Neil Farmer, fellow of the Institute of Packaging and all-round packaging guru, explains why innovation is still key in spite of the recession
Over the first few weeks of 2013 it seemed a day did not go by without there being some more bad economic news about the state of Britain`s retail trade. Although this was interspersed with good results from some of the more successful retailers, like many things the bad often got the headlines over the good.
Of course we in the packaging supply chain know only too well the adverse effect a customer going into administration can have. The consequences can be dire for a small packaging business which has a supply contract with a business which has gone to the wall. It seems the trend has accelerated in recent years, with the recession continuing to take its toll. And now there is the exponential rise of the online grocery market across Europe, with some experts predicting that all grocery will be purchased online in 20 years time. All of this leaves packaging producer companies in some confusion as to what will happen next, although in the case of online grocery growth it should mean greater demand for packaging of fresh produce. I believe there are grounds for optimism for our industry and much of this confidence is linked to the importance of branded packaging.
The power of the brand
There is little doubt that the power of the brand is a continuing trend for the future. Brand owners are doing all they can to protect their brand`s image and there are compelling reasons for understanding why this should be. I wrote the chapter on Packaging and Marketing in the recently published book, “Packaging Technology, Fundamentals, Materials and Processes”, edited by Anne Emblem and Henry Emblem. In it I observed that a brand was a mark of authenticity, guaranteeing the reliability, quality and inherent goodness of the product. I also noted that long-lasting brands are truly special. I mention this because in my career I have been responsible for supplying packaging to brands, such as Cadburys and Coca-Cola, which were market leaders back in 1925 and are still very much at the top in 2013.
A holistic approach
Arguably in a recession innovation can take the form of cost reduction initiatives. In more prosperous times it might be viewed from a different angle. I can well remember some of my most creative, attractive and innovative projects with companies such as Cadburys occurring at a time, 10 years ago, when packaging manufacturers were producing beautiful designs in new plastic materials, with multicolour print and decorative processes. In the current times Coca Cola has introduced its plant bottle with great bioplastic and environmental credentials and potential long term cost savings. The efficient use of materials is now the common theme of many leading companies, part of their holistic approach to packaging.
Irrespective of the time–line or the company, to be associated with these types of projects for a packaging manufacturer was and still is a wonderful thing. It gives the supplier the opportunity to work with world leading companies, to secure the financial benefits of a long term supply relationship and gain the kudos of being involved with an innovation which could change the face of the industry. Demanding customers they can sometimes be, but the rewards from working with these types of companies can be substantial.
Growth in the UK food and drink packaging market
All of which brings me back to my original point, the power of the brand, that is showing no sign of diminishing. Recent estimates put the UK market for food and drink packaging alone at £5 billion. As I also observed in my chapter on Packaging and Marketing, in the Packaging Technology, Fundamentals, Materials and Processes book:
“If your product is the same as everyone else`s there is little encouragement to buy yours rather than theirs.” There is a huge market out there for UK packaging producers to attack. It is hard to initially break into the branded consumer goods sector, but for those with energy, ideas and a commitment to supplying high quality added value packaging the rewards are great. Sometimes relationships take several years to come to fruition. It takes persistence and dedication but the benefits are worth it.