29 April 2015
Packaging Retains Key Point-Of-Sale Edge for European Retail Brands
Despite digital incursions, packaging has lost none of its significance as the on-shelf ambassador in the fmcg sector, while new technology and cost issues sees Asia playing an evermore crucial role in this still-expanding sector.
While Asian manufacturing might is vital to the highly internationalised packaging industry, brand owners and packaging technology innovators still look to Europe for technical and brand leadership – at least, if the opinions on offer at the Packaging Innovations trade show are any guide. Packaging remains vital for attracting fickle customers, boosting consumer confidence and supporting hard-won brand values, with the food and drink sectors being particularly keen adherents.
This year's event was the 10th edition of this particular UK fair, with organisers reporting that the show was now three times its original size. The event is divided into three sectors: Packaging Innovations (incorporating Contract Pack and Ecopack), Label and Print, and Empack, which highlights the very latest in machinery and technology.
This year, the show held its first ever Drinks Symposium, complete with speakers from The Lakes Distillery, Diageo and Glenfiddich, all testifying to the power of packaging. Claire Negus, Design Leader at Diageo, the London-headquartered international drinks giant, said: "Companies need to identify their brand's DNA and look at what makes it special before they start re-designing. You don't have to change just for the sake of change."
For 2015, the Packaging Innovations zone featured a Learnshops programme, with speakers from Nestlé, Marks & Spencer, Mondelēz, GÜ Puds, Domino, Blippar, Hubbub, Recoup and a number of other leading brands. For her part, Alison Ingle, Group Packaging Manager at Swiss-headquartered foods international, Nestlé, was keen to explore the issue of packaging safety and compliance.
She said: "We need a multilateral approach when it comes to packaging safety and compliance. It is important for good relationships to be developed between companies and their suppliers with regard to safety across the whole supply chain.
"It is imperative that requirements are fully understood during the development stage, otherwise progress will falter at the first hurdle. Communication between each team at every stage of the process is key to producing safer packaging for consumers."
As in so many other sectors, Asia is now a vital market for the packaging industry. Many exhibiting manufacturers either have a presence in the East or have outsourced their production entirely to China. Multi Packaging Solutions, headquartered in New York, has 59 manufacturing locations in North America, Asia, and Europe, employing more than 9,200 people. Roy Brindle, Sales and Commercial Director at the company's UK and Ireland subsidiary, said: "We operate four factories in China, supplying customers in both Asia and Australasia. The factories in China are now a substantial part of our business and we are investing in their development."
Another company with a growing interest in Asia is Parkside Flexibles (Europe), based in Wakefield, northern England, a business with more than 40 years' experience in packaging for both food and non-food industries. Richard Turnbull, Parkside's Business Development Manager, said: "We opened a factory in Kuala Lumpur in 2010 and this now produces water laminates and solvent-based adhesives for customers in Australia, Singapore and South Korea. The factory has been highly successful for the company."
Some companies, however, still rely on European production for the more technically demanding processes. Christian Kolarik, Chief Operating Officer at Austria's Schur Flexibles Group, said that, in just three years, his company had achieved €300 million worth of sales, with products manufactured in 13 production facilities across Europe. Expanding on Schur's success, he said: "We export around 20% of our products outside of Europe. In Asia, principally in China, South Korea and Thailand, we supply shrink materials to the food industry."
In terms of manufacturing, Kolarik said that Schur, a producer of high-barrier flexible packaging for the food, tobacco and healthcare industries, would continue to manufacture in Europe, as the technology it utilises is not currently available in Asia.
Packaging professionals are always looking for ways to catch consumers' attention on the shelf. Digital printing is a clear means of achieving that competitive advantage, and winning new customers, at least according to UK-based Label Apeel. Stuart Kellock, the company's Managing Director, said Label Apeel, which employs 47 people and has turnover of £4 million, entered the digital printing arena five years ago.
Commenting on the company's progress to date, he said: "Decorative labels make products jump off the shelf. Some 30% of our turnover now comes from digital printing – and we are attracting between six and 12 new customers every month."
The company had previously attempted to set up in Germany, but logistics and employment law, including higher salaries than those paid in the UK, meant that the venture faltered. Explaining the particular challenges, Kellock said: "If I was going to do it, I'd have to invest at least £1 million, with a press and production facilities. This would allow us to supply across Europe and maintain the service levels our customers expect."
Printed finish is not the only means of achieving on-shelf differentiation, though, as high quality packaging materials are also reliable performers when it comes to grabbing customer attention. One company specialising in this sector is Tinpac, a decorative metal packaging company. The company has offices in Australia, the UK and US, with products manufactured at three third-party factories in China.
Detailing the company's USP, Managing Director, Lee Carlsen, said: "We understand that metal packaging gives brands added shelf appeal and helps to meet sales targets. This year, we are attending Packaging Innovations in order to gain new customers, meet with existing clients, and build brand awareness."
Making its debut at this year's show was Cambridge-based Plasfilms, a specialist films and distribution business. Dr John Walker, the firm's Business Manager, said: "Although we produce for a number of industries, the food production industry represents 95% of our business."
Another first-time exhibitor – at least in its current guise – was Pulse Flexible Packaging. Established in May 2014 as part of a management buy-out, the company now employs 330 people across two manufacturing facilities in the UK. Chris Demain, Product Development Manager at the UK-based company, said: "The Pulse Flexible product and capability portfolio now includes flexo and rotogravure printing options with high definition options for both processes, full colour printing and technical innovations such as easy-open and re-close applications, reel-fed labels and high barrier packaging."
Warehousing packaging was also highlighted at the event with a showcase of the latest labour-saving technologies. IBIS Packaging Solutions demonstrated the C-One Plana, a stretch pallet-wrapping machine. Paul Evans, UK Sales Development Manager for the UK company, said: "At a height of only 18mm, the C-One Plana is the lowest turntable in the world. The ramp is only 20cm long, making loading both easier and safer."
Viscose Closures, a Swansea-based company specialising in caps, closures, shrink sleeves and celons, launched 'viskrings', a secondary security seal, at the show. Stewart Lillie, Account Sales Manager for the company, said: "Viskrings is a unique product, featuring eco-friendly tubular bands of cellulose that can provide a secondary seal.
"They're easy to use, no machinery is required. It's applied by hand, and is an ideal solution for heat sensitive products such as perfume, whisky and any highly flammable liquids."
Packaging Innovations took place at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, UK, on 25-26 February. More than 350 UK and international exhibitors showcased the latest ideas and technology for all types of packaging to more than 6,500 visitors, an increase of around 10% over the previous year's show. Packaging Innovations London & Luxury Packaging will take place at London Olympia on 16-17 September 2015.
Simon King, Special Correspondent, Birmingham