As competition in the grocery sector continues at apace, it has become more important than ever for manufacturers and retailers to ensure their packaging stands out on shelf and addresses a range of key issues. This can range from the design and functionality of packaging to the cost and on-shelf impact. Here, packaging firms tell just-food what is driving innovation in the sector, the challenges and the trends that are emerging.

Tetra Pak’s director for global environment and customer relations, Charlotta Lyon

“The innovation trends we are seeing are about coupling consumers needs for convenience and meeting consumer demands with the demands of sustainability. From an innovation perspective, that is the need and that is the challenge. It’s also in innovative materials of packaging. For example, using other kinds of materials, like bio-based plastic instead of traditional plastic. It’s also about functionality … packaging where you can facilitate and engage the consumers, so it’s about new, clever innovations that both maintain the functionality and drive the sustainability performance. I truly believe in driving the envelope on sustainable packaging. Innovation is the way to go, we will never be finished.

“Delivering innovative packaging at competitive pricing is something we need to keep focus on and that’s why we do a lot of research to understand how and what is important to retailers and customer so that we, in our innovation pipelines, are delivering on those demands in the right way. For us to understand the changing needs of the value chain it is critical to stay on top and be relevant to our customers in ten years from now.

“We see renewability coming in as a really big trend across packaging. Paperboard has been used for a long time but we started to pilot bio-based plastic for our caps in 2011 and we see an evolution there as well as in new sources of bio-based materials. Having certification like the Forestry Stewardship Council to ensure you have managed sourcing is another big trend.”

Chesapeake marketing manager Bob Houghton

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“In food innovation, it is generally about being more price conscious. It tends to be one of the sectors that, yes it will look at innovation, but as long as it doesn’t cost too much more and add too much more to the overall pack costs. At the premium end, there is more of a desire to use foil blocking, like on the Gu desserts and puddings … manufacturers trying to premiumise their products because their price points are quite high, so there has been a clear push to do that. 

“We’ve had a couple of customers that have said, we love this [new packaging] but we don’t want to be the first to take it to market, believe it or not. Which is an unusual approach. You’d almost expect some companies to want to be the first and seen to be innovative themselves, but they want to wait.

“It’s mainly the manufacturers that are driving the innovation [rather than consumers] because they want to make a point of difference on the shelf. It is becoming increasingly competitive so it’s to make their product stand out, to appear more tactile or different. Consumers have pushed some of the environmental considerations … like with the use of plastics and over-sized Easter egg packaging.

“That was clearly a push from the consumer that forced that. We could have done this development a long time ago with one of our big customers but if they were the only customer to go to market with a smaller sized Easter egg [pack], obviously their pack size was not going to sell. So they all collectively said, this is the approach, we’ve got pressure here, we’ll make that change. Most have gotten rid of the plastic casing. It’s about coming up with new ideas for the same product and ensuring it looks premium enough. Some of those manufacturers that have a GBP10 price point want to make sure their pack reflects that.

“Packaging styles [in emerging markets] are similar and Cadbury has now moved a lot of their production to Poland and we are supporting them there from our facility in Poland. Terry’s is also, I believe, made in Poland now, so a lot of these products are made overseas and brought back to the UK.

“Some companies have tried to create new shapes, like the [Mars Inc] Celebrations box, which shows how competitive the food environment is. You’re faced with so many products on the shelf, you have to make yours stand out. Heros, which has previously always been sold in a tin, we created a box that would contain the chocolates but that wasn’t accepted by the consumer who still valued the tin above the box, despite the fact the box was more environmentally friendly. The tin still has the perceived value. Sometimes the consumer can still override an environmental benefit and so Cadbury Roses are now sold back in a tin.”

Benson Group marketing manager, Nikki Clark

“In the last year, there has been more of a focus on protecting the product inside. We’ve heard a lot in the news about food wastage, so we’ve been looking at different ways of protecting food, as well as, they don’t want to compromise on the aesthetics, so having enough packaging that you can get your core branding on there is important. We’re also looking at maybe okay, we’ve got to use this amount of packaging, but how can it then be turned into something or be reused at the end of its life. We’re just seeing a bit of a shift NPD-wise within those areas.

We’re finally seeing a move way from the more nostalgia work we’ve seen in the past and now we’re going into a more modern sleek look, which is quite exciting, especially in the premium work. M&S is a good case study within their cakes and bakery aisle … quite muted tones, using the reverse side of board to give a more textural home made look and that’s been a good trend now for the last two to three years and now we’re moving more away from that. Texture is still important, but incorporating that with spot gloss, embossing, textural features, foil blocking to add an element of bling without too much.”