Packaging focus: Flexible and sustainable solutions gain key industry momentum

According to Innova Market Insights’ top trends for 2022, the health of the planet is now the top concern of consumers. Daisy Phillipson takes a look at how new innovations in smart and sustainable flexible packaging can help confectionery manufacturers meet core environmental goals

Alongside the health and wellness megatrend, the interest in the wellbeing of our planet continues to drive innovation and buying behaviours across the globe.

Research conducted by ADM’s proprietary consumer insights platform Outside Voice highlights how consumers see sustainability as a moral imperative, with 47 per cent of respondents saying they are now more attentive to sustainability claims.

A core focus of the environmental agenda is to divert plastic waste, particularly single-use and microplastics, from the world’s oceans. For food manufacturers, including those within the confectionery, snack and bakery segments, this saw an increased focus on sustainable packaging operations in a bid to satisfy consumer demands while meeting national and international laws and regulations.

There’s no denying innovation in this field has been a challenge amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as manufacturers had to grapple with restrictions and economic uncertainty. But what recent surveys have shown is that the ongoing crisis has not diminished the willingness of consumers to take positive action on sustainable packaging.

A study from packaging company DS Smith and market research firm Ipsos MORI found that 71 per cent of global respondents agree that climate change is as serious as the pandemic, while 85 per cent want to buy products with ‘as little packaging as possible’. Despite economic struggles in recent months, ADM’s report saw 38 per cent of global consumers say they are willing to pay more for products made with sustainable materials.

A growing number of major candy businesses are making direct moves to reduce their environmental impact, increasingly switching to eco-friendly solutions including mono-materials or responsibly sourced paper. Earlier last year, Nestlé’s Smarties became the first confectionery brand to achieve a key switch from plastic to recyclable paper packaging for its products worldwide, removing approximately 250 million plastic packs annually. Fast forward to May 2021 and Nestlé joined four other leading UK branded manufacturers, including Mars UK, Mondelēz International, PepsiCo and Unilever, to launch a £1m Flexible Plastic Fund aiming to make flexible plastic recycling economically viable for recyclers and easier for consumers.

The initiative comes as the wider sector continues to make an ongoing effort to improve sustainability of supply chains and responsible production measures. It also demonstrates promising progress in flexible packaging, a format that continues to be favoured by confectionery and snack manufacturers worldwide.

According to a report from market research firm Mordor Intelligence, the global flexible packaging industry is forecasted to grow at an annual average rate of 4.37 per cent over the next four years, reaching $300.18 billion by 2026. Growth in the segment has been driven by numerous benefits of the format, from resource efficiency and durability to aesthetic impact and low cost.

The report goes on to state that beyond convenience, other characteristics such as sustainability, transparency, food safety and reduction in food waste will continue to drive innovation. As new solutions better target these factors, the industry can expect a global shift towards mono-material films such as flexible mono-plastic and flexible paper.

Flexible, functional and eco-friendly

When rethinking packaging strategies with eco-friendly materials, those operating within the confectionery and snack segments must be mindful not to create new problems; for instance, paper materials alone might not achieve appropriate protection, leading to damaged products and food waste. Packaging plays an integral role in maintaining the taste and texture of chocolate and candy products, while also protecting the product from contamination and moisture.

Demonstrating how this can be achieved using alternatives to plastics is Coveris. The sustainable packaging solutions provider recently teamed up with paper manufacturer Brigl & Bergmeister to deliver PaperBarrier Seal, a packaging material made unique by its paper coating which enables sealability whilst still remaining fully recyclable in existing paper streams.

The material is available in three versions with different barrier properties, including moisture, oxygen, grease and mineral oils. As well as ensuring comparable production efficiencies as standard packaging solutions, Jakob A. Mosser, CEO of Coveris Group, explains: “This new development was also a logical step in Coveris’ No Waste strategy, which focuses on eliminating product waste from production and operations, enforcing recycling and second life approaches.”

Another notable move in this fast-growing sector arrived last summer when TricorBraun Flex – the flexible packaging division of global packaging specialist TricorBraun – launched Biotre 3.0, a fully compostable, plant-based packaging material. Available for products including specialty food and snacks, the flexible packaging is an industrial compostable with high barrier properties, preventing the permeation of water, oil, oxygen, gas or light.

In the context of wrapping individual sweet treats, waxed paper has long been used by the industry to protect the product inside. However, while the water-resistant coating is a benefit in relation to preservation, it means the paper can’t be broken down in the recycling process. To overcome this challenge, packaging solutions provider Schur Flexibles developed and launched PaperTwister (re), a candy paper made without any wax. A special impregnation increases the stability and flexibility of the paper, and the inside is coated with a release lacquer which prevents the sweets from sticking while ensuring recyclability in the paper stream.

Stand-up appeal for all occasions

As the viability of recyclable and compostable packaging improves, momentum is set to continue to grow. In addition to the material used, Fresh-Lock, which offers a range of zippers and sliders for reclosable flexible packaging, highlights how flexible pouches use less packaging, are lower in weight and may take up less space than a rigid container, all of which reduce environmental impact.

The firm went on to note that the format is particularly ideal for the confectionery industry, which is characterised by seasonal, specialty and short-run food product cycles. Since holiday packaging is designed to attract attention, manufacturers can use the extra space to ensure products stand out on both in-store and virtual shelves. With this in mind, global flexible packaging and lidding films supplier KM Packaging recently added pre-made, shaped pouches to its product range. The firm provided a customer in the US with standup pouches for candy products featuring thematic designs for Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

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