Passion for paper

15 February 2016

Passion for paper

Passion for paper

Across the packaging industry, brands and their design partners continue to look towards paper to meet consumer demands and develop innovative solutions. Dave Howell speaks with industry leaders and delves into the research on paper usage to find out more.

Paper has been a mainstay of the packaging industry for decades. As a primary and secondary packaging material, it continues to evolve and expand its applications across a number of key sectors - none more so than food and beverages.

When coupled with other substrates, paper can offer a wide range of applications. During last year's round table with Feldmuehle Uetersen to discuss HybraPack, a material that combines polypropylene film and paper, Eckhard Kallies, the company's director of sales and marketing, succinctly stated: "We think it's time to test what paper can do to help improve shelf appearance and package functionality, and challenge existing designs and expectations."

Paper continues to be a preferred packaging material when consumers are considered. Indeed, according to the latest research from YouGov, commissioned by the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI), found that half of supermarket visitors prefer their groceries and fresh produce packaged in paper-based materials.

CPI's director of packaging affairs said: "The findings of the YouGov poll indicate that paper and corrugated remain the most popular forms of packaging for consumers in the UK. However, the corrugated industry must keep building on this significant public support by continuing to put the consumer at the centre of everything it does."

As these materials continue to be firm favourites with consumers and packaging developers alike, brand-owners have been leveraging the versatility of paper and board for decades. This ensures they continue to offer innovations to meet the changing needs of consumers.

Modernisation and design
Paper offers countless benefits over other materials and can be used in myriad applications, but it has limitations, too. One of its key benefits over other materials is the lower impact it has on the environment: a study from the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute concluded, in no uncertain terms, that paper was clearly a more environmentally friendly material than plastic.

"The results of the study challenge a common misconception that the production of paper packaging is more energy-consuming and environmentally detrimental than the production of plastic packaging," says Lena Dahlgren, project manager at IVL. But, she says, there are many factors to consider when evaluating the environmental impact of packaging production, and the material in use is just one of these. As an example: "An important reason why the production of the tested BillerudKorsnäs packaging materials emits less greenhouse gas is that their process is almost entirely run on renewable energy. Another reason is that the total energy consumption for production of these products is lower."

For brands that constantly need to highlight the environmental credentials of the packaging used across their product ranges, using paper in increasingly innovative ways is a focus for them and their converting partners.

Robert N Davison, managing director of Alexir Packaging and chairman of BPIF Cartons, tells Packaging Today, "Studies commissioned by Pro Carton confirm that consumers prefer cartonboard packaging to other mediums. It stands out well on the shelf and portrays brand identity well, with the addition of space for ingredients and legal data."

"The choice of materials available, combined with aesthetics, accommodates innovation and is a consideration which helps enhance the quality aspects of packaging," adds Linda Young, UK foodservice marketing manager at Huhtamaki UK. "Of course, for hot food and drink choices to go, insulation is of great importance. The innovations developed at Huhtamaki have led us to offer a comprehensive range of paper hot-beverage cups, which can be chosen in accordance with the purpose for which they are intended - whether that's double-wall varieties for a premium service, or single-wall cups."

Young continues, "The appearance of packaging can be enhanced with the colours, textures and branding opportunities available, which all go hand in hand with innovative design concepts. At Huhtamaki, we welcome the opportunity to work alongside customers in developing packaging solutions that capture the essence of their business and accommodate the demands that their customers are likely to expect."

More research is also being done into how versatile paper can be and how some of its limitations can be addressed. A new laboratory in Graz, Austria, will research fibre swelling and its impact on paper characteristics. The lab is supported by Mondi. The new Christian Doppler (CD) Laboratory for Fibre Swelling and Paper Performance was officially opened in January 2016, for instance. The laboratory, headed by Ulrich Hirn was set up in cooperation with the Graz University of Technology and industry partners Océ Holding, a leading producer of digital printing machinery, especially in the field of high-speed inkjet printing, and Mondi, the international packaging and paper group.

The team of the CD Laboratory will investigate swelling and de-swelling processes during paper production, printing and converting. Ulrich Hirn explains that, "In modern high-speed inkjet printing presses, the fibre swelling is crucial: less swelling means faster drying, but fibre swelling also has a positive impact on paper stability. Based on our investigations, we will develop simulation models of the different processes. We aim to find solutions to further improve the paper, the printing - including inks - and equipment, as well as the converting, in close collaboration with our industrial partners."

Consumer demand
Paper, like other materials, has always had to move with the shifting demands of consumers. One area that has become important for every business in the supply chain is convenience food and beverages.

As consumers have increasingly complex and time-poor lives, paper packaging has had to rapidly evolve, as Young explains. "Double-wall products offer superior insulation, which is of paramount importance for services which offer 'to go' choices. The cups and containers should feel comfortable to hold and should retain the heat of the product within - without being too hot to handle by consumers.

"The aesthetics of takeaway packaging have also become more important," says Young. "Consumers buy with their eyes, and if food and beverages look the part - in terms of the products themselves and the way in which they are being sold - then sales will be secured. Disposables that carry attractive designs or offer a tactile appearance can help increase the cost being charged for to-go options."

Innovations across the sector illustrate how brands and their packaging partners are paying attention to consumer demands, and developing new paper-based packaging solutions to meet them. BillerudKorsnäs, for example, has developed an environmentally sound alternative to plastic called FibreForm: the first 3D formable paper. Another example is AkzoNobel's EvCote Water Barrier 3000, which offers completely recyclable paper cups and other disposable packaging.

The most high-profile use of paper from a brand perspective is seen in the recent changes made by McDonalds to their packaging range, used by millions of consumers every day. "It's a new direction for the brand, which is being modernised and made more progressive; the new packaging strategically indicates that," says Paul Castledine, chief creative officer of Boxer Brand Design, the agency created the new designs. "Because it's dynamic and simple, the packaging almost acts as a mobile billboard."

Craft brewer West Shefford Brewing Company of Quebec is also leveraging paper with a new beer carton. The carton had to stack on retailers' shelves and withstand the high moisture conditions of a brewery environment. The designers at PaperWorks created a two-piece carton with a die-cut handle.

Paper futures

It is clear that paper and board continue to be a preferred option for many packaging applications. According to Canadean's latest research, the global paper and board market is set to reach almost 137 billion units by 2018, representing about 8.7% of the total packaging materials market.

Alexir Packaging's Davison concludes: "Packaging made of cartonboard has a positive place in the market for protection, distribution, presentation and communication. It's ideally placed to meet demand from brands and to exceed consumer expectations."
The environmental impact of paper and its derivatives continue to be a pressure point for consumers, and packaging converters and brands will therefore continue to innovate in this area. Packaging developers must adhere to PEFC paperboard certification and comply with EU Timber Regulation No 995/2010, which reduce the environmental impact of these substrates - something that continues to be a purchasing differentiator in the marketplace.

Paper has a bright future across the packaging industry. Brands, their design partners and packaging service suppliers are all set to continue use of the versatile material. Above all, it is brands and consumers that gain the most from these developments. And as paper continues to be a preferred packaging material with consumers, brands will continue to support the positive attitude with new form factors that expand the applications offered by paper.


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