Packaging Digest is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Articles from 2020 In April

Demand grows for paperboard, with some barriers along the way

Demand grows for paperboard, with some barriers along the way
APP Foopak barrier paperboard

The future promises to be bright for the paper and board industry. According to research agency Smithers Pira, based on current trends, the sector will experience a period of sustained growth of up to 6 percent annually through 2017. This will result in a global market of more than 30 million tons with an approximate value of $70 billion.

What this means is that the demand for food contact paper and board will be nearly 7.5 million tons higher than in 2012—offering a lucrative opportunity, especially for a paper and board industry, which is on the hunt for new opportunities.

The huge growth in food packaging demand—tied to population growth and the growing middle classes in emerging markets—has had a positive impact on the paper industry already, with a shift in the industry away from paper and board for print media toward specialty grade products, such as food contact paper and board. As a material type, paper and board is a popular material for food contact use. Indeed, the latest inventions in barrier technology position it to be the material of choice in many packaging applications.  

There are challenges. Paper and board only works safely and effectively in a food contact role with a barrier coating of some form. Traditionally, this has usually been a paraffin wax coating where grease resistance is required, or when full oxygen and liquid barriers are required—such as in a juice carton or coffee cup.

Plastic-derived food contact barriers are also essential in enabling heat-sealing, a vital requirement of many packaging formats and designs. These traditional barrier coatings perform well. While the use of a traditional barrier coating involves the use of a non-renewable material, the quantities involved are miniscule, and the latest advances in accurate coating application technologies reduce their use even further. 

However, the main issue with barrier coatings is not the use of a non-renewable material, but the impact on end-of-life: barrier-coated boards and papers tend to require particular recycling technologies to enable the separation of materials, such as optical sortation. In particular, as a result of insufficient infrastructure and available technology, this is an issue in emerging markets, which is also where demand will be strongest in the years ahead.

Bioplastics vs water-based coatings
For this reason, there’s been a concentrated focus in recent years on developing new barrier technology that is either renewably sourced, readily recyclable, biodegradable or all three. Bioplastic-based technology is a huge growth sector. They have advanced to the extent that they can rival traditional plastics in functional terms—just look at Coca-Cola’s Plant-Bottle as an example.

Bioplastic barrier technology does, however, face some challenges. To begin with, confusion over what terminology best describes the technology is holding back with brand owners as they wrestle with questions. Are we talking renewable? Biodegradable?

Additionally, bioplastics can confuse consumers. Such questions include: Should they be separated? Can they be recycled? Can they be put in compost?

Finally, there’s the lifecycle issue, with first generation bioplastics in particular: Is the feedstock used for production displacing food intended for human consumption? What’s the climate impact? 

Luckily, on the question of lifecycle, bioplastic technology is advancing to the point where it will soon be making use of waste materials as a feedstock. In the pulp and paper industry especially, work is currently underway to determine how lignin, a natural by-product of the pulping process, could be used as a feedstock.

A complimentary approach is a move towards water-based coatings. The use of a water base means that the coating can be readily removed in recycling, composted in a municipal program or, in the worst case, the product will decompose slowly in a landfill (but more rapidly than plastic). The introduction of water-based coatings is especially important for product applications where complete liquid and oxygen barrier technology is not required, such as in the fast-food service sector where packaging is high volume and often misses recycling streams. 

The future of paper and board
Moving forward, we’ll likely see continued development of bioplastics as a barrier coating. The issue now is not technology or functionality, but comparative costs and the type and quantities of feedstock consumed.

Alternatively, the industry will see increasing use of water-based coatings, especially for products that only require a grease-barrier. This technology will make paper and board become even more competitive. It competes well with alternative materials today in packaging efficiency and lifecycle terms but, with tomorrow’s barrier technology, paper and board could potentially be the material of choice in a lot of packaging solutions. 

4 areas where smart packaging excels

4 areas where smart packaging excels
NFC-enabled packages can connect with consumers in the store and at home with information, convenience and rewards.

For the last few years, packaging industry professionals have been curious about the future of smart packaging. While barcodes and quick-response (QR) codes, once considered the “next big thing” in packaging, have proved successful, worries remain regarding cost, feasibility and consumer engagement. With the potential to be a breakthrough in the industry, will brands be able to find the key to unlocking smart packaging?

The industry is already seeing some progress in the design and production needed to cost effectively incorporate near-field communication (NFC) technology into packaging, especially now that Apple has announced iOS 11 will have support for reading NFC tags. While ambitious, NFC has the potential to revolutionize the way customers interact with food packaging. By reinventing packaging as a fully interactive customer engagement tool, packaging could be elevated from a simple functional relationship to providing a useful and valued service.

It also opens up a realm of new possibilities by connecting a new host of everyday objects to the Internet of Things (IoT), the interconnected network of household objects that can collect and exchange data.

The idea of high-tech packaging poses the possibility of a symbiotic relationship between the packaging industry and tech companies aiming to establish the Internet of Things as a core feature of the modern household. Imagine food cans alerting you the product is about to expire, a milk bottle that texts you when you’re almost out of milk or pasta boxes that can suggest new recipes incorporating other ingredients in the kitchen. By weaving connectivity into our everyday lives, smart packaging has the potential to showcase the long-term future and practicality of NFC technology and the Internet of Things.

The potential for where smart technology in food packaging could go has no limit, but in the short-term future, here are four key prospects as to where we could see smart technology being embedded.

1. Content

By scanning NFC chips embedded in packaging, consumers could gain access to recipes, cooking instructions and inspiration for specific products, offering a richer experience with much more information than could otherwise be included. By helping brands to engage with customers in this way, smart packaging could play a significant role in boosting brand engagement and helping to spur additional product purchases.

2. Replenishment

By alerting consumers when they are running low on a specific product, smart packaging can help brands to motivate (or even automate) replenishment, stimulating customer loyalty and avoiding competition from other brands at point of sale.

3. Expiration

In a similar vein, brands can use this technology to detect when a product is about to reach its expiration date, thus helping customers to avoid food waste by prompting them to use the product. As the technology develops, we could see smart fridges that can detect the consumer’s buying habits or plan a week’s worth of recipes around those products and quantities.

4. Authentication

The opportunity for packaging to aid authentication to ensure it is genuine and hasn’t been tampered with could be a real differentiator, especially in emerging markets where food quality and safety is a major concern for consumers.  

Will consumers be receptive to their packaging becoming smart, or should the industry focus on certain categories, like high-end, luxury goods?  Furthermore, with this large investment, what return on investment will companies see from this technology?

For smart packaging to survive as more than just a novelty, we in the packaging industry—alongside food and technology brands—must ensure that the technology is not only cost effective, but offers real value to the consumer with a consistent yet manageable availability of additional content and services. If we’re able to strike a balance between cost effectiveness and functionality, however, smart packaging has the potential to revolutionize the packaging industry and ensure packaging maintains its role at the heart of the customer experience.

Flexible Packaging

Kao’s New Pump ‘Bottle’ is Really Flexible Packaging

Kao’s New Pump ‘Bottle’ is Really Flexible Packaging
It may look like a bottle, but this is actually film formed into a package and made rigid with columns of air.

Packaging for the new MyKirei by Kao brand of vegan-friendly, plant-based personal-care products takes its cues from the Japanese Kirei sensibility, which favors sustainability as well as beauty, cleanliness, simplicity, and balance. Delicate graphics decorate the package, which looks like a rigid pump bottle but is, in fact, made from flexible packaging.

MyKirei brand owner Kao USA, based in Cincinnati, says the packaging design uses up to 50% less plastic than traditional bottles. The MyKirei containers have channels on the periphery that are filled with air to make the package rigid. Product is then filled into the package. Kao designed this package in-house; but Packaging Digest has seen similar formats from Procter & Gamble and Aeroflex.

The water-tight package design prevents product contamination, even when the products are used in the shower. The design also lets consumers extract nearly all the product without removing the pump from the container.

Kao is collaborating with TerraCycle on a program that lets consumers recycle MyKirei containers and pumps when the product is gone.

The first wave of MyKirei products comprises three products: shampoo, conditioner, and hand wash. Starting on April 22, 2020 (the 50th anniversary of Earth Day), the products will be sold exclusively on Amazon for $18 each.

Ken Adams, director, package development, at Kao Brands, answers questions from Packaging Digest about the package.

Please describe the air-fill process.

Adams: The package is filled with air with an air tube made of the same material prior to liquid filling and is cut and sealed in this process.

What changes were required on the packaging line to handle this package?

Adams: The package requires a completely new type of packaging line.

How does the package design enable consumers to use nearly every drop of product in the bottle?

Adams: The inner pouch is separate from the outer pouch, so as product is dispensed, the inner pouch collapses inward, dispensing all product and leaving “almost” nothing in the package.

Is the pump inserted by the consumer after buying the package?

Adams: We will sell the package with a pump that the consumer buys the first time; after the first purchase the consumer can purchase a package with no pump and use the original [pump] many times over.

The package and pump are both recyclable through TerraCycle. Can the bottles be recycled via curbside recycling, alternatively?

Adams: Not at this time, which is why we have partnered with TerraCycle. We are also offering refills as another option to cut down on waste.

Does the package provide instructions for recycling via TerraCycle?

Adams: Yes, the information will be on the packaging, on our website, and directly on the Amazon page. 

Was this package designed specifically for the ecommerce channel?

Adams: It was designed to reduce the amount of plastic of a traditional bottle and pump, but there are other benefits. This was not specific to the ecommerce channel.

Were there any special packaging needs for the ecommerce channel, and if so, how does this package address them?

Adams: Actually, because of the attached pump, a secondary shipping package is required.

Does the packaging tell consumers that it has 50% less plastic than other bottles?

Adams: Yes, this will be on the package.

How are the bottles decorated?

Adams: The film that the package is made from is directly printed on.

What plastic(s) are the bottle and pump made from?

Adams: Multiple materials.

4 Inevitable Packaging Changes After COVID-19

4 Inevitable Packaging Changes After COVID-19
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is changing American lives in many ways, including their preferences for different types of packaging.

The global pandemic has had a dramatic impact on perceptions of packaging. At the beginning of the year, concerns around ocean plastics, environmental tradeoffs, and challenging recycling economics dominated headlines and created a general skepticism on the value of packaging and the viability of recycling. But then the pandemic took hold and packaging has since been hailed as a key tool to ensure health and safety.

While it’s clear that the value of packaging is now more publicly recognized, prior concerns haven’t gone away. During this “great pause,” the packaging industry must reflect and prepare, ensuring that the packaging value chain offers even more value to our environment and society — and can play a key role within the economic restructuring our world will desperately need.

Here are four ways we believe the packaging value chain is likely to change post-COVID-19 and how we can prepare to help create a more robust future.

Photo credit: Elnur –

1. Consumers may appreciate the value of packaging more but will still want a circular packaging system.

Since COVID-19, there has been increased media attention on the value of packaging in providing home deliveries and a consumer preference for packaged goods. Single-use packaging is on the rise as consumers and employers want to ensure that hygiene and the potential risk of virus transmission is minimized. Packaging is now being recognized as a valued tool in ensuring product and consumer protection, increased shelf life, and safe delivery.

But the longer consumers stay at home, the more aware they may be of their consumption and disposal patterns. With no away-from-home waste collection, consumers are immediately faced with the visual impacts of their consumption. Food waste sits in their kitchen bins rather than the back of a restaurant, and product delivery comes to the home with increased amounts of packaging normally disposed at the store and out of their sight. All the packaging needed to deliver the food previously consumed at restaurants now fills the consumers’ own trash and recycling containers. And they will see higher than normal packaging materials that cannot be recycled in their curbside bins. As consumers become more aware of the impacts of consumption and disposal, it is not unrealistic that they may become even more environmentally conscious and concerned by materials that cannot be recycled easily, if at all.

We may see a shift in policy away from banning materials toward a greater emphasis on designing for the environment. We also anticipate further consideration of how to support the expansion of technologies and processes to ensure increased packaging recovery and or reuse. Investment, policy support and a coordinated innovation strategy will all be needed. This approach could offer a valued economic driver as we emerge from a virus-induced recession.

Additionally, as consumers seek to better manage their household waste, clear education and guidance on recycling may take on increased relevance.

Photo credit:  freshidea –

2. Our definitions of recycling need to be expanded and harmonized.

It is widely expected that the longer our communities are engaged in social distancing practices, the more widely embraced home-delivery options will become. AMERIPEN has already noted that ecommerce packaging is vastly different from that in traditional brick-and-mortar retail. With increased vibration and movement across ecommerce distribution chains, multi-material and flexible packaging appears to be more effective in providing necessary product protection while minimizing shipping weight in addition to reducing cumulative material demand as provided through “Ships in Own Container” (SIOC) alternatives. Additionally, while meals on-the-go were already on the rise, the potential for longer term or more restricted restaurant access is likely to see an increase in takeout services and the necessary packaging involved.

In many cases these scenarios use hard-to-recycle packaging under our existing recycling systems and are often excluded from curbside programs. In the case of foodservice packaging, while some may be recyclable or compostable, fears around food contamination or a lack of access to disposal services further hinders their recovery efforts.

In a post-COVID world, where home delivery is anticipated to stay high and interest in plastics and harder-to-recycle materials is seen as a valued health precaution, emerging recovery technologies will be valuable. We need to establish definitions and policies that will support recovery options for these packaging formats.

We also need to grow and encourage research and development to identify the most effective ways to collect, sort, and reprocess emerging packaging materials and technologies so our recovery system is prepared for future consumption trends. Because ecommerce and take-away service is anticipated to continue growth, and in the current absences of mono-material alternatives with the same level of protections, we need to identify ways to separate multi-material packaging formats for recovery or identify new uses for mixed materials. Additionally, we need to identify the best ways to collect food-contaminated packaging to prevent cross contamination of other materials.

Since definitions inform goals, laws, and regulations, an expansion of what is considered recycling and alignment amongst states and international bodies to include more forms of recovery may encourage innovations in this space and help support investment.

Photo credit: SpelaG –

3. Reusable packaging strategies may shift towards more industrial models.

To reduce the risk of potential viral transmission, an increasing number of quick serve restaurants have suspended the use of reusable containers, and states have begun to temporarily rescind plastic bag bans. These actions have led many to publicly explore the future of reusable packaging formats. In doing so, other industry groups have been pitted against environmental nonprofits and sides have quickly been drawn on the value of scientific studies and approaches.

AMERIPEN takes a different approach and see opportunities to redefine and commercialize reusables as an economic growth opportunity. A shift toward more industrial scale reusables, where these formats are cleaned at industrial facilities before being placed back in use, will continue to be an emerging area. The risks of relying on consumer cleaning practices and viral transmission through multiple hands is decreased through this approach.

But these programs are nascent and further expansion will require additional support. Both policy shifts and financial investments are needed towards advancing our ability to safely scale hygienic processes for reusables. More research and development will be needed to help test and trial different designs and systems for various reuse opportunities.

Photo credit: alexlmx –

4. Social distancing and transmission concerns will drive automation in hauling and sortation.

Some communities across the country are modifying or temporarily ceasing curbside collection and recycling programs. These cities and towns are struggling to maintain staffing levels for collection programs, and to maintain safe sortation processes that achieve social distancing requirements.

Some programs that rely on smaller containers without automated collection are temporarily closing to protect employee health. Larger programs that are making use of carts appear to be less affected. In recycling sortation facilities, the use of optical sorters and robotics to help improve sortation and reduce side-by-side human labor may be a natural fit. The use of these technologies is likely to increase as we look to the future of recycling.

Automation can bring long term efficiencies but there’s a cost to these investments at a time when city and state budgets will be stretched to support economic recovery. The packaging industry has already identified effective strategies to increase collaboration between investors, packaging companies, and recyclers and recognizes that collaboration will be even more imperative moving forward.

Re-imagine and act.

As we look to the future of a post-pandemic world, we have an opportunity to take a pause from business-as-usual to assess and re-imagine where our structural weaknesses lay. To begin with, we need to start seeing packaging as a system and explore the impacts one shift in the value chain has on another. Doing so will help us pull together stakeholders from across the value chain to continue to create a shared vision of the packaging value chain of the future.

The creation of unified strategy that recognizes the value of packaging but also emphasizes ways to address our weaknesses could create economic value, get displaced workers back to work, and strengthen our supply chains. It won’t be easy and it may not be cheap, but if we can align the packaging value chain around a strategy that is steeped in the principles of environmental and human health protection, we can find ways to drive increased efficiency for the mutual benefit of our society, environment, and economy.

Sustainable packaging is much more than just design. It requires systems thinking, uncovering, and addressing unintended consequences — and advance planning. Let’s continue the discussion to advance a circular economy and meet these changing consumer needs.

Packaging Design

Sun-Maid Entices Millennials with New Packaging Design

Sun-Maid Entices Millennials with New Packaging Design
Sun-Maid's new graphics are rolling out across products, packaging formats, and the country.

Sun-Maid hopes to attract Millennial consumers with a packaging and logo redesign that modernizes the brand’s look and feel while preserving the brand iconography familiar to generations of shoppers. It’s the brand’s first pack redesign since the 1970s.

The new packaging design, which is being executed across the company’s full line of products, emphasizes simplicity and transparency. The new logo includes modifications to the sunrays behind the “Sun-Maid girl” and subtle changes to the figure herself.

Refreshed graphics on the food packaging include callouts that highlight better-for-you features such as “Whole fruit,” “0g Added sugars,” and “Good source of fiber.” The Non-GMO Project Verified seal also appears on the front of the packaging, plus the USDA Organic seal, on eligible products. Package structures include paperboard cartons and canisters and reclosable pouches.

The design updates the 108-year-old brand while preserving both the Sun-Maid brand identity and consumers’ nostalgia for it. Harry Overly, president and CEO of Sun-Maid, discusses the redesign in an exclusive Packaging Digest Q&A.

When did the redesign start to roll out?

Overly: We started the redesigned packaging with our Vanilla and Chocolate yogurt six-packs, which were on shelf in December [2019]. The rest of the portfolio packaging followed and started hitting shelves in January 2020.

The first Sun-Maid products to launch in the new packaging were the brand’s top stock-keeping units (SKUs). Which products are these?

Overly: Our California sun-dried raisins in various pack types, Golden Raisins, Zante Currants, yogurt-covered and Sour raisin snacks are among our top SKUs that just hit shelves mid-April. Products with the refreshed design will continue to roll out nationally throughout 2020.

How many products will be packed in the refreshed package design?

Overly: Consumers will see the Sun-Maid refreshed design on our 25-plus products.

Was this solely a graphic redesign?

Overly: Yes, this was solely a graphic redesign, with additional logo and packaging callouts.

The pouch is a newer package format. Will we see this for more Sun-Maid products?

Overly: We are not doing away with the iconic little red box; however, we are putting more products in the pouches because consumers tell us it’s convenient for their snacking needs.

Did Sun-Maid redesign the packaging graphics, or did you work with a design firm?

Overly: We worked with our creative-agency partner, Quench, based in Harrisburg, PA, on this redesign. They’ve played a major role in our ongoing efforts to better appeal to Millennials.

How have consumers, especially Millennials, responded to the redesign?

Overly: Shoppers have started to notice the change, and it’s been positive so far. We know, from research, that Millennials appreciate the clear labeling and understand the benefits of eating raisins and whole-fruit-based snacks. We redesigned based on consumer feedback and chose to keep the design simple and modern.

Packaging Design

Brand Refresh Fires Up Growth

Brand Refresh Fires Up Growth
Smelted's pizza box design is driven by "fun" and anchored in the values of creative, speed, and artisanal.

A wood-fired pizza brand sold out of a food truck was elevated through a packaging redesign — here are three takeaways for any start-up.

When chef Matt Lucas launched Copper Crust Co. in 2016 to bring a delicious wood-fired mobile pizza experience to local residents in Marquette, MI, he knew he had great-tasting, homegrown pizza on his side. What he didn’t realize was that growing his business would require its own special recipe: Elevated branding.

“I started this business out of a five-by-eight boxed trailer, hauling my wood pizza oven to craft breweries, weddings, and any local event we could find,” said Lucas. “I would pull up to these breweries with 75 to 250 people milling about looking for something to eat and that’s when I realized I had something.”

Three years in, his small business hit a tipping point. In order to grow his business model, he knew he needed to re-energize his brand and turned to OffWhite Co. for a complete refresh.

The first step was the recommended name change to Smelted, a play on delicious, melt-in-your mouth ingredients and Marquette’s iron ore mining town heritage.

Next came a deep dive into the creative process, leading Smelted through a design and branding transformation to resonate better with its young, hip audience and capture the attention of a broader market.

Elevated to an edgy, artisanal look.

The original logo, which featured a brick wood oven arch covering a line of evergreens and encircled by a beer-can ring, was replaced with a large orange salivating pizza mouth, reminiscent of the Rolling Stones band logo from the 70s and 80s. An orange and black color palette was chosen to convey an edgy, artisanal feel with a strong tonality.

The new design direction included playful pizza flavors to reflect Smelted’s unexpected ingredient combinations: Goat Yoga for goat cheese and fig, Dirty Martini for green olives and Yooper Sunrise for maple honey butter and sage sausage crumble, for example. Each flavor was given its own edgy, humorous custom-illustrated flavor icon, all of which easily scale across other Smelted brand elements, including its new four-season, state-of-the-art food truck and promotional swag.

Since launching its fun, edgy look last year, Smelted is rapidly expanding its customer base and generating strong brand awareness. The company recently signed a deal with a major hotel chain to licence its brand in hotel restaurants and is now developing a “take and bake” option that will eventually transition to a consumer line.

What can a growing company learn from Smelted’s successful brand refresh? Here are what I see as being the top three takeaways:

1. Plan for growth: When you’re a small business in growth mode, it’s important to invest in a cohesive brand strategy from the beginning. Each element of Smelted’s original logo was chosen for a reason, but together resulted in a busy and complicated design that left consumers confused. The new, revitalized brand says: “Look at us. We’re a fun, growing pizza business. You should try us.” It provides a coordinated set of bold, playful brand assets that will scale with the company as it grows, delivering an authentic and fun experience that customers love.

2. Develop a consistent brand personality: Food companies often approach us with great-tasting products that are having difficulty getting to the next level of business. What we often find is they haven’t quite put their finger on the one or two distinct qualities that distinguish them in their market. With Smelted, we took the approach of anchoring the brand and overall design strategy in the concept of “fun” and identified three key brand values: creative, speed and artisanal. Each new brand asset combines the idea of “melt-in-your-mouth” handcrafted pizza, made from hand-picked farm ingredients, with the image of a colorful, young company that is delivering a new take on wood-fired pizza.

3. Establish an emotional connection: Research shows that your best shot at building a loyal following for your brand hinges on how strongly people feel connected to it. Smelted’s original logomark was not only confusing, but failed to resonate with its audience, largely made up of blue-collar workers and millennials. Its refreshed brand assets — including the sleek new food truck, fully decked out in renditions of its graphic flavor icons — tell its brand story in an exciting, energetic and fun way that inspires people to reach out and make a lasting connection.

Riding into the next wave of its business, Smelted is well positioned to grow its brand story along with sales and new ventures. As Lucas puts it: “We had to come up with a totally different approach to our business to give us a coordinated, on-brand strategy in one fell swoop. Now, we have the blueprint we need to aggressively go out and attack new opportunities.”

COVID-19: Maintain Your Sustainable Packaging Focus

COVID-19: Maintain Your Sustainable Packaging Focus
Photo credit: Celso Pupo –

We are all swimming in a sea of voices analyzing the impacts of COVID-19 on all aspects of society. Packaging plays a starring role in this conversation due to its role in protecting products, as well as being a human contact point. But what about the sustainability of packaging?

Most companies are hyper focused on employee safety and the economy. Here are some important considerations for sustainable packaging during these times — and where to go from here. 

Will people still care about better managing single-use plastics after the crisis is over? 

Prior to the crisis, there was a loud call-to-action surrounding better recovery of post-consumer packaging materials and a demand to use less packaging whenever possible.

It seems, however, that priorities have shifted towards product safety and the role that packaging plays (along with other single-use items like plastic gloves) in product safety. Yet, litter will not cease to be an issue following the COVID-19 crisis. Ironically, many communities are seeing high rates of gloves and masks ending up as litter. The need to find better waste management solutions will undoubtedly follow us into the future.

The economic impact of the crisis has further potential implications for where priorities are placed. Some consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) are anticipating large decreases in sales, which means some might have fewer resources to put towards sustainability. This is not the case for all companies however, as some companies have already signaled that sustainability will continue to be a central focus for them, and some sectors are thriving economically, like medical packaging and e-commerce. The imperative to make sustainability a priority will continue as a long-term trend.

Is reusable packaging safe?

We have seen news around reusable bag bans in certain states like New Hampshire as well as at some retailers. In addition, some governments are issuing (temporary?) rollbacks of single-use plastic packaging bans, like in the UK. These choices are being made as a precaution based on fear that the virus can survive several days on plastic, and that reusable bags increase opportunities for exposure compared to single-use plastic. This concern is not limited to bags, as COVID-19 has also raised concerns about the safety of refillable personal tumblers (Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts have temporarily discontinued filling these), and reusable foodservice-ware for restaurant delivery and takeout.

It’s important to point out that reusable packaging can be disinfected when it gets home or to a distribution center. In commercial models, washing and sanitizing have always been central to many reusable packaging models for restaurants and others. Depending on the system in place, reusable packaging might actually decrease opportunities for exposure when one company is able to control the supply chain by owning and cleaning their own reusable packaging.

Is single-use packaging safe?

The same concerns about cleanliness that apply to reusables also apply to single-use packaging. For example, when a cashier hands a customer a bag when checking out, or when customers pick up and look at a package before they purchase a product, or when they throw away or recycle that package at home — it presents a potential exposure pathway.

Although there is uncertainty surrounding the viral load actually present on packaging, we cannot rule out the possibility that single-use packaging might expose waste haulers and recyclers downstream.

And what about compostable packaging? Does compost get hot enough to kill the virus? The jury is still out on this.

In response to such concerns, we are starting to hear more about antimicrobial additives and antiviral packaging, which at this point have unknown implications for actual safety and recyclability. In the face of a lot of uncertainty, it makes sense to be cautious in the handling of both single-use and reusable packaging. 

Should we be using less packaging right now?

There is currently little scientific information about the survival of COVID-19 on the surface of open food, but some research has emerged on the virus’ ability to survive on different surfaces, like paper and plastic. So, is it better to use less packaging?

We still need more research. For food packaging, the perennial concern is that using less packaging for food might inadvertently increase food waste, which has a larger overall environmental impact than packaging. As pictures of empty shelves proliferate online as people hoard food (a potentially regrettable downside of human nature), another consideration is that this food may sit longer in peoples’ refrigerators, and so packaging’s role to reduce food waste becomes especially critical.

What are the implications for recycling?

We have seen a flurry of news and information about communities suspending recycling programs due to concerns over worker safety, including dozens of curbside suspensions and closure of some drop-off centers. Some materials recovery facilities (MRFs) are operating at lower capacity or have shut down. The majority of states with bottle bills have relaxed requirements and enforcement for retailers.

On the flip side, the number of programs being shut down is a small percentage of total recycling programs. And many other communities are still in full operation, as waste management is an essential service. Much is still progressing as normal with recycling workers on the frontlines across the country every day. Innovations in recycling systems like use of robotics for sortation, may help to increase worker safety in the future.

As many businesses remain closed, there is less material coming from commercial sources. There are some concerns about a supply shortage of recycled content. In addition, the quality of recycled content is also changing with more material now coming from residential recycling. This might mean the quality of recycled content available is lower (as is generally the case for the quality of residential versus commercial material), although hard data is lacking.

The health of the recycling system generally follows the health of the economy, and there are looming fears over the potential impacts of a wider economic downturn on the recycling system. Many brands are asking themselves how all of this is going to impact their ability to meet their sustainable packaging goals. Certainly, there is a clear imperative for the packaging community to invest in supporting this system in the near future.

What are other systemic impacts?

The packaging and sustainability sectors host a lot of events. Events have played a key role in connecting the industry to advance sustainable packaging. Many industries are working to get creative and explore what they can achieve virtually. SPC’s open content and learning opportunities via virtual events are available to keep conversations going and momentum high around sustainable packaging.

Right now, we have more questions than answers. Even as priorities and budgets shift, sustainable packaging isn’t going away. Society sometimes has a short-term memory. In the long run, we need to remember that protecting public health and the planet go together. We should take this opportunity to consider all of these points in conjunction, and work towards designing for the safe and sustainable future that we all want.

In the post-COVID world, we should choose to reinvest in the economy that puts environmental issues like waste, climate change, and biodiversity loss at the center of our approach. The Green Recovery Alliance has called for a worldwide alliance of politicians, decision-makers, business leaders, trade unions, and civil society groups to support a green transition after the pandemic. The packaging industry should take the lead in thinking about what this means for packaging.

Glass Adds Class to Cannabis-Infused Beverages

Glass Adds Class to Cannabis-Infused Beverages
PHYX from Spherex is a sparkling low-dose marijuana beverage in a distinctive packaging design.

Low-dose, cannabis-infused drink borrows design cues from sparkling waters to attract the ‘canna-curious’ consumer.

Sparkling waters can do more than add a touch of bubbly to your drinking choice. With the right ingredients they can either calm you or help you feel more effervescent.

That’s why Spherex created PHYX, a cannabis-infused sparkling seltzer brand that uses new-school nanoencapsulation technology for the actve ingredients, yet relies on old-school glass as a key packaging ingredient for the upscale product.

An active ingredient in Phyx is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, a cannabinoid), which Packaging Digest learned is intended to provide a mild and uplifting mood effect that’s not overpowering. The original formulation has a 1:1 ratio of 2.5mg THC and 2.5mg CBD, which means the THC works together with a low dose of CBD (Cannabidiol, a phytocannabinoid) to give the consumer a buzz, providing them an alternative to smoking or vaping. Phyx also recently released a formulation with a 10-mg dose of THC to provide another option for consumers.

Dan Gardenswartz, Spherex’s chief financial officer, comments on bringing Phyx to market and dressed up in the proper packaging.

Comment on the brand’s history.

Gardenswartz: Spherex was founded as a science-minded cannabis company that prioritized clean and efficient THC extraction to create high-quality cannabis distillate products.

In the summer of 2019, we released Phyx, a THC-infused sparkling water. We devoted a lot of time and resources into developing Phyx as a 1:1 THC:CBD cannabis beverage that could stand out from the rest with a microdose of THC (2.5 milligrams) and nano-encapsulation technology for rapid absorption.

Who’s the target consumer?

Gardenswartz: The target audience is the “canna-curious”. Phyx is a low dosage of THC; it is not meant to go after the traditional cannabis consumer. The target consumer either hasn’t tried cannabis before or hasn’t used it in a long time. That is why we chose to make an infused sparkling water. Drinking THC is an easier, more user-friendly delivery method than other consumption methods like smoking or vaping. 

What are your market areas?

Gardenswartz: Currently we sell Spherex and Phyx in Colorado and Spherex distillate concentrates in California. We’re working on bringing Phyx to new states soon.

How many products are there?

Gardenswartz: We have five products in the Phyx beverage line. There are four flavors: Dragon Fruit, Lime, Natural and Passion Fruit. Each of our flavors comes in a four pack as well. We also offer a higher-THC option (10mg) of our Dragon Fruit flavor. They are in 8.5-oz/250-mL glass bottles.

What packaging formats are used?

Gardenswartz: The most important factor when we considered packaging formats was how the product looks to the end consumer. The go-to for cannabis beverages has been aluminum cans and bottles. When looking at the sparkling water/mineral water space, many brands have uniquely designed bottles that are very memorable to customers.

The main components are the glass bottle we created, a sealed opening that is child-resistant for compliance, and a plastic screw-on cap for the bottle.

The box for the four pack was created carefully to keep the aesthetic of the bottle design. It has a viewing slot where the consumer can see the distinct bottle while still in the package. 

Why was this packaging selected?

Gardenswartz: We wanted our product to feel substantial, and for it to feel luxurious. That way the customer knows they are getting something of value when they pick one up. The custom-made glass bottle, the screw-on cap, and label all contribute to the overall aesthetic of the Phyx brand. Using glass bottles gives us more opportunity to make the packaging physically unique.  

We wanted the packaging to be unlike any other product a consumer would see in a cannabis dispensary. When Phyx is next to other THC beverages, the product needs to stand out. By using a glass bottle that's not shaped like a typical container, Phyx rises above the rest. 

Next: Packaging goals, constraints, and challenges.



The four-pack carton offers a viewing slot for consumers to preview the bottle.  

Comment on the packaging design goals and the “vibe” that was sought.

Gardenswartz: The goal of the design is to attract consumers that are newly into cannabis or looking for a small dose of THC because they don’t want to feel overly high. The product design is more similar to wellness-focused products than typical cannabis fare. This was done to convey that Phyx is a product for people living an active lifestyle.

What are the legally constraints?

Gardenswartz: Due to legal restrictions we cannot put the product next to other non-cannabis wellness products and beverages, so the design needs to represent that market in a retail environment that is focused on THC.

What was the main challenge during the package development?

Gardenswartz: Cannabis products are required to be child-resistant. Our original design did not incorporate the sealed opening. After we had the bottle designed, we had to get creative to make our packaging compliant. Packaging regulation is something that is always changing in the cannabis industry, so we are mindful of adapting as new regulations come in.

Can you credit the design and packaging companies?

Gardenswartz: Our bottles were the result of a collaborative effort between Spherex’s management, sales and design teams, as well as top-tier domestic manufacturing partners, including NEPA Cartons and Columbine Labels.  Our initial run of the glass bottles was produced using our proprietary specifications by a factory based in China and are painted white.

However, in light of supply-chain and quality control considerations, we are developing a domestic source of supply utilizing enhanced manufacturing processes and materials for future runs that will use white glass. 

Final thoughts?

Gardenswartz: Across our business, maintaining the integrity, consistency profile and reputation of the Spherex brand is of paramount importance.  A large element of this is packaging, which is one of the most important ways for companies to distinguish themselves in a competitive landscape at retail.  The Phyx launch gave the Company a way to not only extend our brand into a new vertical with terrific branding and packaging opportunities, but to also expand our intellectual property assets to compliment the core Spherex brand.

Earth Day 50th Anniversary: How Far We’ve Come ... or Not?

Earth Day 50th Anniversary: How Far We’ve Come ... or Not?
Photo credit: Mopic –

Each Earth Day sets a new benchmark for what consumers expect from their trusted brands, muses TerraCycle and Loop CEO/founder Tom Szaky. And it can’t be growth at the expense of a planet running dry.

For better or worse, business is the most powerful force for change on Earth. Over the course of human civilization, business and industry have increasingly allowed us to become smarter, greener, healthier, and more connected to one another, functioning to provide products and services to fulfill public needs and desires, as well as drive innovation and global trends.

Its virtues notwithstanding, business also drove the world to the consumption fever-pitch that misaligned our activities with nature so much that it provoked the late-century environmental movement, a pinnacle of which was the first Earth Day: April 22, 1970.

Celebrating 50 years this week with the timely theme “24 Hours of Action” (updated from the more general “Climate Action” to feature fully digital programming in the advent of the coronavirus pandemic), the annual event’s impacts on the world are indelible, but not necessarily revolutionary.

The birth of Earth Day was a direct response to a series of environmental disasters and mounting public concerns about single-use packaging, litter, and pollution. Individuals, schools, and communities mobilized around the lack of protections for consumers and the environment. It was a reaction to perceived inaction, and one intended to incite the public to change.

Industry has long put pressure on governments to allow them the latitude to operate as they would like, stymying regulation and mandates for extended producer responsibility (EPR), the policy concept that extends a manufacturer’s responsibility for reducing impacts (such as pollution and waste) all the way to the hands of consumers.

More than 110 EPR laws are currently in place for 13+ product categories in more than 30 US states. However, the United States as a country — the originators of the first Earth Day and its current base — is currently one of only three nations of the 35-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that does not have an EPR system specifically for existing packaging or one under development, despite packaging being a significant concern regarding waste.

Some experts say voluntary industry-led programs rarely lead to the systemic changes needed to significantly impact the status quo, in addition to not providing the same sustainable funding sources as government mandates. However, industry, unlike governments, can steward reform and de-risk the political process of governments by acting in their own best interest.

The events surrounding what Earth Day founder Denis Hayes called "the largest secular holiday in the world” can reveal the annual commemoration (since expanded to include Earth Month, hosted by a different organization entirely) as more of an exercise in public relations rather than a vehicle for policy change.

Leading up to that first Earth Day, mass production, synthetic materials, and disposability took off in the 1950s, and the effects of overconsumption quickly surfaced within the decade while much of industry remained unregulated. The “business as usual” went on as long as it worked for the private interest, depending on sales to consumers and the ability of the environment to sustain its operations.

But then, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring mainstreamed the hazards of the common pesticide DDT in 1962, which turned the public eye to agriculture. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill (the largest oil spill in California waters to date) had enough of an economic impact on commercial and ocean-related industries that it is credited with galvanizing not only Earth Day, but the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later that year.

When consumers become aware that companies profit at the expense of the health and safety of their families, wildlife, and the natural world, they stop buying. So, any progress made by way of regulation and product redesign since the first Earth Day has largely been to the degree business is compelled to make a change.

When that happens, the governments are that much more supported in public-serving legislation, but this process is slow and mired by bureaucracy, special interests, and inequities around the world. In the case of global movements for social, economic, and environmental revolution, the best interests of business often then lie in serving people, the planet, and ultimately, profits.

We are upon one of the most important, monumental Earth Days of our recent history, and it occurs in the midst of what too many brands have referred to as “uncertain times,” a situation many would argue as a direct result of the very thing driving the environmental movement: the interference of human activities in nature’s balanced system.

With confidence, I can say that every Earth Day from here till the centennial will set a new benchmark for what consumers expect from the brands they let into their lives, and how they depend on companies, rather than government mandates, to protect them.

Rather than driving consumption and externalizing negatives to create growth at the expense of a planet running dry, companies have an opportunity to take action and show the world why their business is essential — now and on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consumers Flip Over Interactive Nail-Color Cap

Consumers Flip Over Interactive Nail-Color Cap
An ingenious closure includes an exact-color example of the nail lacquer inside the bottle so consumers can "try" before they buy.

Consumers who use nail lacquer know the color won’t necessarily look the same on their nails as it does in the bottle. And that can be annoying. To overcome this personal care packaging problem, Yorba Linda, CA-based LBK Nails has designed a nail-lacquer package with a painted, nail-shaped tip attached to the closure.

The plastic nail tip is hinged so consumers can slide one of their own fingernails under the tip and see exactly how the lacquer in the glass bottle will look on their own nails.

Aurel Tony Kemeny, Jr., CEO and founder of Kemeny Designs International, doing business as LBK Nails, answers some questions from Packaging Digest about this creative and practical cosmetic packaging design.

How did you come up with the idea for this design?

Kemeny: I have been in the nail industry for more than 30 years, dealing directly with salons. While interacting with manicurists and their clients, I saw there was a problem related to color choices. I found that many colors do not look the same against one’s skin tone once the lacquer was dry as compared to choosing a color by simply looking at it through the glass on the bottle.

What are the key benefits of this packaging for consumers, retailers, and the LBK brand?

Kemeny: We believe our invention changes everything. Benefits to the customer: We have painted our tips with the actual lacquer in the bottle, so it gives a 100% depiction of what you will be purchasing and a true color representation against your personal skin tone. The patented, painted, hinged tip facilitates an interactive experience with customers, giving them confidence in their color choice.

This also provides a much more sanitary product, because consumers no longer need to open or test — when no one is looking — in a store. Eliminating consumers painting the retail shelves lowers maintenance costs for our partners.

Why paint the nail tips on the caps with the actual nail lacquer?

Kemeny: Because each batch of color is always a bit different. It is important that each tip has the exact color of what is being sold in our bottle.

How do you paint the nail tips?

Kemeny: Our painting system is completely automated. It took many years to perfect this process. Our manufacturing process is capable of painting one tip every two seconds, per machine.

Does the packaging include instructions for consumers on using the nail tip against their own fingernail, or is the design intuitive?

Kemeny: We believe it is intuitive but reinforce, through our marketing campaigns, [education of] consumers. Of course, since this has never been done before, it will take some time for people to see the ease of use tied to our offering.

What is the cap made of?

Kemeny: The cap is polypropylene with talc, and our tips are made of poly-cyclohexylenedimethylene terephthalate glycol (PCTG) plastic.

How are the caps assembled with the painted nail tips?

Kemeny: We have an in-house, semi-automated assembly-line process.

Is there a cost upcharge for this product because of the packaging?

Kemeny: Any time you do something such as this, there will be a price increase in the cost of goods. However, we do not pass this on to the consumer. We believe our innovative cap design will allow for more sales, offsetting any of the additional costs.

Is the packaging exclusive to LBK’s 7 Free Gel Effect Formula? How many colors are in the product line?

Kemeny: For now, we are still exclusive to LBK, although we have been asked multiple times about licensing worldwide.

It was my goal to offer the very best in quality; therefore, our lacquers are heavily pigmented, with long-lasting wear capabilities, and we keep our lacquers safe by removing toluene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and xylene.

We currently have approximately 70 different shades in our line as well as a topcoat and basecoat.

Who supplies you with the bottles and caps?

Kemeny: My cap manufacturer has been with me since the beginning, partnering in both the design of the cap and the engineering behind it. The company name is VEM Group. They have tooling and manufacturing facilities worldwide and are a fantastic partner.

How have consumers reacted to the LBK nail-lacquer package design?

Kemeny: To be honest, the response has been phenomenal, with many asking why this hasn’t been done before. A game changer! It feels great to know that you can bring such happiness to consumers after dedicating five years of my life to see this come to fruition.

Your company, Kemeny Designs International, owns two patents in the United States for this package-engineering innovation. Are you the sole inventor on these patents?

Kemeny: Yes, this is correct. I am the inventor of our cap, as well as the inventor of the painting process. We have utility patents granted here in the States, as well as in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. And we have patent protection in the EU [European Union], as well as a few other countries.

Where is your nail-lacquer package sold?

Kemeny: Currently, we are being sold nationwide in Walmart, as well as Walgreens, and I believe we will be in Target at the beginning of 2021.