Paper chase

7 April 2017

Paper chase

Paper chase

As packaging evolves, paper and board remain highly versatile materials and brands continue to push what is possible with this substrate. Dave Howell speaks to Mintel’s David Luttenberger, and examines how brands like KFC, Tesco, Walmart and Pizza Hut use paper to boost their food packaging.

Paper has been a mainstay of the packaging industry for decades, meeting the needs of expanding product ranges and the requirements of consumers around the world. Research from Mintel, however, reveals a 24% decline in the use of paper packaging (excluding corrugated) between 2011 and 2016.

Despite this, the substrate has seen growth in other formats: plastic and foiled-lined paper constructions have increased 11% and 5%, respectively. Solid white board applications have grown 60% from a small base, while plastic-lined board constructions have grown 17%. The numbers suggest that format innovation is what will keep paper afloat in the evolving world of packaging.

David Luttenberger, Global Packaging Director at Mintel, points to one innovation with particular merit: “In 2016, we saw BillerudKorsnäs partner with Bosch Packaging Technology to introduce what it claims is the world’s first sealed mono-material paper package for VFFS production without added polymer fractions, for dry products such as sugar, grains and flour.”

The sealed paper packaging is dust-tight for enhanced product protection, and the mono-material status facilitates easier recycling.

“If a brand using this technology can communicate on pack the advantages of this innovation – without going into detail on the technology – then consumers will begin to seek out more products using this type of packaging,” says Luttenberger. “But the key really lies in brands being willing to dedicate front-panel space to sharing the value of the innovation for consumers’ lifestyles, rather than trying to explain the technology.”


Paper as a primary packaging component is central to many brands in the food sector. In 2016, for example, KFC innovated with its iconic bucket packaging. International Paper Foodservice Europe developed a new bucket that uses a grease-resistant lining instead of a traditional polyethylene lining, which prevents the build-up of grease to improve food presentation and removes plastic from the construction of the product.

The innovation continued with a fresh look on the outside of the bucket. KFC UK and Ireland sought a glossy finish without the addition of a plastic coating. International Paper developed a clay-coated finish that brings extra vibrancy to the print.


Tesco has also been innovating in paper, with assistance from Coveris, to create a new packaging concept for the food-on-the-go sector. Grab Box, a board and film hybrid, provides a unique packaging experience through its visual appeal and functional composition.

An evolution of the traditional grab-bag format, Grab Box is a hybrid solution targeting premiumised and top-tier product ranges. Made from sustainably sourced lined board to produce a more rigid structure, Grab Box delivers improved food protection with a luxurious shelf presence. It is lined using high-clarity, low-gauge polypropylene film incorporating superior anti-fog properties, and features three windows for enhanced product visibility.

“Tesco is delighted to have worked alongside Coveris and our sandwich suppliers – Samworth Brothers, 2 Sisters Food Group and Bakkavor – to bring to market our Finest Grab Box,” says Tesco’s Dr Mark Caul, packaging technical manager. “Creating something new in this competitive market is always a challenge. As well as being an efficient pack for our suppliers to use on fast-moving lines, we have ensured that the board comes from sustainable forests and we protect the delicate sandwich with a minimum amount of packaging, reducing food waste in the supply chain.”

David Lawlor, sales and marketing director at International Paper Foodservice Europe, explains the current evolution of paper packaging: “Consumer demand is driving the development of packaging technologies around new product groups and, again, paper is offering solutions that are practical, fit for purpose and bring environmental benefits.

“For example, paperboard hot-food containers are now the norm for takeaway hot soup, which is a growth area within food-to-go. Paperboard has replaced expanded polystyrene as the material of choice here; it brings good thermal and insulation properties, is easy to brand with a superior quality of print and is more sustainable than its predecessors.”


Recycling responsibility

When it comes to recycling and end of life, consumers don’t always consider who is responsible for paper and board at a product’s end of life. A recent poll commissioned by the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) revealed that, when asked to choose who is most responsible for ensuring that recyclable packaging from the home is of good enough quality to be recycled, 45% of respondents said the onus was on the household while 38% believed that it was down to the packaging manufacturers or the reprocessors of recyclable material, with a further 8% believing it should be down to local authorities.



Trim the fat

New formats and substrates aren’t the only things driving sustainability in paper packaging; alterations to existing packaging can be just as revolutionary when it comes to reducing waste.

“Walmart has developed a system to improve box use by more than 30%,” says Soile Kilpi, director of Pöyry Management Consulting. “After studying how goods were being shipped, it was determined that fulfilment centres needed to increase their assortment of boxes. In this case, more is less. More box sizes means higher efficiency, which means less waste. Box makers that are able to serve the programmes of giant retailers will benefit by this.

“Pizza Hut, which, by one estimate, goes through 675,000 boxes a day, made a rather simple design change to its boxes to become more sustainable,” says Kilpi. “By reducing the front edge of its box, it was able to save more than 9,000t of corrugated board.”


 Future substrates

From a branding perspective, packaging needs to have tested green credentials, and paper and board have seen their recycling credentials on the rise for some time.

Capitalising on the success of paper and board, household-products company Seventh Generation recently adopted a new packaging material in a move away from its traditional polycoated carton for its fabric softener. The new material uses board stock HiQ Eco(B) from Hansol Paper and EarthCoating from Smart Planet Technologies. This combination enables the brand to claim that the substrate used is widely recycled – something its customers are highly sensitive to.

Growing consumer trends show, however, that it’s not enough for brands to talk the talk when it comes to environmental policies.

“Consumers no longer give ‘street cred’ to brands hawking their corporate social responsibility statements or making broad, sweeping claims about their plans or goals,” explains Luttenberger. He suggests that brands using paper and paper-based packaging “should not take it for granted that consumers will see them as being more responsible than, say, a brand that uses plastic, glass or metal packaging”.

“It’s important for brands using paper packaging materials to continue to engage and educate consumers on the benefits and advantages of paper,” he says. In this way, paper packaging formats can continue to see growth and new developments in sustainability. “It is also interesting to note that Mintel data reveals an 8% decrease in on-pack claims regarding some aspect of environmentally responsible packaging on paperboard cartons in Europe in the past five years.” This could be part of the reason for the substrate’s decline in popularity.

The development of more intelligent and interactive packaging also continues as the paper industry grows. The evolution of organic semiconductors that could be included in a packaging’s substrate, for example, could offer a whole new way for brands to communicate with their customers via the form factors they choose.

Grand View Research notes that the global smart-packaging industry had a revenue of $10.8 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $26.7 billion by 2024, recording a CAGR of 10.6% between 2016 and 2024.

Paper is fundamental to how brands present their goods and communicate with consumers. While other materials will always be in development, paper and board form the foundation on to which innovation is built.

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