Value judgement

How can packaging add value to its contents while complying with accessibility and recycling criteria? Clare Dowdy asks the experts

Airline meals that deliver themselves; drinks containers that chill their contents in seconds; packs that talk to consumers; and waste-free, biodegradable packaging for fresh vegetables. Packaging is definitely wising up.

These are just some of the ideas put forward by consultancies for the 2020 Vision Design Challenge (part of the Total Processing and Packaging 2004 show). It offers a glimpse of packaging in 2020 through the eyes of ten groups, including SiebertHead, PDD, The Brewery, Tin Horse and Factory. Each has come up with concepts around the themes of food on the go, food in the home, drinks, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics and toiletries.

Cheap technology, smart materials and shifting social demographics are driving the development of packaging, believes Jeremy Myerson, professor of design studies and co-director of the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Research Centre.

‘Packaging must be accessible to an increasingly diverse population, both physically and cognitively,’ he says.

Developments elsewhere are also forcing changes to packaging design. As the amount of preservatives in products continues to fall, for example, food packaging itself is expected to keep the contents fresh. This invariably means it is more rigid and harder to open, which is bad news for an ageing population.

As for technology, low cost electronics such as Radio Frequency Identification tags could soon take over from bar codes. These will enable information on both the product itself and consumers’ buying habits to be exchanged. Pack design will have to take this into account.

Reena Pabari, spokesperson for the Packaging Solutions Advice Group, says innovation in materials will be a major factor for change, not to mention ‘the potential for branding, graphics, shape and printing techniques’.

Many groups are focusing on the opportunities that smart technology is throwing up. As Mike Banister, packaging technology manager at Fitch says, ‘Of all the technology enablers, smart packaging will change the focus of packaging completely and will have the biggest effect on consumers. It will bring more to their lives. At the moment, consumers just want the thing that’s inside [the packaging]. They see packaging as a necessary evil.’

SiebertHead’s interactive concept demonstrates this. Using flexible screen nanotechnology, all packs can carry moving, talking images which communicate with the consumer pre- and post-purchase. So packs can change their message according to their environment and their consumers. SiebertHead sees opportunities for building relationships with people by using the screen to communicate news about brands, special offers or cross category information linking, for example, beer and football.

PDD’s airline packaging concept, Platinum, makes use of such technology. Here, an in-flight meal is delivered to the passenger using intelligent tagging, so the cabin crew can focus on other duties.

But all of this will be redundant if the packs themselves are not easy to carry, open and use – what Factory creative director Adrian Berry calls ‘performance and functional failure’: the realisation that most packaging does not work for all people. Acknowledging this fault seems as good a starting point as any.

Total Processing and Packaging 2004 runs from 29 March to 1 April at Birmingham NEC

Drinks on the go The Brewery

One idea from The Brewery offers an imaginative convenience format for portable drinks for consumers who ‘live life on the go’ – using osmosis film. The flexible, multi-layer co-polymer laminated film purifies water as it passes through the membrane while solid. Gel or liquid concentrates inside the pack react with the water to form ready-to-use drinks.

When the container is saturated the ‘phase changing’ laminate solidifies to become a solid bottle that can be handled and squeezed without the contents spilling from the neck of the container. Thermostatic micro-technology sensors will enable immediate chilling, carbonation or heating. Once empty, the container returns to its inert, flexible state for easy disposal.

Self-chilling drinks Factory

Factory has come up with a recyclable plastic ‘glass’ that acts as a vessel, safeguarding increasingly precious aluminium reserves and offering consumers a stylish alternative to the soft packs and cans of old.

The team has created a synthetic mineral, a small amount of which is released into the cooling chamber when the button in the base of the ‘glass’ is activated. This mixes with a hydrolysed solution to quickly chill the liquid in the glass and the fibrous form of the chamber increases surface area to speed up the cooling effect.

Employing the latest in self-chilling technologies, the Patented Integrated Cooling System will cool drinks in minutes. The label features thermochroic ink that changes colour when the drink reaches the correct temperature.

Food on the go Fitch

Fitch predicts, somewhat depressingly, that traffic congestion will hit an all-time high in 2020 and that people will be spending more and more time in their cars. At the same time, families are likely to be spending less time together. ‘Dining out’ in transit could provide a way for family members to spend quality time together, thereby rescuing otherwise dead time in the car.

Food packed in paper-based material is delivered to the car by motorbike. After eating, the empty packs are easily compacted and dropped off at designated points for recycling.

As for the packaging of this new phenomenon, Fitch believes advances in technology and the integration of digital media will underpin a radical new approach to family dining. Fitch’s concept shows how the packaging protects the contents, offers environmentally-friendly solutions for space saving and encourages socially responsible disposal of used packaging.

Easy-to-take vitamins Pearson Matthews

An ageing population will place further demands on an already stretched health service. These problems will be compounded by seasonal illnesses, necessitating the creation of new healthcare provisions. Pearson Matthews examined this trend in the light of vitamin consumption. The group believes greater convergence of packaging and product will emerge, with the pack offering features that complement the therapeutic benefits of its contents. This means thinking of the packaging as part of a delivery system of vitamin supplements.

With Pearson Matthews’ idea, Vitacup, users will receive a batch of small cups with a personalised vitamin recipe printed on to the bottom of each. The user fills the cup with water and the vitamins are released to form a pleasant drink. The cup is made from a starch-based polymer that will dissolve completely on contact with water above 70ËšC.

Fresh vegetables SiebertHead

Ever-increasing volumes of waste packaging are bringing about a landfill crisis. The Government has set a target: by 2020 it wants landfills to be 65 per cent of the size they were in 1995.

As well as the issue of packaging waste, SiebertHead’s packaging system for fresh produce addresses a second key need: the growing consumer desire for absolute freshness. Fruit and vegetables would be bought while still attached to their plants, which would be sustained through a hydroponic feeding system. The packaging is designed to fold down underneath the pots and would eventually be broken down and absorbed into the feeding liquid, thereby producing no waste.

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