Board comes of age

15 December 2014

The year 2015 will be the 120th anniversary of the corrugated box. The first one was produced in the United States, in 1895. Up until then, all shipping was done in wooden crates. After having been left aside for a long time, board is back and is being considered the material of the future

December 15 2014

Feature - Corrugated

By Marco Siebel- contributing writer

Board comes of age

According to the last market survey carried out by Pira International, the world's packaging production should reach €500 billion in 2016, with an average annual growth rate above 3%. The growth is mainly driven by the rise of purchasing power in the BRICS countries. Overall, the classification of the world's most used materials should remain the same until 2016: rigid and flexible plasticss have a combined 34% market share, with board lagging behind at 30%. With 14% and 6% market shares respectively, metal packaging is expected to decrease its share, while glass packaging is expected to increase its market share at a slower pace.

The come-back of board can be explained in one word - oil. When oil was still inexpensive and easily available, producing plastics packaging seemed to be the obvious choice. This is no longer the case today; with oil prices rising and resources being stretched, people are looking to paper to provide a sustainable and environmentally friendly resource. Recyclable paper and board have become popular again, all the more so as newly developed bio-based barrier films can be added.

Printing technologies

Tech-savvy brand-owners are incorporating new marketing techniques such as smart-phone apps and QR codes. Corrugated converters now work with digital print specialists, developing technologies to meet the demands of these types of interactive marketing tools. Digital printing technology has established a beachhead in corrugated packaging, but it is clear the output of these products is not sufficient to gain the interest of mainstream markets. Digital printing is employed by 10% of corrugated board users, mostly by the high graphics sector. Digital printing may be perceived as an industry game-changer, but there are many other options a producer can choose from.

Digital printing has either passed through the chasm, or is close to passing. The chasm is where most new products die, as they fail to move from early adopters to the early majority, or the mainstream market. Digital printing has numerous advantages over other technologies in its capability of addressing process inefficiencies related to the expanded process for corrugated printing, design, procurement and brand strategy. New press technologies designed for corrugated board have caught the attention of producers and brand-owners, and they are now preparing for a future with digital printing.

Corrugated shelf-ready packaging

The success of corrugated packaging in the retail industry is most tangible in the discount sector: 90% of the discounters' products use shelf-ready packaging, compared with 40% of non-discounters. The discounters make use of corrugated packaging's eye-catching designs and its efficiency within the shelf replenishment process. Supermarket discounters are the fastest growing European retail sector.
German discount pioneers Aldi and Lidl are the two front runners across the continent, enjoying increasing market share. The Schwarz Group, owner of Lidl, and the Aldi group are forecasted to grow by 5% and 3.5% per annum respectively for the next five years, compared with mainstream retailers at less than 2%.

At Lidl stores a whole cross-section of food and household items are displayed in corrugated SRP. Lidl also uses corrugated as part of its merchandising strategy, which involves printing a flag of country of origin on boxes and cartons in the fresh produce section. Corrugated SRP provides significant cost savings: with canned foods, for example, shelf-refill costs are a third lower for products displayed in corrugated SRP than those displayed individually.

Angelika Christ, secretary general of the European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO) comments: "Corrugated has become an integral part of the discounter retail business model, because it's great for display and great for reducing cost. That's why corrugated is, and will remain, the number one choice for discounters."

Decorative corrugated board

Digby Fine English Sparkling Wine has developed an elegant new gift box for its sparkling wine range. The packaging was designed by agency Big Fish and was produced by Boxes and Packaging using a combination of Smurfit Kappa's T-Flute Microflute corrugated board and Celloglas decorative finishes, including Cellotouch Lamination, embossing and a gold foil pattern. The corrugated board that is used to create this gift box offers exceptional characteristics in terms of strength whilst remaining lightweight at only 400g/m² (880 micron) offering a perfect packaging solution for bottles of wine and/or spirits, due to its enhanced protective nature.


Even though the industry has been focusing on making boards lighter while keeping the same or similar strengths as their heavier parents, we can see the introduction of new heavyweight products. The majority of lightweight boards are being used in Western Europe, while Eastern Europe has seen an increase in demand for heavyweight boards. Primarily targeted at replacing wooden packaging, some of these heavier products are also able to replace double-walled board with an overall lighter-weight single-wall substitute.

The use of a suitably strong corrugated product as a substitute for wooden packs brings about significant weight reduction, which improves logistics and handling, as well as providing a cushioning for sensitive heavy products, creating a more printable outer surface, and circumventing the regulations regarding pest and insect damage in wooden packs.

Internet shopping

As long as the internet's infrastructures keep up the pace of the rapid growth of internet usage globally, internet sales will grow exponentially over the next decade. For producers and brand-owners this is a fantastic opportunity - for the producers simply because the amount of corrugated material will increase, and for the brand-owners the secondary distribution pack will provide them with a second communication medium. New equipment works by automatically measuring product size and adjusting the pack size accordingly, achieving significant improvements in transport efficiency with the reduction of space in the final pack.

Fruit box from tomato fibre

Duijvestijn Tomaten is one of the most sustainable glasshouse nurseries in The Netherlands. Established over 50 years ago, its main mission is to grow tomatoes as sustainably as possible. The company is committed to developing horticultural innovations that will contribute to a more sustainable and healthier world. It has expanded its activities to include geothermal energy; hot water drilled at a depth of 2,300 metres serves as a key heat supply for Duijvestijn's greenhouses.

The latest sustainability statement is the company's packaging: its boxes are entirely made from tomato plant fibre. The company developed them with the Dutch Knowledge Centre for Plant Materials and the KCPK, the Centre of Competence Paper and Board.

Jan Smits, project manager at the Knowledge Centre for Plant Materials, explains: "The tomato box is produced using fibres from the tomato plant. Retailers and the international fruit and vegetable company The Greenery have started using the first batch of 200,000 tomato fibre boxes this year."

Michiel Adriaanse, programme manager biorefinery at KCPK, adds: "Here at the Centre of Competence Paper and Board we are looking at ways to use locally grown fibres, and turn those into paperboard. We have developed egg cartons that contain 50% grass fibre, as well as this tomato box made up entirely from tomato plant fibre. A local government is cultivating miscanthus plants used to produce its office paper. The natural fibre resources are readily available locally to replace the cotton used in the Euro banknotes, but the ECB still wants its bank notes to contain 100% environmentally less-sustainable cotton."


Corrugated packaging has become an integral part people's daily life. In a recent French study by Ifop 94% of respondents said that board was suitable for packaging and protection, with 90% claiming they regularly buy products packaged in cartons. Most people emphasised the practical aspects of boxes (87%), finding them easy to open (81%), solid (80%) and reusable (69%). Between 70 and 80% of consumers include the 'green' factor of a product in their buying choices. Some of these consumers are even willing to sacrifice performance for a product that has taken the environmental impact into account. Increasing concern over the environmental impact of packaging has pushed producers and brand-owners to reduce the amount of material used in the production of packaging.


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