Vouch for the pouch1 October 2018
The fast-growing flexible packaging sector delivers packaging solutions across product families. From pouches and bags to liners and wrappers, flexible packaging can be whatever brands want it to be. Emma-Jane Batey speaks to brand owners and manufacturers to learn more.
Flexible packaging is a popular choice as it's easy to transport, uses less raw material and is more easily manipulated than other packaging options. Light when empty and easily stored, flexible packaging can be food safe, luxurious and artisanal – so that's a lot of good boxes ticked. It's no wonder flexible packaging is the fastest-growing sector of the packaging industry; it suits brands across the value chain. So that's pretty flexible.
An often-repeated positive attribute of flexible packaging is its ability to shapeshift to whatever the product within requires, offering the best of plastic, film, foil or paper. For the UK's leading watercress grower and supplier The Watercress Company, which supplies a great many retail and foodservice outlets with this perennially-popular superfood, flexible packaging is both part of its branding and makes sense for its product.
Tom Amery, managing director of The Watercress Company (TWC), tells Converting Today, “Due to the unique way that watercress is grown, in fresh, mineral-rich spring water, TWC have traditionally harvested directly into plastic crates, sending these to factory customers for washing and bagging for retail in the UK. The boxes originally purchased for this were plain brown and had downturned hand vents, and our staff always joked that these looked a little grumpy. We realised we were missing a marketing opportunity with these plain 'grumpy' boxes, so we decided to play on the hand holes by flipping them the other way up and incorporating them into a positive message on each box.”
Mr Amery adds, “The 'TWC Smile' has now expanded across our entire range and remains an important driver in our packaging remit. Each box or bag passes on a smile to our customers!”
As an independent, British-owned business with farms in Dorset and Hampshire, TWC is also excited to be expanding into the baby leaf salad market and that watercress is increasingly being recognised as a superfood, bringing it to the attention of healthy eating individuals and families. Mr Amery notes, “To promote shelf-life and deliver excellent quality, TWC salads are provided unwashed. We currently offer zip-lock plastic bags from 50g to 1kg as they're robust and ideal for maintaining product quality. But with the current focus quite rightly on the use of plastics, TWC has recently committed to move away from the current format and we are now moving into ox-biodegradable flexible packaging. This material breaks down completely over time without leaving any toxic residues or fragments of plastic behind. These bags, once used, can be thrown away to degrade or added to the normal recycling bin and, unlike starch-based plastics, will not contaminate recycling waste...the best of both worlds! Our new biodegradable flexible packaging will also be sealed by a degradable paper label, again removing the current plastic ones. Another way to pass on the TWC Smile!”
At completely opposite ends of the product spectrum, the truly innovative new personal care product from Dame highlights how flexible packaging works in whatever way the brand requires. This London-based, crowd-funded sanitary ware range is already causing quite a stir, with its beautiful packaging as carefully curated as the unique reusable tampon applicator has been designed.
Finding the hidden product
Dame co-founder Celia Pool tells Converting Today, “It was when we were running an online period subscription service that we realised how massive, but silent, the problem of menstrual plastic waste is. And while we offered both disposable and reusable products, virtually no one wanted to buy the sustainable options. That's when we decided to design our own version of a green tampon that women might actually use. The recent press coverage and media campaigns about plastic pollution prove that consumers are waking up to the issue, too. As a small, agile company, we can move quickly to shine a light on this particular plastic issue, while offering an incredible solution that fits in with women's current lifestyle preferences.”
The packaging of Dame has to perfectly match the brand ethos: beautiful, effective and definitely no unnecessary packaging. Pool adds, “Reducing packaging is something we've baked into our ethos from the start. For the applicator, we wanted the tin to be re-usable, so it's designed to fit the tampons that customers receive by post. we also wanted it to look beautiful - tampons have been kept in cupboards for too long - we think psychologically it's an important step to have these products out in the open - it reflects the wider need to break the period taboo. For the tampons, we have home compostable resealable pouches for retail, so that they don't spill open in bags and are easier to travel with. As our tampons are fully biodegradable, this also enables the user to turn their entire packet and used tampons into compost. Our postage bags are really cool - compostable vacuum bags that require zero extra packaging and with a massively reduce carbon footprint.”
Fellow Dame co-founder Alec Mills explains how the packaging materials used are 'unlike anything you can get on the shop shelves so will really reinvigorate the category.” He adds, Our products are available online at www.wearedame.co, and excitingly we're also in talks with some major British retailers. The hope for the future is that we can be part of a cultural and consumer shift towards 100% cotton tampons and reusable applicators. We are also looking beyond menstrual products; so much work is being done in the kitchen in terms of recycling and sustainability, but not in the bathroom. It's about rethinking products that women use, but designing them beautifully. That's the way we hope to drive change. If we can do it with tampons – the most unsexy thing! – we can do it with anything.”
Manufacturers get flexible
For packaging manufactures, flexible packaging delivers flexible results. Suffolk-based RPC M&H Plastics offers a wide range of packaging solutions including flexible tubes, with its understanding that 'quality and style are critical to a product's success' part of its USP.
M&H's marketing director Howard Frost tells Converting Today, “Flexible packaging in all forms is still a growing market but with increasing awareness and demand for sustainable solutions. At M&H we continuously look for solutions that reduce the effect on the environment whether that is to prolong the shelf life of products or by reducing the reliance on using oil-based polymers by using bio-plastics and recycled material.”
Frost continues to explain how flexible packaging truly offers a flexible option for brands and retailers as consumer groups' demands differ. He adds, “M&H also provide packaging to suit the growing e-commerce market where pack size, practicality for delivery and pack security are all key ingredients for a successful and trusted brand. There would also appear to be some polarisation in certain markets where smaller pack sizes are suiting younger consumers with a desire to experiment with several products and larger pack sizes are demanded as cost-effective bulk purchases.”
As consumers are increasingly driven by environmental responsibility, it seems as though there are few limits on the flexibility that flexible packaging provides, with brands across the value chain choosing it to promote, display and develop their products.