New Trends in Transport Packaging

Nov. 1, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va.--With retailers demanding greater value, and bottom lines demanding reduced costs, secondary packaging is under the microscope, according

ARLINGTON, Va.--With retailers demanding greater value, and bottom lines demanding reduced costs, secondary packaging is under the microscope, according to PMMI’s latest original research.

The “Secondary Packaging Market Research Study” reports that every company participating in the study is investigating and re-evaluating their secondary packaging containers.

“Every study participant is looking at substrates, weight, cube size and how to fit more in a cubic foot,” says Charles D. Yuska, PMMI president and CEO.

Corrugated fiberboard is under particular consideration, the survey reports, because the amount used impacts overall costs. According to PMMI’s research, 80% of companies are currently using regular slotted containers (RSCs) for secondary packaging, and within that group, more than half (51%) are decreasing usage by anywhere from 5% to 60%.

“RSC usage is moving to a tray with over wrap or a bliss box. Companies already using trays are moving to pads with over wrap, with sustainability goals of moving to shrink wrap only--when applicable to the product,” the report states.

Packaging professionals interviewed for the study largely (nearly 50%) predict a decrease in corrugated usage (with specially-designed cartons filling the void), and an additional 24% predict no change--because packagers will strike a balance between light-weighting and strength. Another significant contingent, 21%, actually foresees an increase in the use of corrugated fiberboard material because of Internet sales.

“It’s important to note that there can be trade-offs between functionality and costs,” Yuska says. “The packaging professionals we spoke to all agreed that one of their tasks is to balance ‘reduce, reuse, recycle and not compromise the functionality of the packaging.”

Also under consideration are alternative materials and the recycled content in corrugated fiberboard. Each change impacts secondary packaging performance as well as the machinery and primary packaging involved.

“Each factor is connected,” Yuska says. “Recycled content in corrugated fiberboard can affect machinery performance, and the type of primary packaging directly impacts choices in secondary packaging. Rigid packaging for liquids, for example, requires less secondary packaging than does flex packaging.”

The report mentions a long list of alternative materials, including the corn-based bio-plastic polylactic acid (PLA); Hexacomb, a honeycomb product made from container board and starch; thin-seal polypropylene; reductions in flute construction and micro flutes; and folding boxes in new ways to reduce corrugated fiberboard.

Behind the drive for change are a number of factors. Sustainability is top-of-mind, with 70% of respondents noting it as a goal in improving their secondary packaging. However, the study results indicate it’s often as much a means to an end as it is a goal unto itself. Cost savings, customer requests, strategic initiatives to go green and reducing transportation costs are other leading drivers for changing secondary packaging.

“Sustainability is a primary driver, but the goals are often the gains that come as part of achieving more sustainable solutions,” Yuska says. “Improved operations, cost savings and lower transportation costs were the top three drivers participants listed. Sustainability, which was listed in 52.2% of respondents' “top three” lists, ranked fourth.

To compile PMMI’s “Secondary Packaging Market Research Study,” PMMI researchers interviewed packaging professionals from consumer packaged goods (CPG) firms in the food, beverage, dairy, electronics and personal care markets; materials suppliers; and contract packagers. The 67 participating CPG firms included four of the top 25 food manufacturers (two in the top 10); three of the top five beverage companies (five in the top 15, including the number one specialty coffee retailer); two of the top 15 electronics companies; and the three leading paper companies.