News & Updates

Covid-19 | No evidence of threat from packaging says WHO

The World Health Organisation has reassured the public stating that it has found no evidence that food packaging poses a coronavirus threat.

In the UK the issue of Covid-19 and food/food packaging was recently raised when nearly 300 members of staff had tested positive for the virus at The Greencore factory, in Northampton.

The company supplies sandwiches to M&S but the products are not believed to put the public at risk of contracting the virus.

Packaging and Covid-19 was last week a topic of discussion on Good Morning Britain. Dr Sarah Jarvis told viewers: “Theoretically, even if something is cooked, if the packaging is made up – and we know that for instance in New Zealand they think that the latest outbreak they have had may have come in on packaging rather than through people – yes, there is a risk.”

In China, it was reported that two cities had found traces of the coronavirus in imported frozen chicken wings from Brazil and on outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorian shrimp.

However, the WHO believes the threat is negligible at worst. It’s head of emergencies programme Mike Ryan, told a briefing in Geneva: “People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food,”

“There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe.”

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said China had tested hundreds of thousands of packages and “found very, very few, less than 10” proving positive for the virus.

Those who are still concerned might take the advice of Professor Sally Bloomfield from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She told the BBC that people can either leave products for 72 hours before using them or ‘spray and wipe plastic or glass containers with bleach [diluted as directed on the bottle]’.

News & Updates

Has COVID-19 tipped the packaging scales?

In this article, Paul Foot, partner and patent attorney at European intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the priorities of the packaging industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many consumers to re-assess their priorities when it comes to packaging, particularly due to heightened concern about biosafety. Recently, increased public awareness of the importance of environmental protection has helped industries to reduce their reliance on single-use, non-recyclable packaging. However, with the main trend in packaging shifting towards hygiene, is there a risk that some of the progress in sustainability could be undone?

Where manufacturers in other sectors have pivoted in a matter of weeks in response to emergency demands, it seems that COVID-19 failed to spark an immediate wave of innovation in the packaging industry. On the contrary, the ‘quick fix’ has been for many retailers to move back to established ‘single-use’ type packaging for hygiene reasons – for example, in coffee shops, reusable cups have been banned and some retailers are even banning reusable bags – and so demand for such packaging has remained high.

Demand for packaging such as cardboard boxes and packing materials has actually increased to fulfil online delivery orders, which have soared during the pandemic due to the rise of the stay-at-home economy. While demand levels are expected to remain high at least in the short term, it is also becoming clear that consumer preferences have altered and so packaging companies will need to adapt to avoid being overtaken.

Environmental credibility aside, consumers previously assessed the desirability of packaging largely based on appearance. Does it look stylish? Is the branding attractive? Now, with the greater focus on hygiene factors, consumers will be considering how protected a packaged product is, and whether the packaging is germ or virus-free. 

To address these concerns, it’s likely that more emphasis will be placed on designing packaging elements which minimise contact areas, such as dedicated handles and marked zones for use by couriers. Increased importance may also be given to ‘tamper-proof’ packaging to increase consumer confidence that the product contained within is safe or to innovative closures that enable hygienic ‘on-the-go’ consumption. 

The online delivery boom has also created new issues for retailers. With demand for online deliveries expected to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels, packaging innovators have a role to play in helping retailers to maximise vehicle space, at the same time as improving safety. For example, manufacturers could lead the way by innovating a wider range of ‘standardised’ packaging solutions, which can be easily transported and stacked. Alternatively, some innovators may be focused on producing novel packaging designs that can be better manipulated by robotic systems, for use in warehouses and distribution centres.

There is a range of other e-commerce related challenges that packaging innovators can also try to address, such as designs with improved protection for delicate products, designs that enable easier filling at the retailer side, designs that enable a product to be easily returned and designs that give a better customer experience when they open the package. 

As the recovery gets underway, the packaging industry will need to reflect on market changes and adapt to the new normal. As with many businesses, packaging manufacturers have been focused on weathering the storm, but now is the time to re-energise their innovation activity. If anything, the pandemic has opened up many new opportunities.

It seems unlikely that the sustainability trend will go away, so now the challenge for packaging producers will be to balance sustainability with hygiene. Consumers will still want to see the same progress in packaging as before the pandemic – higher use of recycled materials, less ‘unnecessary packaging’, less plastic, improvements in ease of recycling – but it is important that these improvements are not made at the expense of reduced hygiene, as that trend seems to be here to stay, at least for the next few years.

For packaging businesses that are considering adapting their product offering to address these challenges, it’s important to put in place the right strategy to protect their innovations on the way to market. It’s likely that competitors will be undergoing the same thought-process and any novel ideas or improvements could be copied if left unprotected.

Applying for patent protection sooner rather than later is often the right strategy, even if the concept continues to be developed after this point, to account for further changes in the situation and the lasting effects of the pandemic becoming better known.

News & Updates

Coca-Cola reveals recyclable paperboard-based rings for multipack cans

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) has today announced the introduction of CanCollar, a paperboard packaging solution, for multipack cans in Spain.

Initially, CCEP will launch the new, PEFC certified recyclable and “sustainably sourced” solution in the Balearic Islands in November 2020 as a replacement for its current Hi-cone product. CanCollar is manufactured via a process that does not require the use of glue or adhesives.

Through collaboration with packaging provider WestRock, the company projects that its new solution will save more than 18 tonnes of plastic annually and has invested €2.6 million in its Barcelona plant in order to support the initiative.

Joe Franses, vice president of sustainability at Coca-Cola European Partners, said: “The agreement with WestRock exemplifies our clear commitment to reduce plastic in our secondary packaging.

“By the end of 2020, we will have removed more than 4,000 tonnes of hard to recycle plastic from our secondary packaging in Western Europe. It’s through collaborating on innovative packaging solutions like CanCollar that we are able to do this.”

Dwayne Irvin, vice president of enterprise solutions at WestRock, added: “We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Coca-Cola. For 70 years we have supported Coca-Cola in bringing innovation to global beverage markets. CanCollar is the latest initiative supporting Coca-Cola’s vision to create a World Without Waste.”

News & Updates

Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa expands roll-out of 2L returnable PET bottles to reduce plastic waste after successful Eastern Cape pilot

Following the successful roll-out of its Eastern Cape pilot project in November 2019, Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) is expanding the roll-out of the 2L returnable PET bottles across Northern Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, offering consumers value for money, while including them as an important part of the recycling value chain.

“The consumer response to the new 2L returnable PET bottles has been overwhelmingly positive. We have seen customers in the Eastern Cape opting to switch over to purchasing the returnable 2L bottles and returning them after consumption. After each bottle reaches the end of its useable lifecycle, it joins a regional manufacturing value chain which ultimately means less pollution in the environment,” says Velaphi Ratshefola, Managing Director of CCBSA.

The returnable PET bottles are identifiable by a new paper label, with ‘RETURNABLE’ appearing in green on the front of the bottle. The roll-out constitutes a significant investment by CCBSA in the new packaging line to ensure that the PET bottles comply with global standards for design, hygiene and safety for PET packaging. 

“We said that we would assess the way forward after the 2L returnable pilot project and we are therefore pleased to announce that we are now starting to roll out the new packaging line to Northern Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. From there, we will identify geographies in the rest of the country to continue the expansion over a five-year period,” says Ratshefola.

Returnable PET is part of The Coca-Cola Company’s World Without Waste vision that aims to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle and can that it sells globally by 2030. This focuses on the entire packaging value chain, from how bottles and cans are designed and made, to how they’re collected, recycled and reused later.  

“We’re committed to increasing recycled material in our packaging and ensuring more packaging is collected and recycled. The roll-out of returnable PET plastic bottles is another way we can support a circular economy in South Africa,” says Ratshefola. 

Once a bottle is returned to Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa, it will go on a looped journey to be cleaned to Coca-Cola’s stringent measures and requirements, then refilled to start its next lifecycle.  When the bottle reaches the end of its useable lifecycle, it joins the recycling value chain and is repurposed into another PET product. 

The recommended retail price for the 2L Coca-Cola Original Taste – Less Sugar beverage is R15, which excludes a R9 deposit. Other brands, like Coca-Cola No Sugar, Sprite and Fanta, are also be available in the new 2L returnable PET plastic bottle at a recommended retail price of R12 excluding the R9 deposit. This means a saving of around R7 per bottle, depending on where a customer purchases their bottle.

According to the PET Recycling Company (PETCO), 62% of PET bottles were collected after use and recycled in South Africa last year. The Coca-Cola system in South Africa currently uses an average of 8% recycled content in its plastic bottles in South Africa – the more bottles that are collected and recycled, the more recycled content the company can use in its bottles.

News & Updates

Coca-Cola changes Sprite packaging to increase recycling

he Coca-Cola Company in South Africa has stopped the production of Sprite’s iconic green packaging to produce fresh, new clear polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle packaging.

The transition to clear packaging means that more Sprite bottles can be collected, recycled and reused to make new bottles.

Coca-Cola Southern and East Africa sustainability head David Drew tells Engineering News that Sprite’s new look is part of Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste vision, which is aimed at ensuring the collection and recycling of one bottle or can for each new one that it sells by 2030.

“Although our previous green PET plastic bottles were recyclable, Sprite’s new clear bottle allows for greater recyclability and increases its value to waste collectors and recyclers.

“Clear PET has a wider variety of end-uses, especially for bottle-to-bottle recycling. Removing the colour from Sprite bottles enables the reuse of more of the bottles our bottling partners sell, in the bottles they will make in the future.

“There was also the need to update the iconic Sprite packaging design as well,” he explains.

“Globally and in South Africa, the Coca-Cola system has set an ambitious World Without Waste target of collecting and recycling 100% of our packaging and to manufacture our bottles using at least 50% recycled PET plastic by 2030,” acclaims Drew.

Further to changing its own packaging, the company is working with both the formal and informal recycling industry to bolster its recycling efforts.

“As one of the founding members of the PET Recycling Company, we will continue to work with organisations in the food and beverage sector to help grow collection and recycling rates.  We also share best practice and innovation from a technology and production point of view. 

“Furthermore, together with our bottling partners, we are working with informal collectors to develop models for waste reclaimer integration in municipal collection,” informs Drew.

In terms of managing the transition, Drew indicates that, as with any change to packaging, it is necessary to ensure consumers can still easily identify the variant or flavour of the product.  

“We’ve done our market research and tested various packaging designs to ensure that we have designed distinct labels and closures so that consumers are able to easily distinguish between the different Sprite variants and flavours,” he says.

The new look Sprite PET plastic bottles are already available on the shelf and the company expects that the previous green PET bottles will be phased out over the next few months.

Sprite is and will continue to be available and sold in green glass bottles. In time, the glass packaging will also migrate to a clear bottle. Given that most of the company’s glass bottles are returnable and can be reused many times, the transition from green to clear will be much more gradual, informs Drew.

The launch of the new packaging will be supported in store for now and then online and through other media platforms such as radio and television, says Drew.

“The realities of Covid-19 will determine how quickly our communications will be in the market as we practice caution and prioritise the safety of staff and agencies during this period,” he notes.

The company does not anticipate any push back from customers with regard to the new packaging, says Drew, as the company believes they support the drive towards sustainability initiatives.

News & Updates

Unilever pledges to slash use of new plastics

Unilever has committed to reduce plastic waste across its portfolio and help create a circular economy for plastics. The pledge includes halving its use of virgin plastic, by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic, and helping to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

Unilever’s commitment will require the business to help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025. This will be delivered through investment and partnerships which improve waste management infrastructure in many of the countries in which Unilever operates.

As the owner brands including Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, Lipton and Omo, Unilever’s plastic packaging footprint today is around 700,000 tonnes annually (including recent acquisitions).

New commitments

The consumer goods giant has confirmed that by 2025 it will:

• Reduce virgin plastic packaging by 50%, with one third coming from an absolute plastic reduction.

More than 100,000 tonnes will come from an absolute reduction as the business invests in multiple-use packs (reusable and/or refillable), ‘no plastic’ solutions (alternative packaging materials or naked products) and reduces the amount of plastic in existing packs (concentration). Replacing non-recycled plastic packaging with recycled plastics will account for the remaining reduction.

Unilever will measure the total tonnes of virgin plastic packaging used each year vs the total tonnes of virgin plastic packaging used in 2018. As a result of this commitment, Unilever is committing to have a virgin plastic packaging footprint of no more than 350,000 tonnes by 2025.

• Help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells

This commitment will require the business to help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025. This is less than its current 700,000 tonnes plastic packaging footprint because it reflects the 100,000 tonnes absolute reduction it committed to above.

Unilever will deliver this commitment by: i) Investment and partnerships in waste collection and processing; ii) Purchasing and using recycled plastics in its packaging; and iii) Participating in extended producer responsibility schemes where Unilever directly pays for the collection of its packaging.

Unilever will measure the total tonnes of plastic packaging it has helped collect and process in a year vs how much plastic packaging it has used.

The company says it’s on track to achieve its existing commitments to ensure all of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and to use at least 25% recycled plastic in its packaging, also by 2025.

Rethinking packaging and products

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, said: “Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment. We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle.

“Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.

“This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products. It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like re-use and re-fill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity.

News & Updates

Nampak unveils new liquid carton facility

Africa’s largest packaging company, Nampak, officially launched its Liquid Carton divisions’ new Technical Hub in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, on 12 December 2019. In one of his last official acts before leaving to head up Eskom, Nampak CEO André De Ruyter unveiled the new hub, cutting the ribbon during the facility’s opening ceremony.

The new plant complements Nampak’s existing liquid carton facilities, which include a sales office in Bryanston, Gauteng; a printing plant in Isithebe, KwaZulu-Natal; a research and development (R&D) facility in Cape Town, and sister carton producing plants in both Malawi and Zambia.

Following renewed popularity and rising demand for liquid cartons, Nampak says the new Technical Hub was custom built to maintain, and service the growing pool of liquid carton filling machines for the food and beverage industry, such as dairy, water and fruit juice.

The company states in a press release that the new facility “significantly increases Nampak’s renewed popularity and demand for carton filling machinery”, both in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

News & Updates

Nestlé to cut virgin plastic use and invest in sustainable packaging innovation

Swiss food giant Nestlé plans to invest $2.1 billion to cut its use of virgin plastics in favour of food-grade recycled plastics, and accelerate the development of innovative sustainable packaging solutions.

Building on its 2018 commitment to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, Nestlé says it will reduce its use of virgin plastics by one third in the same period whilst working with others to advance the circular economy and to clean up plastic waste from oceans, lakes and rivers.

Creating a market for food-grade recycled plastics

Food quality and safety are vital, and packaging plays a major role in assuring this. Most plastics are difficult to recycle for food packaging, leading to a limited supply of food-grade recycled plastics.

“To create a market, Nestlé is therefore committed to sourcing up to 2 million metric tonnes of food-grade recycled plastics and allocating more than CHF1.5 billion to pay a premium for these materials between now and 2025. Nestlé will seek operational efficiencies to keep this initiative earnings neutral,” says the company in a statement.

Packaging innovation, including new materials, refill systems and recycling solutions, is another challenge on the path towards a waste-free future. In addition to its in-house research through the Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences, the company will launch a CHF 250 million sustainable packaging venture fund to invest in start-up companies that focus on these areas.

These two initiatives come in addition to Nestlé’s efforts in research, sourcing and manufacturing to make its packaging recyclable or reusable and contribute to its goal to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As part of the company’s packaging commitment and to increase transparency, Nestlé says it will continue to outline further initiatives and provide regular progress updates.

“We are pleased to see Nestlé commit a CHF 2 billion investment toward creating a circular economy for plastics, alongside a reduction of its use of virgin plastic in packaging by one third by 2025. By eliminating the plastics we don’t need, innovating in areas like reuse models and new materials, and circulating the plastics we do need – also in more challenging food-grade applications – we can create an economy where plastic never becomes waste. Achieving the commitments announced today will significantly contribute towards realising this vision,” said Andrew Morlet, CEO, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

News & Updates

How the Shoprite Group is curbing its plastic packaging waste

The Shoprite Group is now using the 4,000 tonnes of plastic returned annually to its distribution centres to produce its 100% recycled and recyclable plastic shopping bags. This is in line with its goal to ensure that all of its plastic packaging is reusable and/or recyclable by 2025.

Since the beginning of November 2019, plastic from the retail group’s Centurion, Canelands and Cilmor distribution centres is being collected, converted into pellets and used to manufacture the plastic carrier bags for its supermarkets.

The Group plans for 100% of its plastic packaging to be reusable and/or recyclable by 2025, with an average of 30% recycled content to be used in all plastic packaging. Suppliers are already being provided with reusable, returnable packing crates to minimise packaging.

In 2013 the Group became the first South African retailer to produce a verified, 100% recycled shopping bag. Shoprite, Checkers and Usave supermarkets introduced the “planet” bag in late 2018. Made from 100% recycled plastic, the sturdy reusable bags entitle customers to claim 50c off their total spend each time they present the bag at the till.

New standardised recycling instructions, as published by WWF-SA earlier this year, have been introduced to the 650 million recyclable plastic bags made from 100% post-consumer recycled material that the Group sells per annum. These On Pack Recycling Labels will be included on all new products and as packaging designs of existing products are updated, to equip customers with the correct recycling information.

News & Updates

Role of packaging in exports

Trade Focus
Allan Majuru

Let us say you get into a supermarket and you want to try something new, such as imported high-end rice, cereals or chocolate, and on an aisle of such imported products you come across four different brands and all have the same price.

Faced with an interesting task of selecting a product to try from several available options, packaging is usually the first component of a product that attracts attention.

According to Steve Jobs, the celebrated inventor and founder of Apple Inc, packaging can be a theatre where stories are created.

Packaging undoubtedly tells a story, and manufacturers across the globe are investing a lot in developing packages that enforce a preferred narrative.

Local manufactures have not been left behind. They, too, are developing designs that compete on the global export market and strengthen the narrative that Zimbabwe is home to some of the best quality products.

Nowadays, packaging has evolved into a product on its own.

What was once a protective cover has grown into a privileged interface for communication between producers and consumers.

Packaging captures the attention of consumers, reassures them of the quality, makes itself useful and its visual elements appeal to consumers, thus helping them in the decision-making process.

Previously, packaging was largely defined as a shield to protect or enclose a product and preserve its form.

With increased competition and changing global consumption patterns, the definition of packaging has advanced.

Often called “the last salesman”, packaging has the potency to influence consumer behaviour, especially when they are faced with many options but are supposed to make a purchase decision.

Due to globalisation, competition has become so tough and it is becoming increasingly difficult for products to stand out.

However, the more commonplace the product, the more your packaging must stand out and be disruptive.

Smart packaging

One way to differentiate yourself and disrupt the market is to have smart packaging solutions that offer even more value to the consumer.

For instance, some packaging now has diagnostic or indicator functions: you can easily tell the temperature of a pint of beer or a box of pizza.

Because of these integrated functions, consumers and retailers can verify the integrity of the product before opening it or taking it off the shelf.

Intelligent packaging also fulfils information and marketing roles and improves interactivity between manufacturer and consumer.

Such packaging may have barcodes or scanners, and with the aid of a smartphones, consumers can get more information about the product and even trace the source of ingredients in that product.

Experts agree that as consumers get more discerning, their demand for more information will continue to rise.

Smart packaging offers new business opportunities because of its ability to disrupt and fit into the broader area of the Fourth industrial revolution.

Greener packaging

The world is going green and consumers are becoming more concerned about their carbon footprint.

The packaging sector is at the centre of the revolution as consumers now prefer to use solutions that have less impact on energy consumption and pollution of the environment.

Many manufactures are harnessing the debate over environmental issues and are integrating them as part of their value proposition.

Therefore, packaging that can easily compete on the export markets — particularly in developed countries — should be recyclable, re-usable and bio-degradable, among other things.

To show the extent of innovation in this area, some have started to use edible packaging to reduce plastic waste.

A Thai retailer has grabbed global headlines by ditching plastics and using banana leaves as packaging for fresh produce.

These are some of the disruptive ideas that local companies can consider as they come up with solutions that set their products from the rest.

Packaging for e-Commerce

Another interesting trend shaping the packaging sector is the growth in e-commerce, where the internet has increased reach of products and improved communication between the seller and buyer.

Unlike previously, where manufacturers could only reach markets through distributors, nowadays e-commerce has made it easier to sell in markets where there are no distributors.

Businesses that have developed their model around e-commerce have to ensure that their packaging is strong and secure.

This is because the responsibility for export packaging lies with the exporter, who must ensure that their products reach the intended recipient in the same form they were packaged.

In most cases, securing products for e-commerce requires the use of corrugated boxes, protective materials, labels and tapes, among others.

However, more companies are developing unique boxes that make a bold statement at first site.

These include engraved boxes, perfumed packages and customised boxes that create better impressions than ordinary packaging.

Packaging for convenience

When designing packaging, manufactures should also consider convenience.

Most consumers have indicated willingness to pay a little extra for a product that is easy to use.

Some of the features used to add convenience include easy-to-open strips or perforations, handles for easier carrying, resealable closures, among others.

Packaging should be easy to store in a refrigerator or easy to stack on the shop shelf.

One may also consider how easy it is from a logistics perspective; for example, the stacking ability and the use of space.

Packaging Aesthetics

The aesthetic appeal of packaging can never be over-emphasised.

Digital printing has revolutionised the world of packaging graphics, making it cheaper and easier than ever to add high-quality logos and images to products.

Consumers also value viewing a product, and not just its container.

This has shaped packaging design as manufactures are now using transparent or partially transparent materials to allow consumers to have a sneak preview of the product mid-aisle and allow them to access the product.

Packaging Regulations

Exporters should be familiar with regulations affecting packaging in their intended markets.

Of all the products, the laws governing foodstuffs are often less understood.

Most of the regulations cover aspects such as prohibition of contamination from the packaging, sanitary integrity and preservation of taste and colour, among others.

This may also include regulations on labelling and languages.

For instance, some countries like Mozambique prefer Portuguese on labelling of particular products.

Going Forward

After everything has been said and done, exporters should know that the first sign of real value of a product/brand is on the packaging.

The user will initially see the value before they engage other senses to touch, feel, smell and taste it.

Therefore, producers must ensure that their packaging is of good quality, depicts adequate information and is visually satisfying.

ZimTrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, through its export packaging training programme, can capacitate current and potential exporters in developing their competitiveness through improved packaging.

The Marketing and Branding for International Competitiveness Training offered by ZimTrade also covers export packaging, packaging design, transport and distribution packaging, and labelling.

Allan Majuru is the chief executive officer of ZimTrade.