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Sweet Things Come In Small Packages – Appealing to the emotions the green way…

The choice of confectionery and bakery products is huge.  The consumer ultimately only buys things that immediately catch his eye and promise pleasures of the palate.  This not only elicits maximum design creativity from packaging producers, but also demands in-depth technical expertise in the production process. 

At Easter, manufacturers of confectionery and bakery products in many countries shift into top gear. Ubiquitous multi-coloured chocolate eggs, metre upon metre of displays with festively decorated chocolates, and beaming chocolate bunnies can be seen in the discount stores. Elaborately packaged confectionary makes shopping fun and gets consumers in the mood for Easter. This means they often have to pay more for the products, because these decorative packages give sellers extra leeway for pricing. Scarcely have the Easter bunnies arrived than the consumer watchdogs raise the alarm. Purchasers, they advise, ought to individually and creatively package the confectionery themselves. However, their opinion goes unheeded every time, because in the festive seasons people fall prey to a kind of craving for chocolate(s). They want to give indulge themselves and give others a treat – and the product price is of only secondary importance.

Lindt’s showpiece golden bunny is much in demand. This is due not only to the delicious chocolate, but also to the enticing packaging. (Photo: Lindt)

What applies particularly over Easter and Christmas can be observed less obtrusively on any other day of the year. “As fun products, confectionery articles enjoy a special status. Consumers expect them to titillate their taste buds rather than be cheap,” says Berlin trend researcher Jürgen Heup. Consumers aren’t indiscriminate, however. Quite the reverse, in fact: since the selection is enormous, they can afford to be choosy.

The pinnacle of packaging
Packages for confectionery and bakery products therefore have a difficult task to perform. They not only have to protect the product’s delicate contents, but also play the role of the attractive salesman at the point of sale who tempts potential buyers and whets their appetite with a short and sweet message. And the importance of the sweet package as an eye-catcher and communicator is set to grow. “Today’s consumers are flexible and enjoy change, and their needs are expanding and increasingly embody such values as freedom from stress, slowing down, health, convenience and sustainability,” explains retailing expert Hendrik Schröder of the University of Duisburg-Essen.

For stacks of crisps like Pringles, the cardboard package attracts without frills. It is fun, practical and, with its “pop” when opened, delivers extra freshness. (Photo: Weidenhammer)

Suppliers are therefore less and less able to attract consumers with off-the-peg confectionery. What is demanded is treats that appeal to all the senses. Alternatively, companies create seasonal varieties such as chocolate with light, fruity fillings in summer and containing liqueur in winter. Anyone who wants to go a step further, markets special products for the many different preferences and new trends. However, this is a major challenge, because suppliers still have to keep the brand identifiable despite the diversity – every single product has to be an element in the brand’s overall image that fits logically into the overall branding strategy.

German chocolate manufacturer Ritter, for example, has mastered brand presentation to perfection. Its unmistakable hallmark is the practical snap-open pack in which the company packages all its chocolate bars. And there are now innumerable sizes and types, as Ritter has developed square chocolate bars for practically every consumer group: filled chocolate bars and minis for children, recipe-refined classics such as milk chocolate or whole nut for the middle-aged, and sugar-free chocolate for the 50-plus generation. The LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability) consumer group is targeted by Ritter with fair-trade cocoa and organic chocolate. More recently, Ritter has even established an Internet “blog chocolate” to enable customers to create their own chocolate bar, including the design of the square wrapper. Anyone who wants to survive in the face of such a strong brand has to present his goods to best effect. It is precisely here that the sales package reveals its huge importance because it gives the customer further prompting at the point of sale.

Tempomat: industry demands high throughput. Modern confectionery machines portion and package sweets quickly and efficiently. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)

Machines are becoming more versatile
The growing diversity of products places growing demands on the equipment for the production and packaging of confectionery. “Because of frequent product changes and shorter selling cycles, machines today have to be much more versatile and amenable to retooling,” says Beatrix Fraese of the Food Processing and Packaging Machinery at the German Engineering Federation (VDMA). At interpack from 12 to 18 May 2011, the world’s most important trade fair for the packaging sector and related processing industries, rapid and flexible packaging will therefore be a central topic.

At interpack, the German company Gerhard Schubert thus intends to present a packaging line that retools and thus changes over to different products fully automatically. “Whatever the product – chocolate Easter bunnies or yoghurt tubs – changeover takes only four and a half minutes,” says company spokeswoman Bärbel Beyhl. Behind this innovation is a huge step forward in development. “We are approaching the ideal of digital production that, as part of a higher-level system, responds directly and flexibly to changing requirements, operates flawlessly and manufactures even the tiniest lots with high productivity.” Sollich, a German specialist in machinery for the production of chocolates and chocolate bars, will be presenting 15 to 20 novelties at interpack, says Sales Manager Andreas Thenhaus.  Product suppliers in the industrialised nations are demanding ever smaller lines that operate with greater precision, consume less energy and can be cleaned and retooled faster. “This is why we’re constantly having to upgrade our product range,” says Thenhaus. In the new confectionery markets of Africa and Asia, further challenges await manufacturers. Product suppliers and packaging designers have to take account of different consumption patterns in these regions. While people in the industrialised nations go for glamour & glitz, suppliers in countries like India and Russia have to first build up brands and confidence with clearly communicated messages. “Many countries are only just discovering their sweet tooth,” says Heup. To illustrate the point: in Germany the per capita consumption of chocolate and chocolate goods is, depending on the survey, about ten kilos per year, while the equivalent figure for China is not even one kilo. All the same, experts anticipate a rapid increase in chocolate consumption in countries like China and India. No less important than their presentation is the need to package and seal products securely for these new markets. Difficult climatic conditions hamper the sale of sensitive treats like chocolate. If machine manufacturers want to gain a foothold on the new markets, they also have to perform the seemingly impossible. “Unlike the industrialised nations, it is mainly large machines that are in demand on the new markets for long-term mass production,” says Sollich Sales Manager Thenhaus.

Spotlight on the environment
Despite the concentration on design and protection, the industry cannot afford to lose sight of the environment and the cost of production and packaging. Critics complain that special stampings and varnishes and elaborate cardboard packages, designed to give a new dimension to package feel and appearance, are not ecological and push up product costs. The industry is countering with comprehensive sustainability strategies: “For us, the careful use of natural resources like water, the use of environmentally compatible and energy-saving production process and the large-scale avoidance of waste are second nature,” says Philippe Oertlé, spokesman of Nestlé, the Swiss food group.

The latest sweet machines are veritable quick-change artists. It’s brown-and-white toffees today and coloured sticks of rock tomorrow. (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf)

Packaging manufacturers help industry to market their confectionery and bakery products effectively and environmentally compatibly at the same time. Material downsizing is the magic word among manufacturers who are keen to use, best of all, certified packaging materials that are easier to recycle and conserve raw materials by reducing material thicknesses. “Minimising materials input is an important factor for us,” stresses Ralf Weidenhammer, head of the German Weidenhammer packaging company. It manufactures, among other things, easy-to-recycle composite cardboard cans for sweets and savoury snacks. Despite their simplicity, Weidenhammer’s cardboard cans have helped brands like “Pringles” to achieve huge popularity. Thanks to their striking colours, the cans are a real eye-catcher, keep their contents fresh and open with an entertaining “pop”.

Machine manufacturers, for their part, are working on more efficient lines. The Danish company Aasted has developed a tempering machine for chocolate which, it claims, consumes 50 to 80 per cent less energy than its existing widely used systems. To obtain a delicate, smooth consistency, each chocolate melt has to be tempered several times. With the conventional principle of continuous-flow tempering, the whole mass is uniformly heated until all the crystals melt. Then the mass is cooled and subjected to controlled heating again in order to achieve a certain crystalline structure. On Aasted’s new “SupaNova” machine generation, on the other hand, only part of the heated chocolate mass is tempered by means of a bypass system and later mixed with the untreated, remaining portion. This saves heat energy and costs. “The quality of the mass is still exceptional,” pledges Aasted Sales Manager Mads Hedstrøm.

The shaping, cutting and packaging of sweets, finally, is the job of packaging machinery manufacturers like the German company Theegarten-Pactec. “We’re expected to use less material in our lines and increase output per unit of time – and we’re happy to accept this challenge,” says spokesman Steffen Hamelmann. The company’s innovations show that design and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. At interpack in Düsseldorf from 12 to 18 May, packaging specialists and product manufacturers can gain their own first-hand impressions.