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Mark Ryan: The case for quality corrugated packaging

September 3, 2014 1 Comment » Print Print

TRM Packaging’s Mark Ryan explores the corrugated packaging landscape

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The food and drink market is a highly competitive environment with multiple brands jostling for position in the aisles of the multiple retailers. The growth of own label has added to the raft of food and drink manufacturers operating in the market. This means that competition is greater than ever and shelves are full of options; for brands this means that product stand-out is crucial.

While shelf shout is important it is not the only way that developments in retail ready packaging can provide value.

Success can be measured in three areas, in the aesthetics of the packaging and its added value properties, in its ability to impact the supply chain and help make efficiency savings, and in the continual improvement in recyclability and contribution to the global food security problem.

Aesthetics

When it comes to the appearance of packaging, the print quality on the box and how the image on the pack communicates the product offering, the packaging industry needs to push-on and provide extra value. Competing brands in the food and drink industry could benefit from enhanced or unique on-shelf offerings in the coming years.

Designers and brands need to adopt a holistic approach to ensure that the primary pack works in harmony with shelf and retail ready packaging (SRP/RRP) to create an element of ‘theatre’. With the advent of SRP, the secondary pack is now an integral part of the overall brand communication on shelf and needs to be considered at an early stage. Many brands overlook this and leave the development of the secondary packaging product until the end, compromising the shelf impact as a result. A collaborative approach to packaging design which sees primary and secondary packs developed at the same time will maximise ‘shelf shout’.

The staple requirement of a packaging manufacturer should be to create packs that offer instant on-shelf brand recognition, allowing consumers to identify their favourite products more easily on a busy shopping trip and ensuring competing manufacturers get their brands noticed.

It may be the case in years to come that good design simply isn’t enough; there is an increasing focus on the interactivity of packaging itself. Heineken’s ignite bottles which flash to the beat of nightclub music, Ballantine’s graphic equaliser and Kraft’s use of augmented reality codes on Philadelphia packs are all excellent examples of how interactivity can boost sales. But they are yet to be mobilised across the entire food and drink sector and smaller or independent producers and manufacturers are likely to fall behind in this area unless packaging companies take the lead.

Print Quality

The contrast between larger multinational brands and their competitors who are new to the market is usually evident in a more fundamental area – print quality. Traditional wisdom would dictate that high quality printing and finishes cost more and therefore only the bigger companies can afford them. The advent of high quality post print (HQPP), however, has challenged this convention.

The advances in HQPP mean that the print quality now achieved is comparable to the litho-laminated or pre-print flexo processes but with significantly reduced lead times and associated stock inventory reductions leading to overall supply chain savings.                                                                            

Taking advantage of this will allow smaller companies to achieve heightened shelf presence without having to invest too heavily in their packaging. There is of course a great amount of scope for bigger businesses who are looking to recoup some costs while maintaining the visual quality of their secondary packaging.

Supply chain

There are also a range of supply chain benefits offered by HQPP which can have a significant impact on the bottom line of a business and its ability to respond to market opportunities.

Traditionally, high quality printed packaging requires a lead time of several weeks along with the need to hold stocks of printed litho sheet or reels of pre-print. Against a background of the fast moving FMCG market and the need to respond quickly to promotional opportunities, this can result in stock obsolescence and subsequent stock write-offs.

These problems are negated by HQPP which offers greater flexibility in terms of  shorter run lengths, reduced stockholding and significantly shorter  lead times, for repeat orders this can be as little as five days. This enables brand owners to become more agile in their response to retailer promotions and to minimise the stock obsolescence often created by promotional activity at short notice.

Lightweighting

New-age innovation and boundary pushing is not limited to printing techniques and quality finish – many manufacturers will benefit from products that are lighter and better designed.

Transporting more at a lighter weight and developing accurate digital barcoding for recording shipments is just as vital as shelf presence and presents significant supply chain optimisation opportunities.

In the Food Manufacture State of the Industry Survey (July 2014), 62% of respondents stated that reducing the weight of packaging and increasing recyclability are key priorities over the next year.

Reducing packaging weight and size without compromising stability offers huge cost benefits to food and drink manufacturers. This can be achieved by better design and the use of new age papers. This was a major motivator in TRM’s recent upgrades to its corrugator which will allow the company to utilise lighter new technology papers and produce F microflute.

Recyclability and food-waste

Recyclability and product damage reduction are important features that should be designed in to retail and shelf ready packaging products. This reduces waste and product loss through the supply chain and helps retailers meet recycling targets.

There are cost implications associated with product loss, but corrugated retail and shelf ready packaging also have a significant role to play in legislative compliance. The EU’s recent review of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (2014) resulted in the adoption of new recycling and food waste targets. For the paper packaging industry, the target for recycling and preparing for re-use of waste is to reach 90% by 2025.

The review also contributes to the fight against food waste by introducing measures aimed at reducing food waste generation by 30% by 2025.

Meeting these targets will require a combination of collaborative working throughout the entire supply chain, innovative design and the use of new technology papers and processes. Packaging manufacturers that are well-equipped and capable of offering such services are likely to thrive in the coming years.

Mark Ryan is innovations manager at TRM Packaging