Back to business2 April 2012
The cartonboard industry is back on track after a turbulent time. It is now alive with innovation and confidence in response to increasing demand for packaging products with excellent environmental credentials. Sally Cousins reports
Two years ago the cartonboard industry was in a very different place – natural disasters and man-made issues resulted in a board famine. This led to converters having to stockpile board and suppliers jumping through hoops to ensure continuation of service.
BPIF Carton’s general manager Neal Whipp comments on the circumstances that wreaked havoc: “Over the last few years the industry has gained strength so prices went up. A year ago it was a struggle but there was a mix of extraordinary circumstances at the time and hopefully it won’t ever happen again. Availability is now fine and has stabilised and it is back to business as normal.”
Stora Enso’s sales director of consumer packaging in the UK, Paul Watts has noticed a ‘mini recovery’ so far this year in the cartonboard sector. “How much that relates to confidence or surplus stock now being low is difficult to tell. We can’t get a true picture yet and have to monitor it on a month-to-month basis – it is difficult to forecast. There was too much emphasis on prices and not enough on supply and that taught us all in the industry a lesson.”
Metsä Board has also recognised that the market is relatively stable at present. The company’s VP cartonboard sales Olli Mäki says: “During recent years there has been some capacity shutdown, mainly of old and unprofitable capacity. Metsä Board is, however, increasing its folding boxboard capacity by 150,000 tonnes during 2011-2012 by investing in its mills at Simpele, Kyro and Äänekoski.”
With supply problems firmly in the past the situation is positive and this sector is fighting back with innovative material development, converting and printing techniques. Sustainability is also playing a big part in the increasing popularity of cartonboard across many product areas.
Neal Whipp from BPIF Cartons echoes this point “Cartons offer appealing environmental attributes: inherently renewable and highly recyclable; their sustainability credentials are readily understood by consumer, brand owners and multiple retailers.”
The need for sustainable and traceable packaging has benefited the fibre-based packaging industry when compared with non-renewable materials such as plastics.
Metsä’s Mäki feels cartonboard also remains a popular choice because of its good printing and converting characteristics, but is gaining ground due to awareness that it is a natural and sustainable packaging material.
“Increasingly it is recognised as a renewable material appreciated by everyone throughout the value chain from brand owners to converters, retailers and consumers. They also know it is fully recyclable with organised systems established for its collection and recycling.”
He adds: “Metsä Board has cartonboards designed for use in certain sectors, including food packaging, pharmaceutical and beauty care. In these markets, the purity of our fresh forest fibreboard is in demand for safety reasons, as well as for their excellent whiteness and lightness combined with strength.”
Consumers are particularly responsive to cartonboard packaging and according to Chesapeake’s marketing and communications manager Bob Houghton cartons meet the full range of requirements of brand owners, retailers and consumers.
‘Natural’ aesthetics which have been ‘on trend’ for a while have been reflected in an ‘unprocessed’ look in cartonboard according to Houghton. “Uncoated cartonboards with a rough finish or cartons subtlety enhanced with micro-embossing have been favourites.
“Micro-embossing combined with varnish techniques have been developed to produce the effects that mimic nature, such as leather, stone, feathers or snakeskin. 3D qualities are important and effects that provide depth and the impression of movement are also in demand.”
Chesapeake’s Glint, a printed holographic effect, that was initially applied to labels is now enhancing cartons too, as well as its Impressions brand – a concept which provides a 3D quality to cartonboard.
Impressions, based on Billerud’s FibreForm material, is created by using a specialist low energy process which makes it possible to form a paperboard material into a complete range of distinctive shapes.
The company has also launched its eyecatching Fresnel technology, which is used to produce a 3D holographic effect on cartonboard – increasingly important for creating stand-out appeal on shelf.
Cartonboard producers have also developed a unique insight into what makes retailers tick and what they require from cartonboard. It often results in a twoway partnership with retailer and producer, working together to develop cartonboard that matches specific requirements needed from the retailer.
Korsnäs Artisan is the result of extensive developmental work by Korsnäs to produce a unique type of cartonboard, initially for a leading UK retailer. The company was looking for a cartonboard that created a rustic effect but was tactile and also supported quality print. Before the development of Korsnäs Artisan the option for creating a soft look to the packaging was to use reverse printed Korsnäs White; however this meant that the expensive clay coating on the top-side was wasted as it was hidden on the inside of the carton.
The potential interest in developing a new cartonboard without the coating planted the seed for the two-year long project at Korsnäs to develop a cartonboard that could meet the leading retailers’ needs but was also technically viable to produce.
The development has resulted in a considerable reduction for the retailer with a saving of about 20 g/m2 on the overall weight of the board compared to its Korsnäs White product.
Korsnäs’ end user director Darryl Rice feels that product development is rife in the cartonboard sector. “Everyone is looking for innovation and making the pack stand out. We are creating materials, such as Korsnäs Artisan and Korsnäs Wave which allow a different feel to the packaging and a focus on constructional design.”
Cartonboard has been used for a while for liquid packaging but now shape can be incorporated into the pack. The GreenBottle system has been designed to allow companies and brands to introduce more shape into their packaging, consistent with what is achievable with other materials.
Founder of GreenBottle, Marti Myerscough says: “Our new pulp moulding technique allows us to innovate in terms of shape and colour and allows products packaged in GreenBottles to achieve maximum impact on the supermarket shelf when ranged alongside existing flatboard products. This gives cartonboard both flexibility and great shelf standout.”
Myerscough hopes the product will also appeal to many product sectors. “Having successfully launched the GreenBottle in milk, we anticipate an exciting year where we migrate this concept across other categories, including wine, juice and laundry. We are immensely proud that Britain is leading the way in this regard.”
Benson Group’s ‘Split-it’ is another development to watch out for over the next couple of years. The cartonboard pack is a sustainable alternative to the plastics food
tray, in which fresh foods and ready meals are usually packaged. After the food is heated or eaten the liner can be split from the tray. It is designed to peel away easily so the card can be put straight into the recycling collection. Sales director Paul Tye is optimistic that retailers will move away from plastics trays in time.
Cartonboard producer Iggesund feels that brand owners now want a variety of attributes from their board and the emphasis isn’t just on weight reduction but quality combined with the assurance of FSC and PEFC certifications.
Iggesund Paperboard’s regional manager for UK and Ireland, John Mitchell comments: “More customers are looking for security of continual supply – they want good, consistent products.”
Cartonboard printing technology has been transformed over the past few years enabling high quality cartons and innovative shapes to enter the market place. Curtis Packaging is using this ethos to create an array of stunning packs for leading brands, but with the environmental needs at the forefront of any development.
Environmental consideration is serious business for Curtis and it has recently bought 11 acres of endangered forest through the ‘Buy an Acre’ scheme run by the World Land Trust, with a target of 50 acres planned for the future.
This, along with its other environmental initiatives has meant its customers have embraced its ethos. So, did the board shortage lead to brand owners and retailers deciding to move to another substrate for their packaging requirements?
“It was difficult to maintain the short lead times of many brands during that time and we had to look at less superior cartonboard than we would normally buy, but if some brands did swap it was a minimal amount and probably not for long,” says Mallett.
Wilfried Schmahl, sales director of Stora Enso Cartonboard, feels that plastics just can’t compete against the feelings that cartonboard conjures up for the consumer. “Seen from a psychological point of view, plastics is somewhat cold. When people shop our senses are basic tools and a nicely made carton box is an excellent feeling.”
Cartonboard use is set to continue to grow, and with the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics just around the corner demand is expected to increase, according to the industry, as is continued innovation regarding new pack developments.
As Darryl Rice of Korsnäs concludes: “With all the innovation around we should be feeling buoyant about the future.”
Benson Group's Split-it carton is a sustainable alternative to the plastic ready meal carton Split-it A GSK Sensodyne launch uses Chesapeake 3D holographic Fresnel lenses to create stand-out on shelf Sensodyne The GreenBottle pack enables brand owners to create more shape with their cartonboard GreenBottle Curtis is using its strong environmental ethos to create stunning packs for leading brands Curtis