaging.”

Fixed colour palette printing is not easy but offers the brand owner and converter a number of advantages. The set up process is slow and demands considerable teamwork with the partners in the chain. All variables in the print process have to be scrutinised, measured and specified. Adjustments to colour palettes and brand designs are often required and yet the end result can include cost savings across ink, inventory and logistics and actually achieve greater brand consistency, a lower carbon footprint and ultimately drive further customer recognition and brand loyalty. Jo Stephenson MD of PHD Marketing, a partner to a number of flexible packaging companies in the UK, says, “Packaging is no longer just a way of protecting and preserving a product in the supply chain. It is an intrinsic part of what has become known as the first and second ‘moment of truth’ for consumers. With the advent of online retailing, brand and packaging companies have to think really hard about how to give consumers an experience on opening a pack in the home, not just enabling supply chain efficiency and shelf appeal in store. Combine these needs with the advances in pack functionality: easy- open and reclose technologies with laser perforation, smart packaging solutions that have apps for consumer connectedness, attributes to extend shelf life, increased product protection, reduced bacterial contamination or improved sustainability and you have an advanced but complex and innovative flexible packaging industry developing quickly.”

“Packaging is no longer just a way of protecting and preserving a product in the supply chain. It is an intrinsic part of what has become known as the first and second ‘moment of truth’ for consumers”

Nick Smith, managing director of Parkside, a specialty flexible packaging company in the UK and Asia, adds, “We see two main thrusts of demand from our customers. Either they want more convenience packaging design or they are addressing the sustainability of their packs. Flexible packaging has always been a difficult sell from an environmental perspective. Multi-layer laminate materials, sometimes laminated with up to 11 layers, cannot be recycled and the UK is driven by the idea of a closed loop economy – reusing materials wherever possible. They therefore inevitably end up in landfill much to the dislike of consumers. Landfill capacity is running out and the entire supply chain is looking for alternative end of life scenarios.”

He says that flexible packaging is lighter than rigid packaging thus better meeting customers’ needs They can also enhance shelf appeal due, but they fall short in terms of recyclability. Parkside, he says, created a new flexible pack that allows for composting, for the first time. Smith adds, “Recently launched on an ethical crisps brand, Parkside is keeping its fingers crossed that this is change of approach to flexible packaging sustainability is adopted more broadly.”

For those brands trying to find greener ways to package their products there are options available, but they can often be harder to source especially in the realm of food packaging where only certain materials and inks can used. Rigid plastics for chilled and prepared foods have moved wholesale into recycled PET – a crystal-clear high barrier material that can contain up to 95% recycled material, sourced from recycled water and fizzy drink bottles, and is fully recyclable at the end of the pack use. A great example of the closed loop approach working well. Paper and carton products are also good examples of the same trend, although ink migration issues in recent years have increased the volume of virgin material entering the paper and carton food packaging supply chain.

But it’s not just about materials driving sustainability. With respect to printing machines, new developments in printing plate materials using water not solvent for cleaning have been launched.

Creation Reprographics has a unique approach to the environment and has invested in AWP Plate technology from Asahi Photoproducts, which uses water rather than solvent to clean the plates. Its AWP results yield consistency, slightly raised ink density and better lay down, good minimum dot and speed to press alongside meeting its environmental goals. AWP works across all substrates and has a high level of performance in premium flexible packaging applications – a growth area in the industry.
Extensive plate trials and live commercial production jobs have proven AWPs ability to print down to 10-micron dot, using classical round dot screening. With the latest screening technologies, the plate is able to reproduce a vignette fade to zero. Due to this quality leap, customers are able to successfully transfer production from offset or gravure to flexographic printing.

What’s next for the flexible packaging market? From a sustainability perspective, the sense is that the industry has light weighted as far as is deemed feasible. Light weighting has its limits when considering that flexible packs are there to protect the contents and extend the shelf life of a product to minimise product waste. If by reducing material gauge, pack waste rates increase then the journey is over.

Consumers are leading busier and busier lifestyles. They are demanding solutions for fresh food on the go where the ergonomic design of flexible packaging works well. They are also looking for eat me/keep me designs as portion control for either budgetary or dietary reasons. Film and foil flexible packaging lends itself to easy open and reclose technology far better than many paper, carton or rigid designs.

Brands are seeking global supply, consistency and environmentally considered design but they are also enjoying the newly discovered benefits of flexible marketing – the ability to customise their packaging at the point of packing and filling, in order to vary their messages according to the season, latest promotion or target consumer segment. Take the recent Coca-Cola foray into personally named bottles, more a case of mass customisation then personalisation, but it demonstrates the potential of brand owners to deliver targeted, unique messages to drive sales. Flexible packaging is perfectly placed to adopt these unique digital and flexo technologies.

For example, take the unique Datalase technology – an inline digital printing technology where the substrate is patch printed with a laser reactive pigment at the point of flexo printing. Then, a pack is formed and when it is filled, a laser digitally prints bar codes, graphics or messages as required to personalize each pack. Yes each pack – not mass marketing of several thousand for differentiation. The technology originated in coding and marking of simple bar code text and has now morphed into a breakthrough full colour technology ready for the mass market. Launching at Drupa 2016, Datalase will demonstrate its single colour print solution and hopes to launch its full colour solution, Infinity, in 2017.

The fututre is bright for flexible packaging.

Matthew Francklow is the owner of Creation Reprographics.

Good cheese comes from happy cows: Making sustainable goals work for global brand

British cheese and dairy brand Wyke Farms has revolutionised its packaging in recent years with a number of changes to its colour palette, pack design and a full rebrand in 2012 following a Facebook vote on fans' favoured wordmark.

On 12 October, it released a new package design intending to make its products not only eye-catching on the shelf, but appealing to a global audience. It has put its British roots at the heart of the new export design with a Union Jack based background on a series of jewel-toned cheese packs. The new pack intends to communicate the range’s premium luxury standard through design. Wyke Farms has noted an increase in sales in products branded with the Union Jack, especially in France and Asia.

Rich Clothier, managing director of the family-owned Wyke Farms, says, “We are trading in more regions than ever before and witnessing an ever growing support for ‘British.’ I am confident that we can achieve a four-fold increase simply by conveying our British credentials more clearly on pack; such is the strength of the associations of quality and premium attached to British produce. In all of the key growth regions such as China, India and Japan, British products are instantly recognised as being of the highest quality and are therefore sought after.”

The packaging embraces a more rustic feel as its deep colours and parchment-like feel imbue it with a premium quality. However, the export range will also focus on Wyke Farms’ sustainability credentials as its ‘100% Green’ logo is moved to the front of the pack. The company was recently named the UK’s national champion for sustainability in the 2015- 2016 European Business Awards. Its cheese and butter is made entirely
with green energy because of the farm’s biogas plant. One of its core sustainability goals is to minimise packaging waste.

Its packaging weight has also been reduced by 4% after investing £800,000 in packaging technology last year. It now requires less cardboard in its cartons. Wyke Farms also pursues sustainable goals throughout its supply chain from using natural manures to its transport systems and waste management processes.

The new packaging embraces these goals but also allows Wyke Farms to promote itself as a premium British brand across 160 countries.