Power package14 December 2015
In the converting industry, where there is no room for error and where faster and smaller volume runs are the trend, it is not surprising that the focus is firmly fixated on the finish. Converting Today spoke with end users about the importance of coating and laminating to them.
Consumers make snap judgements at the shelf and breeze through information to make decisions, all the while being governed by limited time. As a product or brand, one of the easiest ways to be overlooked is to have any error or poor-quality finish. Think here, about thick laminate that cannot be seen through, or that has smudged the label, or coating that has not sealed in liquid.
Consumers choose the clean, crisp product. They are not impressed with misaligned labels, spelling mistakes or bad packaging. And they are quick to vent on social media when they don't get what they believe they deserve. This can be embarrassing for any brand and can potentially lead from one missed sale to a collective and viral distrust.
For Ian Schofield, own label and packaging manager at Iceland Foods, demand for quality of packaging is increasing, even in the budget sector. He says: "Our customers are known for being value conscious, but they are also aware of food quality and provenance. The same goes for packaging. Recycling awareness is increasing for consumers and businesses on a corporate level. Research shows that consumers appreciate the information on packaging, as long as it's not preachy or patronising. We have a powerful tool in packaging."
Schofield says that by using better board and more innovative materials, Iceland Food's packaging quality has improved without the price increasing. "Everything is driven by keeping the customers happy. Our prices can't go up, but we have to meet our sustainability targets. So by ensuring we maintain a tight control over our labelling through careful and regular testing, and delivering accurate nutritional and recycling information, we are being as effective as possible with our resources.
"Our policy requires that all own-brand packaging is minimal, but with laminating in particular, we can't afford issues with poor-quality drying that leads to problems like marks and tears. We're always balancing quality control with material reduction and automation processes."
As one of Britain's fastest growing and most innovative retailers, Iceland Foods' corporate responsibility promises better quality than the equivalent line sold by major British supermarket competitors at the same price, or comparable quality at a significantly lower price.
Margins are tight, and as labelling increases its role in delivering quality, we see how the more-for-less principle is essential to consider. Schofield says: "We have a number of long-term relationships with specialist packaging suppliers who work with us at the cutting edge of new product development, with our own in-house technologists working with our quality assurance systems to make regular checks.
"All Iceland own-brand products are clearly labelled with a full and honest list of ingredients and nutritional information, so it is imperative that the quality of this message reflects our brand image. No mistakes, no waste and easy to understand."
Stuart Blyth, principal scientist for global packaging at Mondelez, is focused on protection. "Product protection is king for us. While cost and fit with other products and sustainability are considerations with any product, protection is the number one factor for us," he says. "We are always looking at the next big thing in this field due to the impact it has on our final product."
This can be anything from curing or laser coding to remove the possibility of smudging or poor label quality, to multilayered coating and film use to extend shelf life and improve food safety.
As a result of a twin approach to making packaging more reliable while minimising environmental impact, there have been many developments in materials. The rise of aluminium/plastic laminate, which is used as packaging for consumer goods such as food, drinks, pet foods, toothpastes and cosmetic products, is an example. Laminated packaging is a concern for recycling because it is light, has a low value and is considered unrecyclable. Because collection and recovery of recyclates are driven by weight-based targets, they will not be highlighted as an issue until heavier packaging options are replaced. However, because it makes a significant positive impact on the environmental performance of the packaging product, its use is increasing rapidly.
The low weight of the laminate improves the ratio of product-to-pack weight and reduces transport costs and environmental impacts. Ultimately, the weight of material that has to be disposed of after the product has been consumed is reduced, which mitigates the effects of landfill taxes. But the problems with recycling the materials used to fabricate these pouches, bags and tubes negate some of the benefits, especially for the consumer who cannot find any environmentally satisfactory method of disposal.
For clarity, there are two other high volume packaging formats that use aluminium as a barrier material but which are not target materials. They need to be considered, but the aluminium content may bring them into the same recyclable waste category as laminated packaging. Aseptic beverage cartons are predominately fibre-based with aluminium inner linings, which serve as a barrier to oxygen, aroma and light. The fibre material is the major element of the pack with the aluminium content being less than 5%. Used beverage cartons are being collected from household waste streams in increasing numbers for recycling because of their fibre materials. The other format is crisp packaging. These are predominately plastic with a thin aluminium inner coating, which is deposited on the base material. The aluminium is too thin to recover economically and these packs are not recycled.
From flexible packaging coating and laminating to print management, consistency is important. Sean Hancock, lead print development manager at Morrison's, says it is a necessity for own-brand primary and secondary food packaging to be of the highest standard. "Print quality is paramount to the success of any project. For colour balance, we need minimal shifts across all substrates and print processes, as these are essential to a successful brand-colour when viewing packaging. I look to our print partners to adopt robust and proven QA processes to ensure high-speed accuracy, a consistent finish and to ensure that we do not lose quality from the first to the last product."
Hancock understands investing in the right technology is important. "We have an exacting print quality management process, which has been in operation since I joined the business. We use state-of-the-art spectrophotometers to remove all subjectivity and to help the printers make controlled and measured changes as required. Quality inspection boosts productivity, ensures consistent quality, increases press productivity and gains return on investment. It saves time and helps reduce waste, resources and overall production costs. It's clear that this is an integral part of our success and needs to be taken seriously."
With such a range of touch points and with the importance to end users and retailers, it is no surprise that coating and laminating innovation dominates product development, when making the product and disposing of it. Whether creating sharp or clear labelling, improving shelf life or simply protecting the package, coating and laminating technologies are vital to success.