Apprentice pack design and those biscuits
Neal Whipp considers the role of cartons in the Apprentice – and says that it highlights the key role packaging plays in branding new products.
Oddly enough, despite the proliferation of reality survival shows on TV in which contestants pit their wits – and their sanity – against Mother Nature, the programme that genuinely seems to bring out the worst aspects of the human condition isn’t I’m a Celebrity, Survivor or even Big Brother, but that flag-bearer of the corporate jungle – The Apprentice.
With a new winner crowned (eccentric inventor and Michael Sheen-alike, Tom Pellerau), this year’s competition for the dubious privilege of working with TV’s new Mr Nasty, Lord Sugar is all over, bar the shouting. For those not familiar with the format, a brief résumé: each week candidates are pitched a seemingly impossible commercial task with the apparent aim of making an ill-matched group of ambitious young guns fall out in lumps. Fancy opening a successful new fast food restaurant? Why, certainly! Is two days long enough? You betcha!
Recently, one of the projects involved bringing a new luxury biscuit to market. For once, the viewers could breathe a sigh of relief. After all, surely everyone knows something about biscuits – not least what distinguishes a bog-standard bourbon from a top-notch treat. Except that not only did the assembled Apprentices spectacularly cock the whole biscuit-development task up (half-dipped digestive, anyone?), they also failed to appreciate the importance of packaging as a pivotal part of their luxury brand strategy and they ended up with a disastrous disconnect between packaging and product.
Successful manufacturers of premium goods know a thing or two about packaging. In fact, for a brand to consistently occupy the upper echelons of the luxury market, the packaging has to be at least as appealing as the product it contains.
Which leads us to ponder the true value of packaging. Environment Minister, Caroline Spelman has once again been in the news, this time commenting on the ‘iconic’ status of toy packaging as well as proposing further reductions in packaging, along with the increased use of recycled materials in its manufacture. All this, despite the fact that toy packaging is estimated to form less than 0.5% of the waste stream.
Hopelessly skewed perspective
One of the problems here is that packaging is often viewed by the layperson (and politician) as mere waste-in-waiting. This hopelessly skewed perspective wilfully ignores the important part responsible packaging has to play not only in the presentation and promotion of everything from biscuits to Barbies, but in its preservation and protection. Without well-thought-out packaging, it would be impossible to transport, store and display the everyday items we take for granted in the supermarket, let alone differentiate them from the competition or effectively promote brand values.
Cartonboard is already widely used to pack products persuasively without compromising the integrity of the contents or creating a waste problem that can’t be resolved. It is increasingly manufactured using a high recycled fibre content and is readily recyclable as part of standard domestic waste collection schemes. It’s also used by some of the biggest brands in the business to promote prestigious products like Bombay Sapphire, Toblerone and – getting back to biscuits – Duchy Originals.
So maybe it’s about time we started to celebrate all the positive benefits of well-designed packaging instead of decrying it as some sort of environmental pariah. Now, where did I put those Hob Nobs?
Waste not, want not
Apparently, as a nation, we’re all in the grip of a wave of nostalgia, sparking a deluge of mid-20th-century-style homewares, vintage clothing and books promoting the kind of ‘make-do-and-mend’ philosophy that would have made our grandparents proud.
The most likely source of a countrywide yearning for bygone times that’s leading a surge in demand for all things retro, is this year’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
But I’d also wager that the current state of the economy combined with yet another unpredictable winter ahead – quite possibly a bizarre blend of unseasonal warmth and icy arctic blasts - has left us yearning for the seemingly less complicated days of the 1940s, when coats were either duffel or gabardine and Christmases – like the slices of bread on our plates - were always white.
The British approach to packaging was a lot more straightforward, too. Even the most cursory wet-Sunday-afternoon viewing of a film like David Lean’s This Happy Breed paints a picture of a world in which every household essential – even the butter for the cat’s paws - was separately weighed and expertly wrapped in a scrap of brown paper and string.
Now, while it’s fair to say that recent advancements in packaging have led to more hygienic practices, with better-preserved and more attractively presented goods arriving daily on the shelves of our shops, it seems that the scales have tipped too far the other way and companies are now being accused of over-packaging products.
Consumers don’t want a return to wartime austerity; no-one under the age of 70 saves bits of twine anymore or thinks that it’s sinful to discard gift wrapping paper after a single use. But we don’t want to be profligate with the planet’s limited resources, either and, if there’s anything to be learned from our frugal forebears, it’s that there’s something to be said for keeping things simple.
In fact, now we’ve all bought into the ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ mantra and seem to spend half our lives sorting our rubbish into neat boxes, not to mention schlepping down to Oxfam on a regular basis to give someone else the opportunity to benefit from our latest LP cull, we’re all more acutely aware of how much rubbish we actually generate.
Little wonder, then, that our hackles rise when confronted by a few meagre items packaged in an impenetrable sheet of plastic cladding that inevitably requires the application of a Swiss army knife and a few choice swear words before we can retrieve the contents and chuck the shredded remains of the pack straight in the bin.
Which is why cartonboard is even more relevant today than it was 70 years ago. It remains one of the most sustainable forms of packaging available, not only manufactured from renewable resources but also easily recycled again, without any of the complex sorting needed for other materials.
So, if this year’s flirtation with nostalgia leads to a reduction in unnecessary waste – especially in the messy aftermath of another consumer-fuelled Christmas - then I’m all for it. Just don’t ask me to swap my iPod for a gramophone!
A taste for Chocolate…and the Facts !
MPs have been indulging in political grand-standing for as long as there’s been press coverage and attention grabbing headlines. Go back a few hundred years and you’d still find honourable members shouting the odds across the despatch boxes and bamboozling the public with ill-founded views – albeit in powdered wigs and silver-buckled shoes.
The latest senior politician to promote an argument without demonstrating a full grasp of the situation is Secretary for the Environment, Caroline Spelman. No doubt motivated by a desire to curry favour with a populace fed up to the back teeth of hearing about examples of wasted resources (government quangos, second-home allowances, photographer budgets) at a time when we’re all being asked to tighten our belts, Ms Spelman recently launched an impromptu attack on ‘superfluous packaging’ in advance of the upcoming waste review.
Apparently, Ms Spelman was moved to speak out on account of her festively fuelled amazement at the amount of gift packaging ‘designed more to catch the eye, than protect the products’ and exhorted manufacturers and retailers alike to ensure they weren’t ‘using far more materials than are really, sensibly, needed’. Well, thanks for the advice, Minister. Good to know that someone isn’t afraid to remind British businesses of their environmental responsibilities and the need to keep costs down.
No matter then that the ‘over-packaged’ item used to substantiate Ms Spelman’s assertion was, in fact, manufactured in, and distributed from, China. After all, we shouldn’t let a few facts get in the way of a good headline, and ‘Imported toy in excess packaging claim’ doesn’t really have the same impact as ‘Spelman blasts superfluous consumer goods packaging ahead of waste review’, does it?
Naturally, no-one in the paperboard industry is arguing with the need to ensure that packaging is fit for purpose and avoids landfill when it’s consigned to the bin. But to wilfully ignore the many developments in packaging technology and material reduction in recent years in favour of a publicity-grabbing statement that amounts to nothing more than empty rhetoric, is just plain wrong. Get the facts first Minister.
If Ms Spelman really wanted to effect a change in the global approach to packaging, she might ask Mr Cameron to bring the subject up during his next meeting with the Chinese Prime Minister. I, for one, won’t be holding my breath, though.
If we shift the focus slightly to more positive developments, we might well reflect on the massive changes in Easter egg packaging on recent years. Once the epitome of a style-over-content approach, Easter egg packaging is now positively puritanical by comparison. Gone are the over-sized boxes and excessive vac forms of old, to be replaced by regular cartons and humble board trays that make just as good a job of holding the fragile chocolate shapes in place, use less resource and are easy to recycle.
Which is just as well, because, as a nation, we’re consuming more Easter eggs over a longer period than ever before. Based on my own observations, the old one-egg-per-child equation seems to have been overtaken by the at-least-one-egg-a-week-from-February-till-Easter menu. And that’s not including incidental creme eggs, mini eggs and foil-covered eggs. In fact, I’d better sign off and make a start now, if I’m to get through my allocation by Easter Sunday…
But while enjoying my chocolate fix, I’d rather enjoy reading facts. Especially if a Minister was eating her words.
An everyday tale of country folk. For most listeners, a trip to Ambridge with its reassuringly rural talk of milk quotas, ploughshares and calving techniques, makes a welcome change from a TV soap universe in which paternity disputes, mass transport tragedies and bodies-under-the-patio melodramas seem to top the bill on a weekly basis.
But life on The Archers isn’t as dyed-in-the-wool as we’ve been led to believe, after all. For all its bucolic middle England stereotyping, pitting posh Snell against workshy Grundy, this long-running radio drama recently created a pioneering storyline that ran for months – on and off air. Who would have thought that a fictional village dispute over whether or not young guns Debbie and Adam would succeed in their bid to bring anaerobic digestion (AD) to Home Farm would generate so much real-life debate about the very same subject?
Waste management is a thorny issue for industrial and domestic users alike. Although in many urban areas excellent recycling routes already exist for recovering the fibre in cartons (and should continue to be used), a myth persists that post-consumer cartons – possibly contaminated with waste foodstuffs – can only be sent either to landfill or the incinerator.
One compelling option in this instance is to utilise the natural biodegradable properties of cartonboard in the AD process. AD principles have been in use since the 19th century, but modern processing technologies mean we can now build highly efficient, small-scale plants around the country – especially in rural areas - that could deliver benefits on many levels, reducing the need for landfill sites and producing so-called ‘waste’ material rich in soil-conditioning nutrients.
In fact, the simple biological process that occurs in the AD plant converts almost any biomass – food waste, crop residue, manure – into a methane-rich gas that can be used to provide clean, renewable energy, lowering our dependence on fossil fuels, and at the same time cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But it does mean we have to consider how different types of packaging affect the process. Speaking recently at the ProPac2 Show, Lord Rupert Redesdale, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, posited his thoughts on the subject, reiterating the need for a clear understanding of what can and cannot be present in an AD plant, to enable us to plan for the future.
New technologies are being developed all the time to retain the performance criteria from current formats, while continuing to closely monitor emerging AD standards and requirements. In future, packaging specifiers will be able to request the inclusion of composting symbols on those cartons where ISO 13432 accredited raw materials have been used and suppliers have warranted that approved process procedures have been followed.
And who knows – Ambridge might one day blaze the green energy trail for towns and villages all over the country!