A sector driven by the need to adapt

By Max Goldbart, Monday 20 March 2017

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Packaging Innovations, which took place earlier this month at the NEC, showcased the work and services of some of the most innovative, industry-leading manufacturers and brands, along with providing a host of seminars, workshops and quirky challenges. Thousands of visitors walked its halls over the two days.


This year, it also comprised the Empack and Label & Print shows, both of which are organised by Packaging Innovations’ event organiser Easyfairs. Major exhibitors included firms such as Macfarlane Packaging as well as names more familiar to the print sphere, including HP, Epson and Durst. 

Explaining the popularity of the show, event organiser Gerry Sherwood says: “There’s a constant need for innovation, in all kinds of areas, from sustainability, with things like lightweighting that can save millions of pounds, through to what we have been looking at this year with inclusivity for an ageing population.”

“If there isn’t much change happening, then there’s no need for an exhibition, so that’s what makes this market great.”

Glossop Cartons, which turns 35 this year, has been exhibiting at the show since 2013, when it launched its flagship superheroes marketing campaign image. Director Jacky Sidebottom tried something a bit different this year and splits the stand between conventionally printed and digitally printed products.

“It’s an excellent shop window; you can see your customers, attract new clients, and it gives you a chance to meet larger groups and rub shoulder-to-shoulder with them, hopefully attracting people to your stand.”

Similarly, for label printers, the show proves to be a winner, with Stuart Kellock, who heads up three time PrintWeek Label Printer of the Year Award-winner Label Apeel, praising the quality of visitors. 

“Everybody who is here has made an effort and I think we’re seeing that the people here are very serious,” says Kellock, who hosted his own workshop on the emotional value of decorative labelling.”

“In previous years there have been an awful lot of half-baked people walking around with half-baked ideas who just want to eat your time.”

Key trends

Two major themes of the year are that of sustainability and inclusivity in packaging. The inaugural Ecopack challenge was won by Deli Store, who developed a disposable beverage cup that doesn’t require separation before being recycled. Deli Store will now have the chance to develop the idea in partnership with Marks & Spencer. 

The term ‘inclusivity’ is about ensuring packs are easy to use, something that Sherwood, who stepped down from his role immediately after the show, believes is a critical issue for an ageing population. 

“Packaging needs to serve lots of purposes for people of a very broad range with different levels of ability or disability,” he adds. 

Tucked away in a corner of the hall was the Design Futures stand, promoting the research partnership between the University of Cambridge and Sheffield Hallam University that raises awareness for the need for inclusive packaging. 

Principal researcher Alaster  Yoxall, who has been conducting research into inclusivity for a number of years, says that one in five people are forced into changing products due to difficulties experienced in using packaging. 

“There is a big interest in packaging and that is part of the reason that we will keep looking at these changes,” he says.

“Braille is getting better but only 18% of the UK’s visually impaired can read Braille, so it’s about doing something different. Almost 100% of adults over 50 have visual impairment issues and many can’t read instructions on microwaved meals, for instance.”

Yoxall, along with Cambridge senior research associate Mike Bradley, cites research that found 30% of 1,000 elderly people unable to open a jam jar. The two are working with brands such as Unilever to try and develop dynamic, easy-to-operate packaging.

Another major theme was the barely-avoidable personalisation, which was heavily promoted on HP’s stand, with running demonstrations of its SmartStream Mosaic personalisation software. 

HP’s brand innovation manager Paul Randall is part of a global team of four promoting what digital print can do for a brand. He believes the message on personalisation, since the flagship Share a Coke campaign was launched three years ago, is finally beginning to seep through. 

“80% of our dialogue is in the area of consumer engagement,” he says.

“The message there is how brands are using packaging as a form of media, not just to protect and deliver but actually how the media can drive enhancement of engagement, so what we’re trying to do here is facilitate that discussion.”

“Our typical focal point within a brand is the packaging innovation function, therefore brands we want to work with are very likely to be at a show like this otherwise they aren’t doing their job properly.” 

Personalisation is by no means a fad, adds Randall, and brands that think it is need to think again.

And with that, the doors close on another successful Midlands trade show. We can now but await Packaging Innovations London, taking place in a few months’ time, where newly-appointed events director James Drake-Brockman will be at the helm. 

“Trade shows are essentially a marketplace but people don’t want that anymore, they want more value and more of an experience, so what we are trying to do is make people a little bit better at their jobs when they leave the event,” says Drake-Brockman, ready and raring to get stuck in to the innovation. 

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