Complete package

Innovations in packaging design and manufacturing are increasingly helping brands to stand out from the crowd. David Benady looks at some of the latest developments

Awealth of innovations by packaging manufacturers is helping brands to add stunning decorative effects to their product packs. With laser etching on glass, 3D effects on cardboard, new printing methods, bio-plastics and innovative foilblocking techniques, brands are finding new ways to stand out on shelves and to create a sense of awe and intrigue about their products.

A recent breakthrough has been the application of Fresnel lens technology to create a 3D effect on a flat surface. Glaxo Smith Kline has used Fresnel on the livery of its Sensodyne Repair & Protect toothpaste. The packs, designed by Blue Marlin, feature a holographic image of a tooth using Fresnel technology supplied by laminates specialist API and Chesapeake. Chris Hart, creative director of Blue Marlin Bath, says the effect is stunning. ‘It really stands out. You want to rub your finger over it and you are quite shocked when you realise it isn’t raised. You get the tromp l’oeil effect,’ he says. Fresnel has also been used on packaging for Nivea Expert Lift. The aim is to create packs that reflects the innovation of the product inside.

An early use of the 3D effect on 2D packaging was for premium gin brand Bombay Sapphire, which used it in a Christmas box set. Hart says premium spirits brands are often innovators in packaging as they have high margins, so can afford the expense, but also need to stand out in global duty free stores. ‘It is interesting to see how those innovations trickle down to fmcg brands,’ he says.

We carried out a couple of proofing trials to see how far we could push the technical parameters because this needed something really intricate and special

Tracy Sutton, Pearlfisher

The latest innovation from Bombay Sapphire is 3D laser etching on a limited-edition anniversary bottle celebrating 250 years since the gin brand’s recipe was first created. Dominic Burke, design director at Webb de Vlam, which is responsible for the packaging, says the bottle combines state-of-the-art technology and traditional craft skills. The bottles are made by glassblowers who create a ‘bottle within a bottle’ effect through a technique that creates a blue inner vessel suspended inside a crystal glass decanter. The laseretching process creates 3D images of the Queen Victoria brandmark, which appears to float in the inner glass walls. ‘It is utterly unique,’ says Burke. ‘We used new experimental processes and adapted technologies from other industries. It demonstrates the underlying sense of the soul of the brand using intriguing effects.’

New packaging technologies can be expensive when first used, though the costs tend to come down. Premium products are often the first in with the new techniques.

Pearlfisher designed packaging for the Mii cosmetics range in November 2010 and searched for a way to make the foil-blocking exceptionally thin in order to create elegant, hand-written messages on the packaging. This was made possible using a foil adhesive combination supplied by hot-stamping company Kurz.

Tracy Sutton, senior realisation manager at Pearlfisher, says, ‘We carried out a couple of proofing trials to see how far we could push the technical parameters because this needed something really intricate and special. Normally, foil-blocked lines of type have to be thicker which is less feminine, but with this foil we were able to make it fine and detailed.’

At times, a technology solution may need to spring from the innovation itself. The Tails Cocktails range, premixed cocktails ready to drink when mixed with ice, were the brainchild of entrepreneur Nick Wall. He commissioned agency Smallfry Industrial Design to design containers in the form of shakers. The challenge was to create a seal that held in the liquid, but allowed the top to be screwed off to add the ice, then screwed on again, but without allowing any spillage during shaking.

Smallfry chief executive Steve May-Russell says the consultancy had to go through a variety of routes and configurations before hitting on the solution. ‘We had to work with the people that supply the seals and understand the limitations of their processes. We had lots of problems, but it’s gone from a problem child to cash cow,’ he says.

 At the simplest level, a packaging innovation can mean adapting packaging from one category to another. Sun cream Soltan has just relaunched in upside-down bottles, which have been used by other personal care products. This meant reconfiguring the Soltan production line.

 Meanwhile, Kerry Foods looked to revive interest in ready meals with its City Kitchen range sold through supermarket chain Tesco. Researchers found that although people are dining in more, they perceive ready meals as tasteless, low quality and full of additives. The black trays often go floppy when microwaved, and when the plastic film is peeled back, it can disintegrate and splatter the boiling contents of the ready meal on to the user.

 Designers at Honey Creative hit on the idea of using the plastic tubs used for takeaways. These can be reused for food storage and denote quality. As Honey’s Doug James says, ‘The traditional ready-meal format has so many negatives, but this format means quality. The innovation was taking on the format and applying it back into the manufacturing process.’ The challenge, he says, was to change the production line so it could churn out the new types of packs rather than the traditional vacuum-packed trays.

It is heartening for designers to discover that there is still a thirst among brands for innovations in packaging even after three years of recession. Adding interest to pack design is a vital part of a brand’s attempts to catch the shopper’s eye.

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