Brand owners turn heads with print that is packed with good ideas

Jo Francis
Thursday, September 29, 2011

Print's role in retail is difficult to overstate. <i>PrintWeek</i> talks to two brands about how print can best serve in this fast-paced market

Who hasn’t been tempted into buying – or turned off from a purchase – purely based on the packaging of an item? Packaging’s role in giving products shelf appeal and enhancing brand identity is paramount.

Clever design ideas and innovative new packaging treatments can involve months of client-side preparation and deliberation. A notable example is last year’s redesign of Tetley Tea packaging. The redesign plans for some 250 pack variants began as long ago as 2008, and it was described as an "enormous project" by Ziggurat managing director Kellie Chapple. Ziggurat was also involved with the recent redesign of Walker’s Sunbites snack, where a fresh look helped the brand to a 45% increase in sales.

Increasingly, environmental aspects are becoming just as important as pack design and performance, and it’s obvious that environmental concerns and sustainability are key issues for both brand owners and consumers.

The latest research from Tetra Pak shows that consumers across the globe are more environmentally aware about packaging than ever – its biennial Environmental Research survey for 2011 revealed a "step change" in environmentally conscious consumer behaviour, causing Tetra Pak president and chief executive Dennis Jönsson to state: "Packaging with a strong environmental profile is clearly a must-have, not a nice-to-have, for consumers."

Consumer power
The study, conducted by Euromonitor, polled 6,600 consumers in 10 countries, along with 200 industry influencers. It found that 88% of consumers expressed a preference for products in recyclable packaging, while 77% said they made a conscious decision about whether or not to buy a product depending on whether or not its packaging was better for the environment.

And the Consumer Goods Forum, a global alliance of 650 retailers and manufacturers and service providers has just released the first global measurement system for packaging sustainability. The Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability (GPPS) is a significant step forward because it provides a common language for companies involved at all stages of the packaging chain. Importantly, it includes the impact of product loss and wastage that can occur if too little packaging is used, as well as the often-debated (Easter eggs being an obvious example) negative aspects of using too much. Source documents for the GPPS can be found on the project website at globalpackaging.mycgforum.com.
Here, two client companies share their views on packaging print.

ARLA FOODS
Global dairy company Arla Foods is the world’s largest producer of organic dairy products. The DK49bn (£5.7bn) turnover group buys enormous volumes of packaging every year, and its own brands include Lurpak, Castello and Cravendale milk. It also produces private-label products for major retailers. The firm has an over-arching environmental strategy, ‘Closer to Nature’ which incorporates all aspects of its business, from farm to consumers’ wheelie bins.

As part of its environmental strategy through to 2020, which was unveiled earlier this year, Arla has set a target that all its packaging should become 100% recyclable in some form or another. Examples of changes that are being planned include switching from packaging that is a mixture of different types of plastic to ‘monoplast’ packaging that is manufactured using only one type of material and is therefor easier to sort and recycle.

Richard Taplin, packaging manager at Arla Foods, says: "I always feel there is a disconnect between packaging design agencies and the way print technology has moved on. I don’t think the design agencies spend enough time at printers so they can understand the capabilities – and limitations – of the different processes. For example, we’ve had jobs that will be produced using a four-colour process, and we receive 10-colour artwork. We’ve also received artwork that would look stunning if it was printed gravure, but the packaging is actually going to be produced using flexo. Quite a few design agencies don’t have a true understanding of print at the coalface. Getting genuine print experts involved early on in the process would save a lot of heartache later on.

It would be helpful if one person at the agency would take responsibility for designing a whole range. Sometimes there will be a new range of labels. The first two will be perfect, but then issues creep in and it’s clear different people have been working on them and they have not adhered to the production requirements. And if the quality of file set-up before it goes to the printer is poor, that passes additional work down the chain if the printer has to make the files print-ready for their process. It could be another two hours’ work.

Time wasted at the start of the process concertinas towards the end, and results in huge pressures when we get to the critical point of print production. And that leads to a high risk of mistakes being made. If, say, there’s a 15-week process and there have been delays during the first part of it, the end date will remain the same, leading to hugely compressed timescales. We might have labels that need to rest and cure before being converted, and if deadlines mean the required curing time is cut back and is less than it should be, that can cause quality issues on-shelf, especially for products that have to exist in a hostile environment, such as chilled.

In our business we have a clear focus on the environment through our Closer to Nature initiative. This covers everything from processing to packaging to logistics. Everything is under scrutiny and we are constantly looking at how we can improve, for example by using less material or in reducing packaging weight. We make sure we use suppliers who are doing their best environmentally too.

I look to our printers for advice as they are the experts and I listen very closely to what they say. We are always keen to hear ideas and suggestions from print suppliers. We haven’t got the answers to everything and we respect the expertise of our suppliers."

INNOCENT DRINKS
London-based Innocent has grown rapidly from its origins involving three blokes giving up their day jobs to produce smoothies. The firm is now 58% owned by Coca-Cola, and its range has expanded to include veg pots and an Innocent range for children. Ethical credentials are at the heart of the business, which pioneered the used of food-grade recycled plastics for its bottles. It has a publicly-stated policy on packaging use, thus: "use less: as little material as possible per pack; don’t use up new stuff: as much recycled or renewable material as possible; close the loop: materials and pack formats that are easy to recycle; and lower its impact: packaging that has a low carbon footprint".

Prasad Kelkar, packaging technologist, says: "Our packaging requirements haven’t changed dramatically since we started. We were blazing a trail in the beginning, but now if anything the rest of the industry is catching up. At the beginning we had to ask for recycled materials and things like FSC stocks, now those things are the norm.

Suppliers used to charge premium prices and there were shortages of FSC. But prices have come down since and there aren’t shortages anymore. We are seeing more and more mills gain FSC accreditation.

We use all the main packaging printing processes: letterpress, offset, flexo and gravure, the exception being screen printing. The only problem with regards to using these different technologies is having consistency of colour across the techniques. It’s something we’re very focused on at the moment and it’s a challenge.

UK printers seem to fall behind those on the continent when it comes to colour matching and management. Our suppliers in Italy, Sweden and France seem to control colour better. They have much more defined parameters and they work to them. We want people to work to tolerances that we know the print will fall into. Brand identity is critical to us.

In terms of digital printing, we use it for mock-ups and sampling exercises, but not for mainstream production. I’m not sure the food industry in general is really using it. There’s research to be done regarding the migration of inks, and digital printers aren’t really approaching us because they know the testing needs to be done.

If someone comes and tells me that digital can meet the EU directives for food contact, migration, etc, then I’d like to look at putting it out into the market. We have lots of ideas about how we could use it. But we’ve got to be absolutely sure it’s safe.

I’m also waiting expectantly for the Food Standards Agency report into mineral hydrocarbons in packaging. The results of what they’ve found should be available soon. We all use recycled fibre in our packaging so their findings will be significant.
Job turnaround time are always an issue, I’m sure if you spoke to me in 100 years’ time I’d still be saying the same thing. But, here at Innocent, we are given time to do our trials and get things right.

In terms of future requirements, I’d like to be able to use screen printing at some point, because it would be a very nice effect for the Innocent halo and text. I’m also interested in the potential for printing directly onto plastic bottles and removing the label altogether. That would be a big innovation for me."

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