A great product is incomplete without an amazing packaging, that holds true yet there are some points to ponder around packaging. Although packaging adds to the overall aesthetics of selling still it is time to reconsider it for a lot of reasons.
Is there an alternate to the contemporary packaging materials?
Yes, there is an alternate which has already squeezed in, it is called flexible packaging. Flexible packaging by the name itself gives an idea about it- a flexible material for packaging. What is this flexible material? Flexible materials can either be paper, plastic or foil.
The use of soft plastic and its variants in packaging is broadly categorized as flexible packaging. As plastic can change its form hence ‘flexible’, that is the reason soft plastic is superior to its contemporaries like board, metal, glass and rigid plastic in the industry.
There are various such materials like- Ethylene Vinyl Alcohol, Cast Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Polyamide, Polypropylene, Biaxially-oriented polypropylene etc. which are being widely used in today for flexible packaging.
Flexible packaging is slowly and gradually picking up the pace and eating up the share of other packaging materials. With almost equal to rigid plastic (21.4) it stands at 21.8% globally. The benefits of flexible packaging can be:
- Space: Being flexible it is not rigid and can be stored or transported in much less space as compared to other materials. To get an idea of the sheer volume saved; FPA’s (Flexible Packaging Association, US) research tells- 1 truckload of flexible packaging is equivalent to 26 truckloads of glass jars.
- Transportation cost: The logical benefit that follows is- it saves the transportation cost or in the other words transportation becomes more economical. As flexible packaging requires much less space, it directly affects the transportation cost; reducing it further.
- Reduced dim weight: Cargo business works on the dim (dimensional) weight calculation. Cost is taken into account by considering the dimensions of the consignment. As flexible packaging occupies just as much required space, as it is not hardbound, the cost of transportation is just optimum.
- Long-lasting barrier protection: Flexible packaging brings most of the benefits to the food and beverage or the FMCG industry. Air, moisture, and sunlight affect the perishability of the food items to a great extent. The perishability of the food items goes up with many easy and economical annexures (multi-layer films) like- aluminum, paperboard etc.Nowadays tetra packs are the most commonly used packaging type in the juice and dairy industry. A tetra pack typically has 6 layers of- aluminum, paperboard, and polyethylene. This eventually increases the shelf life of the products.
- Packaging weight: Flexible packaging eventually reduces the weight too. Materials like paperboard, polyethylene etc are light as compared to their heavier counterparts like metal and glass. On an average around 88% of the transportation, weight reduces while using flexible packaging as against the use of metal. The reduction in weight reduces the cost also.
Apart from all the tangible benefits, flexible packaging has non-tangible benefits too.
- Reduces carbon footprint: As flexible packaging covers less space, the volume of transportation goes up. This eventually reduces the number of routes, hence polluting less. This way it helps in reducing the carbon footprint.
- Lessens landfill dumping: All the leftover and the unconsumed food (due to reduced perishability of food in turn due to the conventional barrier protection methods) goes to the landfills for dumping. This eventually creates a lot of methane gas. Flexible packaging helps in reducing such waste and diminishes the landfills.
E-Commerce and Flexible Packaging
- Opportunities: In the last few years, e-commerce has boomed at an astonishing rate. The industry is swelling up by the day. According to the research firm, Forrester’s report the online sales will touch $500 billion by 2020. This will evidently make a surge in packaging too. The growing packaging demands of the e-comm companies will be met by flexible packaging. Unlike traditional business logistics, e-comm companies have to reach every individual customer which makes the e-comm logistics much more complex. Conventional companies have a set infrastructure- production>C&F>distributor>retail outlet. The distribution cost at each step is borne by the respective business associate. Also, they are not responsible for delivering products to the end customer. This limits the cost of packaging to some degree. On the other hand, e-comm companies have to extensively use packaging. The conventional packaging materials would shoot up the cost for e-comm companies. The flexible packaging, on the other hand, would reduce the cost of packaging as well as transportation for them.
- Challenges: Although there is a huge opportunity with the growing E-commerce industry, flexible packaging yet has some challenges.
- Profitability: The pressure of being profitable at the same time being sustainable is on. E-commerce companies have to strive through the process of distribution by thriving to achieve the durability and compactness in packaging with profitability yet being ecologically sustainable.
- Returns: One of the major servicing aspects of E-commerce is ‘return’. A wrong-fit, wrong product, damaged delivery or any of other numerous causes results in returning of the product. Such a returned product has already incurred a cost and this cost is a loss as there is no profit generated by it cause it didn’t culminate in a sale. At times re-dispatches are made on returned goods drowning the profits down and at times such returned good are simply sent to the landfills making a deal loss. Such transfers to landfills hamper the sustainability. Returns not only hit the profitability but also harm the ecosystem.
Flexible packaging might have a couple of challenges yet it is an emerging trend around the world across industries. Already matching its cousin rigid plastic, flexible packaging will reduce the consumption in coming years of boards, metal and glass by .5%, .1%, .8% respectively. Also, its usage will go up by .4%. The growth although would be at a lesser rate primarily but at a later stage will surge as the food industry would bring the major requirement of flexible packaging.