Sustainability has become an important strategic focus for all FMCG brands as well as retailers in recent years as the intensified focus on climate and the environment continues to dominate debate globally. Policymakers and consumers are essentially demanding that brands and retailers demonstrate their sustainability credentials and understand what these companies are doing to have a positive impact on our planet.

And so, packaging has become an increasingly important consideration for companies who are beginning to understand their packaging strategy can play a part in helping them achieve their sustainability objectives. As a result, Smurfit Kappa, Europe’s leading corrugated packaging company, has seen a significant shift in the demand for more sustainable packaging solutions that are recyclable, renewable and biodegradable, says Phil Husband, Innovation Development Director, Smurfit Kappa.

This has led to retailers across Europe making very public announcements on environmental targets invariably committing them to using less or no plastic in their stores. This change is here for the long term with retailers, brands and shoppers needing to adapt and so Smurfit Kappa has experienced a greater demand for paper-based packaging alternatives. Paper, with its inherent sustainable qualities, is becoming the packaging of choice for many companies and Smurfit Kappa market research has shown 75% of consumers prefer corrugated packaging above plastic.

Another trend in recent years is the growth of ecommerce across the world and particularly in Europe. In Europe alone, ecommerce activity is estimated to have increased by 13.6% compared to 2018, according to the European E-commerce Report. This growth has led to demand for more packaging and brands looking for more sustainable and innovative alternatives that significantly reduce that amount of packaging that is required. This can bring its own challenges as brands try to find the balance between reducing the amount of packing with ensuring that the product purchased arrives in the way the consumer expects it and not damaged in transit.

“Smurfit Kappa is at the forefront of developing innovative and sustainable packaging solutions for customers and this is central to our Better Planet Packaging initiative, the aim of which is to reduce packaging waste and address the challenges of waste and litter that ends up in our oceans and in landfill right across the globe,” comments Husband. “As such, we place a strong focus on innovation and have developed a growing portfolio of sustainable packaging products which can be used to replace less sustainable materials such as plastic.”

James Lomax, Sales Director for UK Packaging at DS Smith, comments: “The packaging trends we’re seeing emerge will profoundly impact manufacturers, brands, retailers, and producers in ways we’ve not seen before.”

A recent survey by DS Smith for example, has revealed that six out of ten Europeans are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, suggesting that companies will not only need to be able to adjust to consumer changes, but also act on them and win.

“Shoppers are not just demanding ‘now’ experiences, but ‘wow’ experiences, and the challenge for brands is delivering this experience with the conscious consumer in mind, without compromising on cost,” adds Lomax. “This means we’re constantly working with our customers to create and deliver innovative, sustainable packaging.”

Brands are actively seeking to create innovative experiences through packaging, such as boxes that fit through the letterbox, augmented reality to turn cardboard into children’s toys, or even allowing customers to design the box that their gift is delivered in.

DS Smith offers “supply cycle thinking” to its customers, offering a range of expertise and services into all areas of the supply chain process, from design and manufacture, through to recycling. “Our innovative packaging solutions and unified process is designed to eliminate complex methods, we offer services that can address every stage of the supply chain or focus on one part, to anticipate and solve problems for our customers,” says Lomax.

The company works closely with its customers to provide expertise from its Impact and PackRight centres to create the right product, that ultimately increases sales, reduces costs and minimises risk. In line with innovation goals, DS Smith uses digital printing and Made2Fit technology to respond to the changing needs of customers, innovating together with them to create the most effective product, with constant emphasis on efficient and sustainable best practice.

Its Retail and Shelf Ready Packaging for example, uses the concept of ‘thinking back from the shelf’. The company works with retailers to calculate the optimal size of a pack for a particular type and quantity of product, for the appropriate size of a shelf, while also considering the rate of sale and replenishment. These factors allow not just for greater production efficiency and less waste, but also the generation of sales in store at the point of purchase.

“In the supply cycle, it’s all about finding marginal gains to deliver cumulative value,” adds Lomax. “Significant savings can be realised through seemly simple actions by creating the right size pack, reducing air and ullage and implementing more efficient palletisation so that you can get more product on a pallet, more pallets on a lorry and ultimately less trucks on the road. It’s a win-win for cost and carbon reduction.”

P. Wilkinson Containers Ltd. is now one of the largest manufacturers and stockists of metal and plastic containers in the UK. The company uses solar panels to generate energy all day and even overnight if there’s a bright, full moon. This powers the firm’s entire site – its canmaking factory, warehouse and offices. During peak times, the site also draws from the National Grid but its solar farm powers its electricity usage, whether recharging a laptop; a hybrid car; e-bikes; forklifts; machinery on the manufacturing line; or charging phones and boiling the kettle at lunchtime.

Stuart Wilkinson, sales director at P. Wilkinson Containers Ltd, comments: “As packaging manufacturers, suppliers and stockists, we know how important it is to show that we are actively looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m pretty sure that this will become a key metric in the procurement process, if isn’t already.”

Laura Fernandez, packaging technologist at Marks & Spencer, says the company is already looking at ways that they can rate suppliers against factors such as their use of renewable energy.

“We know from our own customers that they are looking for packaging materials with heightened environmental credentials,” adds Wilkinson.

Every piece of metal packaging produced by Wilkinson’s factory, from paint cans and industrial containers to biscuit tins, is produced with machinery powered by the solar farm.

“We share our environmental policy and we know that our solar farm gives confidence to our customers that we actually walk the talk,” says Wilkinson. “It’s also important to our customers’ customers, everyday consumers, who are looking for greener alternatives and want to physically see how a piece of packaging is pulling its weight.”

In the case of Wilkinson’s tins, each is now embossed with both the ‘Metal Recycles Forever’ logo which reminds consumers to both recycle their can and of metal’s special status as a permanently available material which means it can be infinitely recycled with no loss of quality.

And when consumers turn the cans upside down, they’ll also see ‘manufactured in London using solar power’ showing both the provenance of the packaging and its solar credentials.

Paula Birch, Global Sales Director at Parkside, comments: “It’s clear that sustainability is front and centre in packaging design and development today for the grocery sector. With the education of consumers around single use plastics, recycling and food waste, brands are seeking new and innovative ways to meet their customers’ concerns. At Parkside, we have led in the development of sustainable flexible packaging for many years; delivering the world’s first accredited industrial and home compostable crisp packet, as well as new recycle ready flexible packaging film laminates for convenience, chilled and confectionery products.”

Another clear trend in the sector is the move to fast turnaround short run work.

As the omnichannel retailing competitive intensity increases, printer converters like Parkside need to deliver speed to market for customers.

“Quality and consistency of packaging is a given, it’s the ability to deliver shelf standout with innovative features quickly, that makes the difference,” adds Birch. “At Parkside, we have invested in a creative suite and laboratory facility to support our customers to move from design to sample reality in under eight hours to meet this need.”

Parkside has become internationally recognised in two key markets. First, it is the leader in the production of the latest innovative flexible packaging solutions for the global tobacco market, supplying brands from both the UK and Malaysia.

It is also the only company globally delivering fully accredited compostable packaging solutions for both home and industrial composting, that has also been marine water tested.

It has invested over 8 years of research and development into its Park2Nature range of compostable film laminates that have the pack performance attributes of standard flexible packaging and today are supplying coffee, tea, snack and convenience brands with a range of high performing compostable designs.

Parkside’s major customers are leading global tobacco brands, food and drink brands (across a variety of categories from beverages to dairy, chilled, convenience and confectionery) and it supports a range of confectionery and health and wellness start-up brands.

The company supplies a range of conventional, functional and sustainable flexible packaging solutions supporting our customers through design, development and production to deliver high shelf impact, ideal supply chain performance and appropriate end of life disposal solutions.

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