INNOVATION HAS CHANGED OUR LIVES, AND NOWHERE IS THIS MORE OBVIOUS THAN ON RETAILERS’ SHELVES
by Barry Turner, CEO, Packaging and Films Association (PAFA)
Food from all round the world is available all year, and is easy to cook, fresh, and nutritious.
Many non-food products too are changing the way we live and work – health and beauty, DIY and gardening, leisure and toys – all constantly improving to make life easier and more enjoyable.
What’s often forgotten, however, is that alongside continuous product advances has come the need for packaging innovation.
This brings better ways of protecting and preserving, improved presentation, and the ability to add value and aspiration to everyday products by helping reduce wastage, keep costs down, and – simultaneously – making them more exciting and more likely to jump off the retail shelves.
In the UK plastic packaging sector, innovation begins by constantly challenging what has gone before. Plastics are ideally placed to achieve innovative solutions because we have a wide range of materials to choose from, a vast array of processes we can adopt, and an even-greater combination of bringing these plastics and processes together to create packs precisely tailored to the product and the way it’s stored and presented.
Innovia is a world-leading innovator in specialty biaxially-orientated polypropylene (BOPP) and cellulose substrates for labelling. In partnership with top machine supplier Ravenwood Packaging, it has developed ‘Rayoface NB’ films capable of replacing board tray sleeves with pressure-sensitive and wraparound labels for use with ‘linerless’ applicators.
As the labels are applied directly to the packs, a reduction of over 30 per cent in the labelling waste and weight can be achieved without compromising high-quality marketing and imaging. Innovia has also recently introduced renewable packaging for hard cheese as part of its established Natureflex cellulose-based film.
The hard cheese market has demanding requirements whether the pack type is vertical form-fill-seal, flow wrap, or a lamination to offset the risk of moisture and oxygen permeability that allows mould growth and fat oxidation. Natureflex N913 provides high sealing integrity, allowing hermetic package sealing yet at the same time being based on renewable resources and certified to industrial composting standards.
HIGH ON EXPORTS
Another PAFA member, Excelsior Technologies, is exporting 60 per cent of its UK production to 14 countries across five continents as a result of its commitment to innovation. A world leader in steam packaging technologies, it has won prizes for its innovative, microwaveable steam packs, and was last year voted ‘Investment Project of the Year’ in the UK Packaging Awards contest.
The company’s barrier films are employed in everything from soup and rice pouches to tobacco packaging and healthcare products like baby wipes. One of its most recent developments is a unique cooking wrap. This combines cooking foil one side, with food-standard parchment or baking paper on the other to optimise the advantages of both materials for in-the-oven baking.
This product is part of a range carrying the brand of international home and cooking guru Martha Stewart.
Now, the plastic packaging industry is taking on many of the big environmental challenges by helping reduce the resources that go into packaging, and simultaneously decreasing food wastage in the supply chain and in homes.
Wastage rates in the supply and logistics chain have now reached low single figures because our industry appreciates that wastage, spoilage, and damaged product can have a tenfold impact on the environment.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Whilst consumers continue to wring their hands about ‘over-packaging’, and the politicians and media rise to the ‘greenwash’ claims over plastic carrier bags, our industry continues to make a difference.
In the last few decades, we’ve seen high double-digit reductions in the amount of plastic we use in trays, pots, bags, and bottles. Moreover, we helped move products from chilled to ambient – saving refrigeration impacts – and we developed pouches in their vital roles including the refillable sector.
The most progressive moves focus on minimising resources not only in production and distribution but also in the ‘use phase’, thus helping consumers reduce their footprint; good examples include cold-wash detergents, portion packs, etcetera.
We’ve seen further use of resealable packs, for beans and cheese for instance, and there are now many more lightweight refill packs on the shelves. The use of ‘stick’ packs is greatly increasing as a resource-saving initiative.
Plastics recycling has also received big impetus, with new plant openings injecting fresh capacity for PET and high-density polyethylene material, and others, into the market to help drive recycled content further.
Now, we need the brands, retailers, and government to lead the communication to consumers, speed up the change in perception, and move the debate to overall resource efficiency.