Society is changing. While the average age of the population is falling in many countries of Africa and Asia, people in the Western industrialised nations are growing older.
In addition, the pace of life is increasing all over the world. This is why consumers are increasingly demanding product packages permitting efficient handling – a challenge for industry.
Many people love sausages. And, from to time, they also love to eat them with their fingers. At the same time, Frankfurters and Vienna sausages are not exactly typical snacks for people on the go. In most cases, they come swimming in a watery broth or are welded several at a time in large packages.
The German sausage and ham specialist Rügenwalder Mühle now has the solution for snack-lovers. As of this October, it is selling its “Mühlen Würstchen” sausages in a transparent, resealable plastic jar. This way, it claims, the six little Knackwurst sausages can be simply taken out, staying guaranteed fresh to the last bite. “People’s eating habits have now changed fundamentally,” says Rügenwalder marketing head Godo Röben. “The traditional three meals a day have now been superseded by several small and often speedy snacks.”
There’s a current strong trend towards convenience products like Mühlen Würstchen. Packages no longer have just their protective, transport and storage functions, but a functional extra benefit as well. “Straightforward handling of the product package is becoming more and more important for consumers,” explains Hilka Bergmann, Head of Packaging Research at the Cologne retail trade consultants EHI Retail Institute. Such convenience features as easy opening, resealability and portioning aids are thus becoming increasingly prominent in package design. Another approach is foods that can go straight into the microwave in their packaged state and thus simplify cooking. Packages with novel plastic laminates that extend a product’s best-before date also belong in this category.
The unforgiving elderly
The demand for products with added value is being driven by demographic change. In the Western industrialised nations, the ranks of the over-60s continue to swell. And they have greater difficulty reading graphics and texts on packages and opening them freehand. According to a study by the German working party of organisations for the elderly (BAGSO), older people have a particularly tough time with products welded in plastic – the tear tabs are often difficult to find and it takes a lot of effort to open the packages. This is why the elderly prefer easily recognisable and straightforward opening methods.
At the same time, people’s lifestyles are changing. All over the world, people are taking less time for meals, and snacks between meals and a quick espresso from the coffee pad machine are very popular. A big hit, for instance, is chilled food, i.e. products like smoothies, antipasti and delicatessen salads, prepared fresh and in most cases kitchen-ready. The chilled food trend has its origins in the USA and crossed over to Europe a few years back. For industry, this is associated with a further challenge. The consumers of chilled foods are also often health-conscious and attach importance to naturalness, purity, freshness and tradition. Bergmann knows that modern consumers want products that look hand-made and as if packaged fresh at the counter.
Industry cannot ignore the needs of older, working and health-conscious people. Anyone who disregards convenience and whose products don’t stand out from the crowd with an attractive appearance and high functionality will soon be out of the running on the highly competitive international market. In Germany alone, the convenience market, according to figures of the Munich market researchers USP market intelligence, comprises 560,000 points of sale and now has a sales potential of about EUR 30 billion – with an upward trend. “Convenience features have become important to very important for two thirds of consumers,” says USP analyst Katrin Waller. A particularly striking fact is that the elderly respond extremely unforgivingly if they can’t cope with a package. 34 per cent buy a different product from then on, says the German BAGSO study.
Competition for the classical can
In the battle for market shares, product manufacturers are therefore resorting increasingly to packages that communicate comfort and convenience to the consumer. In doing so, they rely on the creativity and expertise of package manufacturers and their suppliers. Rügenwalder, for instance, uses special plastic jars from the German Weidenhammer Packaging Group for its Mühlen Würstchen. In other food segments as well, the specialist in composite cans and plastic packages has thrown down the gauntlet to classical can packaging. “Instead of tinplate or glass, it’s plastic’s turn on supermarket shelves,” declares company boss Ralf Weidenhammer. For instance, the patented PermaSafe plastics solution securely packages sterilised and pasteurised foods while being much easier to handle and lighter than conventional ring-pull cans. The simple handling is made possible by an easily removed peel film and a lid for resealing. Product manufacturers have complete faith in this innovation. The German company Müller’s Hausmacher Wurst was the first customer to go for PermaSafe, and further products are already in the pipeline. All the same, notwithstanding Weidenhammer’s plastic offensive, the classical can still has a strong future in the marketplace. Because of its good sealing characteristics and robustness, many product manufacturers continue to rely on this packaging solution with its decades of proven performance.
Another big topic for the Weidenhammer Packaging Group is the further development of the conventional composite can. At interpack 2011, the world’s leading event for the packaging industry, Weidenhammer will be presenting a composite can with a peel-off top from 12-18 May 2011. Providing an extra-tight seal, it is suitable for such oxygen-sensitive foods as milk powder.
At the German company Wipak Walsrode, a subsidiary of the Finnish Wipak Group, there is also a focus on innovation in film production and processing. Along with high-grade barrier films, their hallmark is natural-seeming packages with a so-called crumpled look. “‘Back to nature’ is the motto of many manufacturers and retail chains who want to emphasize the high quality ideals of their products by means of packages made of paper compounds,” says spokeswoman Astrid Reinke. Wipak has developed a special production process for this. During film production itself, paper is integrated in the film composite. Super-thin film layers are laminated on the inside of the package against the paper layer. The advantage of this is that the outside of the package has a paper feel, and the oxygen barrier and sealing functions required for protection and freshness are performed as usual by the layers of plastic. The unassuming stick of cheese marketed as the “Stangerl” by Bergader in Germany has become a real big-selling product thanks to its new fresh look.
Back to nature
“Simplicity and sustainability”, on the other hand, is the motto of the German display and packaging manufacturer STI Group at interpack. “Packaging solutions are now expected to feature convenience and a minimal ecological footprint,” says spokeswoman Claudia Rivinius. As a first step towards greater sustainability, STI develops its packaging for the food and consumer goods industry mainly using cardboard and corrugated board and largely dispensing with plastics. Familiar to many, the STI classic is the package of the Persil laundry detergent brand with its special tear-open mechanism. The latest products of the specialist producer include a folded cardboard box for Osram energy-saving lamps. It contains a high proportion of recycled paper, has an organic shape to match that of the lamp, a large window and an open base. The package is therefore not only environment-friendly, but also makes the purchasing decision easier for consumers, enabling them test the lamp on a device installed in the shop without having to open the package.
Critics now claim that the development and production of such packages is elaborate and expensive and ultimately pushes up the cost of the product. Industry, on the other hand, argues that costs are in fact reduced by savings in materials and ongoing improvements in production methods. This sounds plausible, because manufacturers of packaging machines are energetically pushing ahead with innovations. Ilapak, the Swiss machine manufacturer that now supplies twelve branches of industry in the food and non-food sectors, is currently launching turnkey packaging lines. The benefit is that the machines are perfectly adapted to each other, thus boosting efficiency. “With complete, single-source solutions, industry can cut its costs per packaged unit significantly,” promises Ilapak Marketing Manager Christian Romualdi.
Multivac, the German packaging designer and machine manufacturer, is also improving the efficiency of its lines. At interpack, the company plans to present a deep-drawing packaging machine that consumes at least 20 per cent less energy than conventional machines. Deep-drawing packaging machines are considered all-rounders, capable of packaging food and non-food items automatically. “We save energy by replacing all the pneumatically driven subassemblies with highly efficient electric drive technology,” says Multivac Sales Manager Helmut Sparakowski explaining his company’s new “e-concept”. But what has Multivac’s innovation got to do with convenience? Easier handling and durability have now been joined by sustainability as one of the biggest feel-good factors for consumers. They can therefore be expected to ask increasingly whether products have been manufactured on resource-conserving principles.
By: Press Dept Interpack 2011