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A recipe for brand success starts with a bowlful of sustainability, sprinkles of technology, layers of innovative design, and a garnish of efficient automation.

Lisa McTigue Pierce

March 15, 2023

Many packaging trends start with foods and beverages because these markets are so fast-moving. So keying in on these areas not only helps identify the key packaging trends in foods and beverages, but also informs what’s happening or likely to happen elsewhere as well.

During the recent WestPack 2023 event, I gave a presentation at The Pack Place on the trends in food and beverage packaging. This video walks you through my PowerPoint, which runs a little less than an hour.

Sustainability best practices hail from Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay, Absolut, and others.

Technology covers extending shelf life, replacing date codes, antimicrobial popularity, data-driven biometrics, and beyond.

Innovative design showcases M&M’s character debate, “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” and labeling advances.

Automation reveals shrinking machines, energy savings, and more.

 

TRANSCRIPT IS AUTO GENERATED

My name is Lisa Pierce, and I’m the Executive Editor of Packaging Digest, which is sponsoring The Pack Place. So welcome!

This morning, I’m going to go over 4 Zesty Trends in Food & Beverage Packaging. There’s a lot going on. I kind of distilled it down to these four, but there’s a lot within each of these four, too. So let’s get going.

So where is this information coming from? This is coming from Packaging Digest. Of course, we are covering the industry and we write about things all the time. It’s a respected media brand, packaging media brand, here in North America.

Before I get into the four zesty trends, I just wanted to let you know that Packaging Digest … we do have a lot of articles and other content that we post on the website. But there’s one particular channel or stream that you might want to take note of. And this is the Best in New Food and Beverage Packaging.

What we do is, on a regular basis, we’re trolling through the social media and picking up interesting items related to food and beverage packaging, reposting them, embedding them on this page, which is very quick and easy to scroll. All the social media posts are then hyperlinked. So if you want additional information, you can get the … go directly to the original post.

So, our agenda today is … the four zesty trends that I’m going to be talking about, the first one is going to be a bowlful of sustainability. Then we’re going to talk a little bit about sprinkles of technology. Go into layers of innovative design, and then finally, a garnish of efficient automation.

And just to let you know, not each of these sections are the same length. I’ll be spending a bit more time on sustainability because it’s so important.

So first, we’re going to start with this bowlful of Sustainability. I’ve broken it down into five other areas within sustainability because there is so much going on. I just wanted to try to organize it a little bit for you guys.

So we’ll be talking about some highlights in recycling these days. Plastics replacement, which, you know Chelsea and I were just talking about how plastics is getting beat up so bad. Compostability, and there’s a little bit of a spoiler here for the compostability because of the image that I used here. So obviously we’re going to be hearing about Frito-Lay coming up. Also, we’ll cover reusable packaging and then finally, chemicals of concern, because they are also very important in the food and beverage industry because of the potential for migration and then consumption into the human body.

Before I start talking about this, I just wanted to mention at the top of the slide on the left, I’ve got a little kicker there to kind of help you keep track of where we are with the topic and then the subtopic.

So a lot of companies, as you guys already know, are and have been measuring their sustainability goals in general. But then very specifically their packaging sustainability goals. Early on, a lot of the companies focused first on packaging when it came to sustainability because that was what was most visible to the world. It was the most obvious waste that a consumer sees when they’re done using the product.

But the measurement … I just wanted to let you know we’re seeing a very, I think, quick-moving movement toward a singular comparison for sustainability. And this is broad, not just sustainable packaging, but sustainability in general. And that is carbon as the measurement. CO2, greenhouse gases, carbon. You’re going to be hearing a whole lot more about carbon moving forward.

I posted a podcast just last night, an interview with Michael Okoroafor, who is the Chief Sustainability officer at McCormick. He also did confirm that, yes, McCormick and other brand owners that he talks with in the sustainability area are focused on carbon. Just wanted to point that out to you there.

OK, so recycling some of the exciting things that are happening in recycling is … advanced recycling, chemical recycling, molecular recycling, whatever you want to call it. And what this is, is it’s a way of taking the collected material and processing it in such a way that you’re bringing it all the way back down to its molecular state. One of the advantages of that is that you can then have mixed waste plastics. For the most part, you’re trying to keep it in the family, like olefins, olefin family. But it also is a way of being able to recycle either hard-to-recycle plastics or plastics that have never even been considered for recycling for a lot of different reasons.

And there’s multiple technologies that mostly the chemical companies and the plastics companies are working on. We haven’t gotten to the VHS portion of that technology shakedown yet, and it’s quite possible that we will have a VHS and a Beta in chemical recycling and/or even more going forward, which is totally fine.

One of the things about the advanced recycling, it seems like advanced recycling is the term that people are more leaning toward these days. Not everybody.

The thing about that is … It is almost being looked at as a savior, especially for plast … Well for plastic packaging ’cause this is plastic packaging recycling. It’s not final yet, but it does have … show a lot of possibilities. So I wanted to give a great example because plastic packaging really has gotten beat up quite a bit and will continue to take heat from consumers because it’s seen as non-environmental for a variety of reasons. They’re accurate in some of their sentiment about it.

But in a lot of ways plastic packaging is a good material … is a good material to use from an environmental point of view, and I’ll try to sell you on that concept a little bit more as we go through some other slides.

But here’s one example that I wanted to point out to you … and I think I forgot to tell you … Not on every single one of these slides, but the vast majority of these slides, when I’m presenting the information, the headline on the slide is the headline to a piece of content that we’ve done. So if you’re interested in learning more about any of these things, just you know, take a shot of the headline and search on Packaging Digest for that headline.

Anyway, so Coca-Cola … I think this was genius the way they put together this entire consumer recycling campaign. The first step was Coca-Cola looked at a couple of its brands that were in tinted PET, polyethylene terephthalate. PET is the number one plastic on the resin identification code and it is the highest recycled plastic packaging out there. It’s got the highest recycling rates.

It’s in high demand for the recycled content. So it’s got that pull-through. Once we collect it and recycle it, there is a market for people wanting to buy that recyclate. Actually, the recycling market I think, is outpacing the supply.

One of the things that Coca-Cola realized was that the tinted PET is not as recyclable … I’ll explain a little bit more … not as recyclable is clear PET. Clear PET has a lot more ability to be used in various things, if it’s clear — the recyclate.

Once it’s tinted, the market for the recyclate, it is minimized a bit. So Coca-Cola made the decision that, despite the fact that a color bottle is also connected to their brand — so a lot of people shop by color to find their brand — but they realized that it was more important to support the PET recycling market with a switch to clear PET from the tint that they were using. And they have … I’m showing here the Sprite example, which was green. They had two other brands, Fresca and Seagram’s, that had other beverages in similar … a green PET that they also switched over to clear.

Coca-Cola being a great marketing company thought to themselves, how could we expand it? You know, get a little bit of mileage from what we’re doing here. They realized that a lot of this is through consumer education and awareness. So a consumer might realize, you know, my Sprite bottle isn’t green anymore. What’s going on with that? Wow. Coca-Cola found a way to not only tell them, but actually get you know, really bona fide eco points, especially with their younger generation customers through this one campaign. And what they call this is … they call this Recycled Records. And what they did was they went to some recycling facilities, a couple across the country, and recorded sounds … professionally recorded sounds. They took those sounds and they gave them to these two gentlemen on your right. They’re musicians, DJ’s. They’re in the music industry.

From those recorded sounds of a recycling center — hopefully processing their now new clear PET bottle — they were able to create an album of music. We call it an album of music, which is a little bit of a misnomer because it’s all digital. But this was a way that they were calling attention to this massive change, sustainable change that they made in their packaging.

And they went one step further that those sounds that they recorded and gave to these musicians, professional music folks, they also make available to the consumers. So the consumers can make their own music. I say music, songs, whatever. There’s not … There’s very little lyrics. There’s literally no lyrics. It’s all music. But I was quite impressed.

There’s one thing that they call it … the music curating. Oh, they have a term for it, for what they do, where you’re able to take the sounds and recycle the sounds into your own music [Editor’s Note: They call it “music sampling.”]. So very clear connection with what they did, why they did it, and getting consumers excited and on board for the whole process.

And this is actually a trend that we’re going to be seeing more of. From a sustainable packaging point of view, a lot of people have been working improvements in the supply chain. So Coca-Cola was working with its resin manufacturer to figure out, you know, clear PET. The next stage … and you know this is not … they’ve been doing this a little bit along the way. But this next stage, we are going to see a massive inclusion of consumers in this whole sustainability movement from the brand owners. And packaging is going to play a huge part in that.

OK. Next, I just wanted to throw this out quickly to let you know that recycling is happening and will continue to advance in flexible packaging as well. There are some advances in the campaigns that they have, where they’re trying to get curbside collection going for flexible packaging. And in case you don’t realize, one of the reasons why flexible packaging hasn’t been recycled, is the vast majority of the films are multilayer. They’re not easily recycled.

That plus in the past, collection has been store drop off, which is not really convenient for the consumer. So they’re not collecting a lot of material. Then there’s that final piece of, once they do collect it, and once they do recycle it, who wants to use it? So all these pieces. They’re working very hard on getting this going. There’s a pilot program in a town. So you know, starting small, but they are doing curbside recycling for plastic films and trying to identify the films that can be recycled within that program.

OK, that was about recycling. We’re now moving on to sustainability subtopic #2 of the five: Plastics replacement.

I don’t want to, you know, call out anybody. But I don’t know that there’s anybody in the world who isn’t aware that plastic packaging is bad, right? Isn’t that what we’ve heard, over and over again? Well, I’m here to tell you, you know what? It’s not.

But I do understand that the brand owners are listening to the consumers and trying to have their packaging reflect the consumer sentiment with plastic packaging these days. And the vast majority of the brands, when they’re switching … when they’re trying to remove plastic packaging from their portfolio, they’re looking at paper packaging.

There’s a lot of work going on with paper. Number one, from a sustainability point of view, it’s seen as more sustainable because it’s a renewable resource. Trees grow, you cut them down, you plant a seed, trees grow, you cut them down, you plant a seed. So it’s an infinite cycle there.

Also, paper packaging is seen as being more recyclable, easier to recycle then plastic packaging.

So Nestlé for their Smarties brand, which is a global brand, made the decision that they were going to switch from plastic packaging to paper packaging across all their SKUs [stock-keeping units] and for Smarties globally, the number of SKUs is 400. Just so you know, this was not a small little pilot project. Smarties is one of their main brands. I was so impressed that … a lot of people when you’re trying something new, you want to test it on something small to see if it works and then go to you know something big. Well, they jumped in both the both feet, held their nose, went under the water, and switched out one of their top brands into a paper packaging.

I had the pleasure of speaking with their packaging lead for global confectionery at the Nestlé Product Technology Center in York, UK. That was Bruce Funnel. He gave me a lot of … it wasn’t secrets, but insight into what they did, why they did it, and how they did it. And one of the things that I just want to point out to you is, speaking from the point … so this was not just a design person. This was somebody who was responsible for the production of one of their major global brands, Smarties. Can you imagine going into, you know, trying to convince somebody to make an environmental change like this and say ohh yeah, but by the way, our output this going to be 20 to 30% lower and get away with that. Yeah, that’s not going to fly.

Well, they figured out. And the coefficient of friction for the packaging material running on the lines is different for paper than it is for plastic. And so they figured it out, how to run at the same production speed with the switch out from plastic to [paper] packaging.

Another example of a plastics replacement is Absolut. The Absolut Company. Absolut has a lot of different brands, but again they are doing a project here, switching out from a, I can’t remember the milliliters, 500 milliliters, 750. Anyway, their vodka and this was a vodka mix product. So it’s a sub, smaller brand of their well-known vodka. And I’m not dissing them on that after I just praised Smarties for, you know, doing it on a big brand. I’m not saying that.

But there’s still technology … The point I want to make about this is they started with a bottle version #1. They’re already working on bottle version #2. And the point is that some of this technology is just being developed as we’re going along.

And the second thing is the brands know very well and they try to communicate this to consumers — but consumers are not always so forgiving — that this really is a journey. This sustainable packaging change and improvements is a journey. So we’re getting there.

But again, I had an opportunity to talk with Louise Werner, who is the Director of Future Packaging at the Absolut Co. Isn’t that the best title ever? Yeah, so a little bit more … obviously, a lot more insights here than I can share in the presentation.

So plastic packaging. I just want to make a point here. Everybody’s got their opinion about this and I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes or anything. But plastic packaging oftentimes is the best sustainable solution and it’s being either ignored or deliberately left behind because of consumer sentiment behind plastics.

I get all that. If consumers aren’t going to buy your product because it’s in plastic, but they will buy it if it’s in something else, as a brand owner, what are you going to do? Right?

But I had the opportunity to talk … I was the guest of a podcast and we got to talking about, you know, what? That’s not really fair. And I remembered the first time I heard a major brand owner, from a food and beverage company, speak — it actually was here at the Anaheim event. He spoke at Center Stage. I don’t … It was pre-COVID so that gives you a sense of the time frame.

I remember I was, you know, standing in the back taking pictures of whatever. And he stands up on stage and it was the first time I had heard a brand owner say, “Our number one goal is to get out of plastic packaging.” And I remember … I don’t think I literally like grabbed my hair and pulled it out at that point. But I thought, “What is he saying? Why is he saying that?” I get it, I get it.

But … look back to that Coca-Cola campaign that they did for Recycled Records and see — it is possible to educate consumers. It is possible to change the consumer’s mind about plastic packaging.

And just one other personal story is … I’ve been married for … I forget what my anniversary is this year. But 1983, I think I got married. Ohh wait, that’s 40 years. Ohh my goodness. 40 years, OK? And at my bridal shower I got some Tupperware, which I’m still using today. The same Tupperware, which is plastic. So tell me … is plastic packaging sustainable and durable or not? I know everybody’s got their opinion, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Ohh, but I … the point on that … are you going to regret some of your sustainable packaging decisions? The brand owners that came out and told consumers that they were going to be getting away from plastic packaging, when they find out that plastic packaging maybe is the best choice environmentally, how hard, how hard is that going to be for them to go back to the same consumers and say oh, you know what, here’s some new information and we’re changing our mind. It’s going to be hard.

OK Sustainability; Compostability. I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to the packaging R&D lab at Frito-Lay last fall. And wow, what an amazing operation they have there. There’s a lot of … I couldn’t believe how much access they gave me. There were just a few things that they said, Don’t take a picture of that. Don’t write about this. That’s off the record. But Holy Moley, did they tell me so much. And one of the things that came out of this is how bullish they are on compostable packaging.

You may recall that Frito-Lay was the first brand owner to come out with a compostable bag for their Sun Chips. Ohh, I don’t even remember the dates, but a while ago. And it was somewhat of a flop because the compostable film was a lot stiffer and very noisy and the consumers really didn’t like that. But they have continued their journey — again, I’ll use that word — their journey to examining compostable packaging. All the way to the point now where they have a couple of compostable packages back in the market, a different film structure. So it’s not as noisy.

What they also have is, they have a facility in their campus in Plano, TX, where they’re able to compost films, compost, well, compost anything. And this … having that on site is a way of speeding up the testing of different materials for compostability. So their packaging engineers are in working with their packaging suppliers to engineer a lot of different film structures and then, bamo, they have the compostable facility right there to do further testing to make sure.

Now that’s just stage one. If and when they do set on a particular film structure, they will go through the ASTM certified testing for compostability. But that was really cool.

OK, one other example is a smaller company. This is California-based material innovation company called Cove, C O V E. They have debuted as of December 1st of 2022, what they claim is the world’s first degradable water bottle, and it’s being sold here in the Los Angeles area. I look at this as a packaging … you know, I cover the packaging market. I don’t have any degrees in packaging, but I look at this and I think, OK biodegradable packaging usually biodegrades, you know soil or water and they're putting water in this bottle. So I’m guessing this is a soil degradable bottle. Anyway, it’s a PHA and I have the name here on my screen that I could pronounce if I could pronounce it. Polyhydroxyalkanoate, PHA; P as in Paul, H as in Henry, A as in Apple.

A lot going on in biodegradable, compostable packaging in a lot of different areas. I have to say I’m a little on the fence about it because I think compostable packaging has limited applicability, partly because of the lack of infrastructure in the United States. And also, I’m not sure how many Frito-Lay customers who are consuming Fritos are thinking health and environment. I could be wrong. You know, everybody needs a little indulgence, right? So I could be wrong on that.

OK, moving on. On the sustainability side, reusable packaging is up and coming. If anybody is not familiar with the Loop initiative, you really should be. This is a brainchild of Tom Szaky, who is the founder and CEO of Terracycle, which you might know is an upcycling, recycling company, waste management company. Tom has been very successful in bringing brand owners along on this journey and to the point where, at first it was an ecommerce platform. That if consumers were interested in buying products in a package that was reusable, they had to do it online.

Now, not only is it here at Walmart — that’s the latest partnership that Tom has made. But earlier in 2022, about a year ago, it launched also in the Portland, OR area. So that was in the Kroger, Fred Meyer stores up in that area that launched it. And you know it continues to advance. This is a little bit of a different process than maybe what you might be thinking of. You know, a reusable package, you buy, jam, jelly, whatever. And then you wash out the jar and you use it as a juice glass.

So what this is, is the brand owners … there is a collection portion to this so that the empty container or when you’re … when the consumer’s done, the container goes all the way back to the brand manufacturer for refilling.

All right, chemicals of concern.

I don't know if you guys are familiar, there’s a lot of acronyms here. If you guys are probably well familiar as consumers of BPA. Bisphenol-A had some very serious health issues, concerns on BPA, especially with baby bottles and whatnot. So there’s, you know, been back and forth on the, you know, seriousness of that.

But the latest acronym here is PFAS. And again, it’s some chemicals that are hard to pronounce. But there’s two general classes of them, fluorochemicals: perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl. There, again, experiencing or exhibiting signs of some health concerns with it migrating into the food.

PFASs are used as a grease barrier for a lot of fast food. That’s not the only thing that they’re used for, but that’s what they’re mostly used for in a packaging application. So there’s been a lot of work in trying to remove the PFAS. There’s been a lot of bans on that. You know, quite frankly, the food companies and the food packaging companies are again responding and, you know, trying to come up with other alternatives.

So that’s the sustainability portion of the presentation.

 

OK. So we’re going to move on to Sprinkles of Technology.

So there’s two things from a food and beverage point of view that I want to point out from a technology point of view. The first one is shelf life and then a couple of examples of smart packaging that I wonder if you’ve seen or not.

So food and beverage companies have the requirements of protecting their product and that most of the time requires a fresh … from a freshness point of view … and that often always requires barrier in the packaging to protect it from either moisture or air. There’s still a lot of new technologies coming out for that, but this one, BarrierGuard OxygenSmart, actually got recognized by the Association of Plastics Recyclers as being recyclable and still providing barrier.

One of the reasons why I started with sustainability as the top portion was also because it’s so important and as you’ll see as I go through the rest of the presentation, it’s embedded in just about everything. So it’s really hard to talk about technology in a vacuum without bringing in the recyclability or the environmental, sustainable aspect of it.

The idea of extending shelf life … this always is equated with barrier as well. When you have a strong barrier, you get a longer shelf life. You get a longer shelf life, product is fresher for the consumers. The supply chain, you have a little bit of elbow room for how long the product is in the supply chain before it gets to the end customer. So there’s a lot of reasons why people are, in the food and beverage industry, are always, always … you say, you know, extended barrier, extended shelf life to them and their ears perk up. It’s like what, what, something new, something new to try?

This is … to me, it looks like a very simple desiccant but there’s a little bit more involved from, you know, the technology point of view. But what was interesting about this is, this … I’m not going to pronounce the supermarket the same. It’s an ecommerce-only supermarket in Mexico, which … to me that’s pretty cool to begin with. It’s spelled J Ü S T O. So is that whoso? And they’re using this what they call … it’s a SaverPak is the brand. And it’s an active moisture reducing sachet or they also call it a packet. Oh no, they call it a patch, which you know I think of medical patches when I when I hear the word patch for delivering something. This is absorbing instead of delivering. But a similar technology and I thought that was pretty cool because they are able to reduce a lot of food waste with the introduction of this.

The food waste issue from a sustainability point of view is much bigger than any packaging waste that’s generated. So being able to use technology in an environmental way to reduce food waste is always good. And here’s one example of that.

So again, just another example of being able to extend shelf life. This is a Korean company that has a plant-based food-grade anti-fogging additive. I can’t again pronounce the … I don’t have a good ear for letters, words, and stuff. It’s spelled E as in Edward, I N A R. So Enar, Inar, I’m not really sure, 611.

It’s been used by this Korean converter to prevent the condensation droplets from spoiling the food, contributing to the food spoilage. Desiccants have been around for some time, even in food, pharmaceutical, whatever. But supposedly this has got a couple of different properties. So they’re taking a similar technology and you know beefing it up a little bit to add multiple applications to it, or multiple functions to it.

And then I could talk for days about Best Buy codes and the food industry and everything that’s going on with that. Consumer education on Best Buy, Use By, you know, freshness date codes, needs a little bit of help, I think. And there’s not a whole lot of people stepping up to that. The FDA is working on a few things, but even still.

So what this is, is this is … It’s called PragmatIC. And it’s a circuit that connects, talks with an app on a smartphone to tell consumers the shelf-life information of the food. Being able to connect packaging with smartphone apps has been happening for, you know, a while here. But because this is a particular, you know, to me a testy area for food with consumers, again, going back to that problem of food waste. You want to prevent food waste as much as possible. And just because a, you know, a date on a package says that it’s best by a certain date … a lot of people see that date, and if it’s after that, they throw it out. And that’s not what the Best Buy date means.

A lot going on technology wise for that.

I don’t have a photo for this because I don’t know what antimicrobial looks like. This was a … we have …  we’re lucky enough to have a number of industry gurus who write regularly for Packaging Digest. Claire Sand is one of them. She is amazing as a food packaging scientist. She identified for us five technologies of science breakthroughs in food packaging that we should keep our eye open for, for 2023, and antimicrobial was one of them. I just wanted to point this out in case anybody was, you know, in the food industry, just looking for another, different area of technology to look for.

OK, getting into smart packaging now on the in the technology sector. Kellogg is the first US company to use NaviLens. What is NaviLens, you might want to know, right?

It is an optical smart code comprising high-contrast colorful squares on a black background that can be detected and read by the NaviLens and the NaviLens Go apps. So this is something that they came out with for people who are either blind or have low sight. Imagine … I don’t know if you saw the Minority Report [movie] with Tom Cruise where he walks by something, and an ad pops out that’s specific to him. It’s not that customized, but it’s pretty cool technology to be able to do that. The apps can communicate … so once it connects to the app, it can communicate in up to 36 different languages. So definitely something that’s got legs globally.

Smart packaging being used on flexible packaging these days. This is an example of Sealed Air’s Prismiq technology. If you haven’t heard of that, and it’s spelled PRISMIQ. So it’s spelled a little bit different. Prismic is how it’s still pronounced, I believe though.

It’s a combination of digital printing, smart packaging, and then packaging design services that the company offers. Sealed Air has … is rebranding itself as SEE and I’m not sure if it’s initials or if it’s pronounced “C.”

OK. Lastly, biometrics. This is the eye-tracking technology, which has been around for a while now. But I point this out for a particular reason. A conversation that I had, again with Mike Okoroafor, the Chief Sustainability Officer at McCormick. He, in the podcast, mentioned how important it is now to design packaging for digital, for the online buying. And so it’s just interesting to me. This example here was the Package Insight by Quad Labs in South Carolina and they’ve been doing this for a while and this is literally a, you know, trying to mock-up a physical shelf. But to me, when I saw this here and I was, you know, trying to come up with some ideas to, to give to you, I immediately thought digital buying as well. Perhaps, you know, there could be some application for that.

 

Alright. Layers of Innovative Design. I only have two subcategories here and that’s design and labeling.

M&M’s new packaging and its characters. Huge controversy online. They made some changes to their characters … came out with this new package where they have only the female characters on it. Flipped them upside down as, you know, they’re trying to make a point about how they’re celebrating the women in our world who have flipped the status quo and, you know, excelled.

And Holy Moley, the backlash that they got online was … through the general media and online through social media was … I mean, it’s still going on. The point I want to make about this from a design point of view is, the brand owners are trying to navigate this new world that we’re living in, which is, you know, quite frankly, at times it gets a little crazy. And this is an example of how brands are using packaging as a communication vehicle for social issues. We’ve been seeing more of that as we’ve been experiencing some serious social upheaval in our company … country … over the last, you know, specifically last couple of years with everything that’s going on.

I just wanted to point this out. I have sent questions to Mars, the company. They’ve … Mars already announced that they’re going to be eliminating the characters from any of their commercial ads. I reached out to them to try to see, OK, what about your packaging? You know, are you going to toss out all the rolls and rolls of packages that you’ve already printed with characters on them and go character-less on your packaging? And I still haven’t heard back from them. So if anybody’s in the audience that knows anybody at Mars and can help me out with that, I would appreciate it.

Packaging reflects our world, our social, social issues. And inclusion, ethics, and sustainability is really, really important to the younger generations, especially Gen. Z. They are the percentage that I heard and I didn’t remember the percentage, but it was pretty high that the younger generations, Millennials and Gen Z proactively research a company’s sustainability, ethics, and inclusion policies before buying. And like I say, I don’t remember the exact number, but I know it was at least 30 something, 30-40%, and to me that’s pretty high. I think the percentage of the Boomers that do that was like 3. So that just gives you an idea of how much more important it is for the younger generation.

OK. I put this in because I, growing up, I absolutely loved Paul Newman. But I also love Newman’s Own. And this is a … if you’re not familiar with Newman’s Own, it’s a company that Paul Newman started or was started on his behalf. A food company. They have great spaghetti sauce, but they have a lot of products in their portfolio there. And what they do is, they donate 100% of the profits, Newman’s Own, to philanthropic things.

And so just recently, last year, the company decided to license Paul’s image to be used on other brands. Non-food brands. Sorry I know because you know, food crowd. You’re looking for ideas for food. But again, this is just an example of how to reach … a way of using packaging and design to reach those younger audiences with a, you know, doing good for the world message and how effective it is.

So what’s new in label sustainability here? We’ve got a new product, Optiflex Thin Eco Focus, which is a thinner pressure-sensitive label that is again recognized by the Association of Plastic Recyclers for enabling better recyclability of PET and high-density polyethylene containers, HDPE.

Supposedly there’s 24% less plastic in these labels, which means more labels on the roll, less downtime. And apparently the performance of applying these labels, even though they’re thinner, is comparable, which is always a question that the brands should ask if they don’t.

But anyway, the point that I wanted to make here is sometimes the sustainability solutions and/or the technology solutions and or the design solutions are looking at components of a package, individually. Obviously, you want to look at the holistically as well. But when you need to hit some certain goals for percentages of this and percentages of that, they’re looking at individual components.

Danone in Argentina came out with this no-label PET bottle. It is laser etched, which still gives you the branding of it. Now I do have to point out that this is … it is not sold in retail. If it was, it would need a UPC code, and they haven’t quite cracked the code on how to laser-etch a UPC code. But even still, from a labeling design point of view, no label.

I know that in the past when you’ve heard the no-label look on packaging, it’s been a clear pressure-sensitive label. This no-label look is actually no label.

 

So my last section here of one of my zesty trends for food beverage packaging. I’m going to talk a little bit about a garnish of Efficient Automation. And again, I’ve got a couple of subcategories here as we go through it.

I don’t know if how many of you walk through food facilities, get inside the plants. Holy Moley, the packaging machines are, and even just walking the show floor here — packaging machines are getting smaller and smaller and smaller. I kind of understand that the more electronic that they go to and the fewer mechanical parts that they have, you’re able to have a more compact machine. But they are working quite actively in this area to do that. And the X-ray inspection system that I have here was just one example. I mean, this, this trend of compact machines is going on in many of the areas of the packaging line operation systems.

The point that I wanted to make here from an automation point of view is that, in a food facility, you want to increase your output, you want to increase your automation for whatever reason, labor challenges, whatever. But if the machines were the same size and you need more, we’re you going to come up with the room? So the physical constraints of a plant are forcing a lot of this reengineering of packaging machines to be smaller and smaller and still have the same speed output to be able to increase the profitability of a product line with further automation, further output.

It’s also with the components as well. So this is just an example of a cobot, a collaborative robot, but it doesn’t … this was just an example, it’s not limited to this. But even within the packaging machines, they’re reengineering and redesigning the operation, the function of the machine, the engineering of the machine, to save some space. And it goes all the way to, you know, save space and be flexible. It almost makes sense to include some kind of a robot in the packaging machine, and we’re seeing a lot more of that.

Here’s a quick one from an automation point of view, looking at, specifically, flexibility. And of course, robots give flexibility on a packaging line or packaging operation because they’re programmable and then reprogrammable. So as product lines change, you can reprogram and teach the robot to handle something different.

But there’s another thing that I wanted to bring up here that I heard just recently … one of our regular contributors. I was so taken with it that I want to share it.

So I don't know if as kids, if any of you played the game Telephone, where you start with a phrase and you repeat it down the line until you get to the end and then you see how well people communicated the phrase. In the game, it’s really funny how wrong it goes, how wrong it can get down the line.

Well, imagine how devastating that miscommunication is on a packaging line machine to machine. The Organization for Machine Automation and Control, more often known as OMAC, had a while back — you know, I don’t know, two decades, whatever. Three, maybe even more — developed the packaging machine language, which is known as PackML. And it’s a system that standardizes how the machines communicate.

I am still shocked that as much time has gone by and machinery manufacturers have still not implemented this on their machines and even more surprised that the brand owners, the folks who are responsible for the plants’ operations, aren’t screaming for this.

There’s another business reason for maybe looking at PackML that is directly tied into the flexibility end of things and that is … that when whatever product is running in that packaging line, when it fails, and that happens quite a bit — 60 to 70% of new products fail — instead of being stuck with a line that maybe was dedicated to run that particular product and can’t be reused for something different, if you had PackML on it, that really does facilitate repurposing the packaging equipment for the next new product just through the language communication, being able to better communicate. This was a business case that … I always like to look at the business side of what’s going on in the packaging trends as well.

So a lot going on in artificial intelligence without … within packaging. AI and machine learning in some cases might be a little scary. I think that’s a little bit more on the consumer side. You know there’s a lot of media attention right now on the chat bots that college students are using to write their term papers and things like that. Give ’em a tool and they’re going to use it, right?

Artificial intelligence is being explored quite a bit on the packaging line these days for machine learning. And I know Amazon has been pretty active in pushing that forward within their own facilities. So you have a little bit of an unknown because this is a new area. But just a reminder that artificial intelligence and machine learning … we’re literally talking about computer programming here. And the vast majority of the computer programming that’s still being done is still being done by people.

So to me this is not a solution, it’s still a question that I have from a packaging point of view. It’s incorporating machine learning and artificial intelligence into some of your operations and/or other programs that you’re using to help make decisions, ask them how smart are the people who are programming this, in packaging. Someone told me that it … the people who are actually doing the programming, the keystrokes, might not be up on packaging. But they’re talking with the packaging experts and getting their input.

And I don’t know. I mean, the Telephone game that I just mentioned a little earlier. I don’t know.

I think … yes, this is my last slide.

So from automation point of view, you know I mentioned earlier how sustainability really is ingrained in like everything these days and from an automation point of view, it also is something that the plant manufacturers have to look at. So a while back, you know, there’s the questions about whether you’re still using factory air, pneumatics. Should you go all electric for some of your machines?

I’m not here to argue that. I’m just here to say that, yes, packaging lines are being analyzed for their energy consumption and whatever they can do to save money, save energy on the packaging line, they’re looking at. And this particular article identified four areas that packaging lines can reduce their energy usage. And that is in motors. There’s a lot of very energy-efficient motors these days. Heat. Whatever operation is using heat, look at what you can do to maybe refine a little bit and lower the temperatures. Three, air and pneumatics, as I referred to a little bit earlier. And the last one is water. I know that water is being used in food and beverage processing facilities quite a bit, I’m not sure so much on the packaging side. I guess it really depends on, you know if there’s … a lot of times if there’s a heat, an operation that requires heat, then you’re using water for cooling. But I couldn’t come up with a real good packaging example on the reduction of water on that. All good areas to look at.

And continued advancements in the technologies from the machinery, component side of things.

 

That’s a high-level rundown of some of what I’m seeing as the top-tier trends going on with food and beverage packaging these days. Thank you so much for your attention. Hope it was helpful.

About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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