Secondary packaging’s biggest challenge is to balance sustainability and functionality, according to a study from PMMI, Arlington, Va. Seventy percent of respondents to PMMI’s “Secondary Packaging Market Research Study” said the trend to go green is part of their companies’ secondary packaging improvements. But they also indicated lightweighting and other moves typically thought of as environmental efforts are being used to improve operations, save costs and reduce transportation costs.
Nearly 50 percent of PMMI’s survey-takers said they foresee a drop in the amount of corrugated used as secondary packaging and predict specially designed cartons will be used as a replacement. Alternative materials and recycled content also were mentioned as upcoming trends, as were new methods of folding cartons to reduce the amount of corrugated in packages.
“It’s important to note that there can be trade-offs between functionality and costs,” Charles Yuska, PMMI president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “The packaging professionals we spoke to all agreed that one of their tasks is to balance ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and not compromise the functionality of the packaging.”
Several secondary packages for beverages are striking that balance between sustainability and functionality, including the new Cap-It system from Graphic Packaging International, Marietta, Ga. The paperboard package, which fits over the top of a beverage multi-pack like a ring-top carrier, won an Eco-Award in the Paperboard Packaging Council’s National Paperboard Packaging Competition.
“We are actually using a flat blank compared to a glued pack,” says Franck Vidal, senior marketing manager, business development, for Graphic Packaging. “In terms of shipping, it will go directly on the pallet so it will save the amount of money that you used to put in the corrugated case, and reduce the amount of shipping that you have to do.”
The company currently is finalizing the design of the multi-packer that will form the Cap-It package in the beverage plant, and Vidal says it anticipates the machines will operate at speeds of 150 packs per minute.
“We did a full lifecycle assessment for this package,” Vidal says. “It’s less energy to manufacture, less energy to form, so the overall greenhouse gas impact equivalent is lower for this package.”
In addition, he says test marketing of the package identified unanticipated benefits. Route drivers, for example, found it easy to turn bottles in the package for on-shelf merchandising. And the printability of the paperboard provides a billboarding effect.
“You have to have those guys on board who are actually delivering those packs,” Vidal says. “You need the consumer to like it, but you also need to have those guys doing a good job of placing them on the shelf. We didn’t expect it, but they all loved it.”
Just second nature
According to Zumbiel Packaging, Cincinnati, sustainable packaging is no longer an option for many companies; it’s simply the new reality. Zumbiel, too, was on the receiving end of an Eco-Award from the National Paperboard Packaging Competition for the Z-View 16-ounce six-pack it created for Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s Snapple relaunch. As the name implies, the Z-View multi-pack wraps beverage bottles, but allows the branding of the bottles to be seen within the package. The package was created to be easier to carry and lower priced than the previous larger multi-pack, and the cut-out design reduced the amount of paperboard used.
“It was about reducing the layout of the board, reducing the caliper, reducing everything we could,” says Charles Mace, vice president of sales and marketing.
“Almost everything we do from a new package development is around sustainable packaging,” he says. “We’re going to use as light a caliper paper as we can [and still] maintain the integrity … there’s no choice but to use water-based inks and you use recycled board where you can. Anything that’s going to push the green button is the way we’re designing our packaging.”
Marketing Director Tom Zumbiel says sustainability is second nature to the company by now. It received Forest Stewardship Council certification in 2006, began buying wind power and became part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star and Green Power Partner programs.
“It’s like we’re just scratching the surface of it,” he says. “There’s so much more to come.”
In addition to green packaging, Zumbiel says flexibility in moving from one multi-pack size to another is becoming increasingly important to beverage companies in their choice of secondary packaging.
Major soft drink companies are experimenting with new packaging sizes, and energy drinks and ready-to-drink teas increasingly are being multi-packed, often in unique sizes. The company teamed up with R.A. Jones to create packaging that can be used on the Oystar Jones Meridian XR high-speed multi-packer. The machine is designed for flexibility and is able to run a range of product types, diameters and heights.
“It allows plants to do everything from a four-pack all the way up to a 24-pack in cans or bottles,” Mace says. “With this particular piece of equipment, they’re able to go anywhere in that whole range. We’ve seen people very interested in that, just from a flexibility standpoint.”
In addition, he says beverage companies are running more local promotions as opposed to national programs these days, requiring smaller packaging runs to accommodate the differences between each market.
Both Zumbiel and Graphic Packaging’s Vidal say that experimentation with multi-pack sizes is just that — experimentation. Zumbiel has continued to see 12-packs as the big promotional items this year.
“There are some other packages that are being trialed in different places, but we haven’t seen any kind of volume shift,” Mace says.
“The big winners right now are still the 36-packs and the 18- and 24-packs,” Vidal adds.
Weathering the conditions
Not every multi-pack is going to sit on a dry shelf, and Carrier Kote multi-packs from MeadWestvaco Corp. (MWV), Richmond, Va., are designed to withstand chilled, wet and humid environments, says Stephen Minnici, marketing director for multi-packs at MWV. The multi-packs are made from Coated Natural Kraft paperboard (CNK).
“MWV recently helped a major, multinational brewer replace pre-printed corrugated packaging for its 18- and 20-pack containers of beer with an engineered package solution using CNK,” Minnici says. “The new solution resulted in a package weight reduction of 7 percent as compared to corrugated, with no loss in package performance.”
In addition, he says the new package provided the added benefit of using a minimum of 10 percent recycled fiber and increased space efficiency, meaning the company could fit more cartons per pallet on shipments, which cut pallet consumption in half and reduced the number of inbound trucks by 4 percent.
Minnici points out that Carrier Kote uses 3 to 12 percent pre-consumer and 7 to 14 percent post-consumer recycled fiber, depending on its usage. Additionally, the facility that manufactures the package has reduced water usage by 50 percent since 1987 and generates 80 percent of its energy from biomass fuels. Those points sit well with beverage companies, he says.
“Most beverage companies prioritize sustainability,” Minnici says.
But he points out that retailer preferences and the economy also are impacting packaging decisions. “The weakened economy has also influenced consumer preferences,” he says. “MWV studies consumer trends and has noted consumers moving away from niche and luxury beverage brands to more middle-tiered well-known brands, or even economy brands.” BI