Export companies are using packaging redesigns to lift brand awareness and to achieve cost savings and environmental sustainability as products are shipped to many destinations.
Exporters’ packaging decisions have an important impact on profitability but are also critical in the survival of the product.
But some packaging designs are purely aesthetic. Lion Nathan is using packaging to strengthen its brand, based on consumer research. “We develop all our consumer propositions, including packaging design, based on consumer insights and needs,” says Roy Ong, Lion Nathan New Zealand’s innovation director. “Depending on those insights, we aim to design packaging that is unique with high consumer appeal. Hence, we may spend more or less on packaging depending on the design objective.”
In 2007, that led the brewer to develop premium packaging with a self-adhesive label for Steinlager PURE. “We also designed a proprietary bottle with unique embossing to go with it,” Ong says.
PACKAGING FOR BRAND AWARENESS
Packaging design forms part of Lion Nathan’s overall innovation process. Consumer research helps in understanding complex export markets. The brands Lion Nathan exports (primarily Steinlager and some Speight’s, Lion Red and Mac’s) are generally domestic brands which expatriates seek out in other markets. It pays to be sensitive to local trends and culture. “We are obviously very aware of the packaging rules and requirements in different markets and may select slightly different imagery to meet the demands of a particular market; for example (we used) more New Zealand landscape imagery on our exported Steinlager,” says Ong.
Steinlager Classic underwent a major trademark packaging revamp in 2009. It included new designs on bottle labels as well as secondary packaging. The packaging upgrade took 18 months to complete and another three months to execute in the market. “The brand has enjoyed solid growth since this relaunch and gave us another reason to talk to past and present Steinlager consumers,” says Ong.
Marketing considerations are only a part of packaging strategy, according to the New Zealand Packaging Council, which represents the a $2 billion industry. The environmental impact across the packaging lifecycle is becoming increasingly important to New Zealand companies, says Paul Curtis, the council’s executive director.
Speaking at the council’s last awards ceremony, he said: “The winners showcase how industry is taking a complete supply chain approach to new product development and not just looking at recyclability.” One of New Zealand’s largest exporters, Fonterra, won the Supreme Environmental Packaging award for implementing a world-class export packaging solution to deliver its anhydrous milk fat to markets worldwide.
The dairy giant put together a cross functional team that included customers Mars and Kraft. The team developed an international solution that saved over $8 million a year and eliminated the need for 2500 tonnes of paper.
Fonterra has done away with 40,000 wooden pallets a year since it moved from a custom-built one-tonne container for butterfat to a reusable steel container that has an integrated pallet. And last season the dairy producer avoided the use of 430 tonnes of paper by reducing packaging waste in its powder packing areas. About 115 tonnes of plastic a year is also being saved as a result of redesigning its 20kg cheese bags.
Driven by similar cost-saving considerations is an innovation-focused packaging firm, Astron Plastics Group. Companies including New Zealand Sugar, Nestle, Fonterra and Lion Nathan have been using Aston’s packaging to save costs.
One such solution is slip-sheet, a thin sheet of plastic designed for sliding products into an export container. The sheet is generally the same width and length as a pallet but just 1mm thick. It is used in conjunction with a forklift attachment called a push/pull unit. The idea of the slip-sheet is to save customers from spending on pallets, says Steve Spencer, Astron’s sales and business development manager.
“The sheets are made from 100% recycled material processed in our Auckland or Christchurch facilities. We collect scrap plastic from our customers and turn it back into slip-sheet for their export product. This helps our clients close their waste loop and greatly minimises the dumping of plastic waste. Once scrap plastic is turned into slipsheet, it can be recycled again at the receiver’s end.”
Slip-sheets can help improve export sales. “All excess space taken up by pallets is now free for more products. Also the low price of a slip-sheet improves the overall cost of goods — the price of expensive pallets no longer needs to be factored into the equation of manufacturing the initial product,” says Spencer.
Such out-of-the-box thinking is important in packaging design, says Natalie Hilterman, trade marketing and business development analyst for Viscount Plastics, a materials handling solutions provider.
“This includes the best product fit on export pallets or hand-stacked in containers, and the creation of stable loads. Don’t underestimate the rigours of the journey that the packaging faces; a ship’s pitching and rolling will place high stress on packaging’s top load strength.”
Going back to basics, Viscount designed a simple solution that has resulted in a 30 per cent space saving. By switching from a round pail to a square pail, not only do exporters gain space and use fewer pallets, they also get a novel way of making their packaging stand out, perhaps offering a point of difference to clients, says Hilterman