The State of Packaging – 2015 (Interview 4)

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antonInterview 4 on the subject of The State of Packaging in 2015 comes from Anton Steeman who writes the blog, “Best in Packaging”. Anton is a packaging engineer with some 40 years experience in the field and he writes for several professional American and European printed media regarding food conservation and packaging technology.

1. If one significant factor in packaging has changed in the last 3 years, what would it be?

There are a few developments going on at this moment, which are very promising for the future. But over the last 3 years packaging as such, didn’t change significantly. You could see it at Interpack last year. Many an exhibitor had polished (by the way, no problem with that) one or more of his “novelties”, developed and launched during the recession, but at that moment not catching the attention as expected. A relaunch at Interpack was an action worth trying. And so we saw various “old” designs and technologies, sometimes evolved into new application fields, and often with a new coating.

One of the side-lines did change fundamentally however and that’s labelling. As the contemporary consumer is increasingly discriminating between brands by looking for ethical behaviour and clear values, the lying, cheating end green-washing have been curtailed. By explicitly exposing and publishing about it, the consumer paid more attention and required open and honest product information. This discriminating between brands, with or without ethical behaviour, led to several downfalls. Think of the “pomegranate affaire” of Coca-Cola, the downfall of soft drinks and breakfast cereals in general and the unstoppable downfall of McDonalds.

 

2. Do you see pouch packaging (flexible packaging) as a viable replacement for folding cartons?

No. Both packaging formats have their own specific characteristics. In my opinion the introduction of flexible packaging, particularly stand-up pouches, by a whole range of companies, is far over the top. Flexible is a hype and used as a means of cost cutting, fake sustainability and convenience claims, whether the product is suitable to be packaged in stand-up or not. I’m not against flexible packaging, but, in my opinion, flexibles are sometimes used in the wrong way for products not suitable, or better not to be, packaged in a pouch.

Time will tell and I think a lot of brands will return to more suitable packaging formats. Don’t forget that Millennials and Gen-Z are becoming the key target group for retailers. The contemporary consumer wants to consume smart, with less waste and more recycling, and are even willing to pay a premium for it. They look beyond the immediate product scope and are interested in the environmental impact a brand has across its supply chain. Packaging plays a crucial part in how the brand experience can be conveyed.

Furthermore a new Viewpoint report from Stora Enso concludes that 44% of Millennials consider fibre-based packaging materials to be by far the most sustainable packaging material choice.

At the other hand we see with the recent Flexible Packaging Awards a rich choice of new applications and designs. As said both formats have their typical characteristics and although, in my opinion, the flexible packaging has been sometimes implemented in wrong applications, new developments show a worthy and more mature competitor to several other packaging formats.

 

3. Among the various forms of laundry detergent packaging there are plastic containers with small colorful pods containing detergent. Recently these have been ingested by children and pose a serious health risk. Should the package be redesigned with stronger security measures in place?

The Child-Resistant packaging is intended to be a last line of defence with safe and appropriate storage of medicines and hazardous products being the primary preventative measure in harm reduction.

Even with the CR-packaging much more common and implemented in the USA, in comparison to the European countries, the number of accidents with children is significantly higher in the USA. Apparently the American consumer is more nonchalant with safely storing hazardous products and taking the proper measurements for safeguarding his children (loaded weaponry nonchalantly and unguardedly lying around in the house, come to mind). Or American children are more adventurous and willing to explore. I don’t know.

The answer of Procter&Gamble to the Tide pods problem is, in my opinion, the only correct one and I refer to the recently aired television ad emphasizing child safety.

So, in short the answer is no, I don’t think that we have to implement all type of CR-packaging solutions. It’s much better and effective to educate people.

 

4. We see chewing gum go from simple wrappers to bigger packaging with more stylish graphics. With the product basically still the same, how does simple and basic packaging compete?

I have no idea. This is a marketing matter. I’m not a marketing specialist, just a packaging technologist. For me it doesn’t matter whether the gum is packaged in bigger packaging or just simple and basic. I have no interest in graphics. Ask some marketing guru why the chewing gum market is changing.

 

5. I see a number of juice boxes and pouches competing in the children’s category. Do you see winner in this market?

Again this is basically a marketing question. In terms of technology I should say that flexible stand-up pouches with a proper fitment for drinking by toddlers and children will be the preferred choice of the parents. But technologically there really is no preference in choice. Both have their own characteristics, advantages and short-comings.

 

6. Now that vapor, or non-smoke tobacco products are taking off, what role do you see packaging playing?

I have no idea what you want with this question. With every product, packaging plays its role in preserving/conserving and marketing. Nothing new here, the product will be packaged according to market requirements.

7. Today’s electronic market is flooded with smartphones and some of the packaging has gotten fairly complex. Why is it then that Apple’s iPhone packaging has become simpler and more minimal? Does their packaging not play a key role anymore?

Of course the packaging plays a key role for Apple, like for anybody else. That’s exactly why Apple (always controversial and exclusive) correctly chose for a different design. Look at the recent consumer surveys. They conclude that in the whole mix of quiet Gen-X consumers, tech-savvy Millennials and 24/7 connected Gen-Z consumers, the 2015 consumer graves for simplicity. The prove: A 20-country consumer survey, conducted by Tetra Pak and IPSOS in 2014, found that 60% (covering all ages) crave a simpler life, beginning with packaging.

Apple’s choice therefore is logical, as is the design of its competitor Lenovo (Beijing) Ltd with a simple, beautifully designed moulded-fibre packaging for its new Lenovo VIBE X2 smartphone.

For the next years, simplicity is reigning packaging designs. In the eyes of the 2015 consumer simplicity means that packaging has to be green, flawlessly functional, light and more compact, able to communicate its benefits clearly, and not just highly visible, but fashionable as well. All fancy and complicated designs lost its favour with the consumer.

8. With all the coffee we consume through venues like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, should we expect these companies to look into more permanent drinking cups and lead the way in doing away with disposable cups? Or charge more for such?

I don’t think more permanent cups will take off. Every study commissioned by the FPI (Foodservice Packaging Institute) in the last 10 years has shown that reusable cups, plates, cutlery, trays, etc. had higher than acceptable bacterial counts, than their single-use counterparts.

A 2012 study in Sacramento County, Calif. found that nearly 30% of reusable items tested had higher than acceptable bacterial counts. A 2007 study in Wisconsin found that unprotected tables and trays had seven to 23 times higher bacterial counts than those with single-use place-mats and tray covers.

With food safety high on the agenda it’s unlikely that reusable items in the foodservice industry will be implemented widely.

9. What material do you see that is on the forefront in the packaging industry?

Paperboard in all its facets and variations.

A new Viewpoint report from Stora Enso shows that Millennials are more prone to purchase eco-friendly products than older generations. Four out of five Millennials consider packaging as important when making purchasing decisions and 85% of Millennials consider packaging material part of the brand experience. More importantly, however, the report concludes that 44% of Millennials are willing to pay a premium for products with sustainable packaging and they consider fibre-based packaging materials (in other words paperboard based packaging material) to be by far the most sustainable packaging material choice.

10. What is the least desirable package you have seen or experienced?

That’s a difficult one. I’m a packaging technologist and I love technology in all its facets. That said I hate packaging designs being over the top. A packaging has to be multi-functional, but simple and sustainable. Although basically I have no problem with packaging designs incorporating high-tech and electronic elements, it has to be functional and effective. Consequently I think that the tendency by many a market survey to glorify and predict a brilliant future for the interactive and electronic packaging should be taken with a large pinch of salt. After all it’s well documented that the contemporary consumer doesn’t have the intention to waste time with connecting to companies through packaging when shopping.

The QR (Quick Response) hype is a perfect example of a failing high-tech approach to the consumer. It never was and never will be popular with the consumer. Too many steps and various apps in an unfulfilling process have the potential to lose customers, and convolute a brand’s promise. And as the contemporary consumer of all ages is overly busy, he has to be selective and isn’t interested in useless and time-wasting connections with websites, which he just sees as a covert way to try to sell him crap.

I agree with Robert Brunner of design studio Ammunition, who stated at Gigaom Roadmap that the consumer feels himself living in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff”. Brunner denounced the ill-conceived hype for interactive packaging, saying: “Adding connectivity and some high-tech “fun” to everything, isn’t necessarily doing the consumer any favours. For him (the consumer) many “things” are just fine in their unconnected state”.

So, conclusion, for me undesirable packaging is the one incorporating over-the-top technology.