Hybrid packaging: collaboration is key

The corrugate packaging industry has invested almost £500 million in new technology in recent years, mostly on improving digital printing technologies. One reason for this is the rise in demand for eye catching, retail ready packaging options that provide the shelf appeal and brand exposure that food and drink brands expect, as well as reducing unpacking time and optimising the journey from the back of store to the shelf.

However, changes in how, when and where consumers shop are now dictating the next stage of development in corrugate packaging design.

Busier lifestyles will mean consumers change their buying behaviours, with more preferring to shop ‘little and often’ at convenience stores. It is estimated that these changes will see convenience stores grow 22 per cent to £20.2 billion by 2020.

There has been plenty of discussion on the issues this creates for packaging designers, and the supply chain in general. With convenience stores being smaller than supermarkets – and with a greater proportion of fresh and chilled food, daily shopping and meals for tonight – a new approach to packaging design is required.

With less on-shelf and storeroom space, pack sizes must be reduced, but with smaller pack designs comes greater packaging costs. It is now down to designers to develop smaller packs that enhance the appeal of fresh foods, are cheaper, consume fewer resources, are quicker and easier to prepare for unpacking and maximise brand impact.

So, how can corrugate evolve once again to meet these demands?

Cohesive approach

The industry is desperate for new innovations and a cohesive approach from packaging designers is essential to meet these challenges. They must develop a thorough understanding of what retailer and consumer require; it is essential to consider the stakeholder needs throughout the supply chain and, by starting from the shelf and working backwards, designers can understand each objective the pack needs to meet, including customer appeal, ease of unpacking, disposal of waste and overall costs.

Because shelf space is at a premium for retailers, both primary and secondary packaging solutions need to work together to provide a cohesive packaging solution. These issues have historically been addressed separately, but this must change, and secondary packaging needs to be designed to maximise the impact of the primary pack on shelf, as well as being flexible enough to adapt to different formats without compromising costs. In addition, it also needs to allow for speedy opening and preparation of the products for shelf and quick and easy disposal of a minimum amount of packaging.

The main barrier to the food and drink industry taking a holistic approach to packaging design has historically been the polarisation of different packaging materials, whether it be corrugate, RPET, cartonboard or film. Unwavering allegiance to one material is not the answer, as none provide a single solution to all current challenges.

RPET v corrugate

The RPET versus corrugate debate has continued to divide opinion for the last few years, particularly in the fresh and chilled food categories, and both have their merits. RPET is better on shelf, showing the primary packaging to maximum effect and not hiding the product behind corrugate pillars. Nonetheless, corrugate is better at providing vital protection in transit.

The competition between the two has led to an improvement in both, but arguably stagnation in overall innovation. The pace of improvement is now slowing and new approaches are essential.

Hybrid packaging in the secondary packaging sector has become a reality following the realisation that corrugate and RPET can complement each other, with packs comprising of both proving to be effective and efficient. Combining the high strength of corrugate and excellent shelf presentation qualities of RPET results in a pack that is both strong and efficient for delivery, as well as being easy to handle and open on the shop floor. Using RPET also gives better product visibility, with consumers wanting to see the quality of the food rather than its packaging.

That’s a wrap

Introducing a third element in the form of thin film, cold wrap technology, can further enhance the efficiency of the delivery system, enabling cost reduction and making packs easier and quicker to prepare for shelf. This then opens the way to provide more flexibility in pack sizes to meet the needs of different store formats.

Efficient, hybrid solutions that consume fewer resources, use less material and therefore negate the feared impact of smaller pack sizes, must become the norm.

By working together, the corrugate and RPET industries can create a truly different and innovative packaging solution to meet not only the challenges facing the major food retailers, but also the entire packaging industry.

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