Paperboard impacts the carton experience

A tasteful choice of paper can add zest to sales

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CPA green cartons from Metsa Group
CPA green cartons from Metsa Group

Order pasta in a fine Italian restaurant and when your dish is served, the waiter comes around with a pepper-grinding mill to ask if you’d like more pepper. Remember, the salt is taken for granted — it is the pepper that adds to the customer experience. One can’t help thinking about the role of paper in product sales in a somewhat similar fashion. Branded packaged products will sell anyway, but a tasteful selection of paper will make a significant difference in the overall customer experience. Improved customer experience will inevitably result in better sales for the product.

In fact, one of the most well-known examples of packaging customer experience that is often discussed is the packaging of the Apple iPhone. It is said that the Apple iPhone pack was deliberately created as a ‘shoebox’ by the packaging and product experience team of the company. It consists of a compact, rigid, brick-shaped pack with clean printing on a white paper background. The customer peels off the overwrapping film and proceeds to lift off the fully telescoped top. The top lifts off smoothly but slowly to reveal the inner contents that are neatly and compactly presented. By this time, the customer is breathless with anticipation to reach the product itself. This helps to enhance the product experience and creates an aura of mystique around the product offering. Many luxury brands like fragrances or liquor, unlike utility products, rely on such devices to enhance product experience and derive value addition.

“A great package starts with the right material. We turn ideas into the impact that enhances people’s lives,” says Mead Westvaco, a US$ 5.3 billion corporation and one of the largest global suppliers of paper and specialty components for the packaging industry. In fact ‘impact’ is a word that is often ignored when it comes to the choice of paper in the rush to meet product launch deadlines. Most buyers tend to view paper as a commodity to be measured, primarily, in terms of its price per kilo and GSM. The fact that printed paper packaging can be an important marketing tool is overlooked. In today’s growing ‘environmental awareness’, the paper packaging enjoys an increasing degree of consumer acceptance, is missed. Paper, after all, is a renewable, natural raw material that can be designed not only to look good but also to deliver excellent functional characteristics like whiteness, stiffness, printability, fold endurance, and a secure option for food or greasy and oily products.

Ultimately, the greater challenge a designer faces is to combine the magic of his imagination with the constraints of production in such a remarkable way that it touches hearts, brings joy, and impresses for its innovation. Amidst such constraints, an impactful choice of paper can add a decisive dash of masala to the sales.

The role of paper in improving product sales

A well-known company representing several top-of-line paper suppliers around the world is CH Java & Company, situated in Mumbai. Among the paper mills, they represent are ITC Ltd – Specialty Paper Division, M-Real Zanders GmbH Germany, Iggesund Paperboards AB Sweden, Cham Paper Group Switzerland, and Bollore Paper Division France.

High value cartons for eye drops
High value cartons for eye drops

We invited Ashok Java and his son, Sagar Java to share their views and experience of supplying premium quality paper packaging materials to the Indian industry since 1980.

Q: In your experience what are the main criteria on which paperboard buyers for packaging base their selection?

There are several pressure points for the selection of paper and paperboard. First, there is input from designers. Some of them have a detailed knowledge of paper and paperboard while others may not. On the other hand is the push from the converters and printers. Here too, there are some who have a wide exposure to the availability and relevance of a particular grade or brand of paperboard for specific end-use applications. But not all convertors and printers may be equally knowledgeable. Second, there is the material procurement department of an end-user, which also has a role to play. These persons are also approached by various paper mills, merchants and have some knowledge of paper and paperboard options available in the market.

What finally is used depends on who calls the shots for a particular project. In the case of graphic print, there is a tendency to look at superior options depending on the project whereas, in the case of a carton, the selection is more on the basis of costs as it is part of the product cost that is always subject to cost pressures.

Q: To what extent is the choice of paperboard determined by the brand owner or is it simply left to recommendation and choice of packaging producer?

There are some end-users who have a complete materials department with knowledge of paper and paperboards. However, in many cases, they go by the options given by the converters and printers. Often, the printer gives several options, and then the decision is based on how much the budget of the particular project may be. Among the larger end-users, there is a discernible increase of awareness and consciousness about making the right paper choices and creating reliable supply chain partnerships. However, in my view, as of now, there is a need to improve the actual technical evaluation of the exact thickness and stiffness of the packaging needed considering the specific need of each product.

Q3: What is the real cost-benefit possible by using imported paperboard which is of higher cost compared to domestically produced paperboard. Please describe some of the technical performance benefits of imported boards that make them stand apart from their local competitors.

There are essentially two kinds of imported boards coming into India. One category attempts to market at the same or lower price as the local options. The second is the category where the quality is significantly higher than what is available in the local market. With the globalization of the Indian market, both options will be used by end-users and printer-convertors. Where the Europeans have an edge is essentially on the availability of superior quality fiber. Also, they have been producing paper and boards for a significantly longer period than the local industry hence have an edge on the coating technologies. These import options need to be used judiciously. Not every project or product needs the special properties that some imported options offer. But in certain cases, these can meet the requirement of end-users.

McDonald’s happy meal box for the 2012 London Olympics
McDonald’s happy meal box for the 2012 London Olympics

Selecting paperboard for a pack is based on equating the pack requirements and process capability – be it imported or domestic – and ensuring its availability to maintain the supply line. Such a choice may well entail a higher cost as compared to locally available options but all that is to be considered as an essential extra in making up the personality and the face of the brand. Many European brands often nominate specific boxboard grades as the face of their brand.

Q: Can you name some examples of brands or product category that initially hesitated to choose superior imported paperboard packaging but later realized its advantages when the choice resulted in better sales directly as a result of the paper?

The most visible example that comes to mind is cigarette packaging. Tobacco packs today are all in virgin grades. The packaging is their main plank to help advertise the quality of the product. The use of a premium quality board is considered a part of the brand-building cost. A similar situation exists with liquor packaging too wherein breweries go to great lengths to print, emboss and design their liquor cartons. But, nowadays, awareness about improved paper grades is moving out of just luxury products. Even mithaiwalas have moved up from earlier laminated boxboards to virgin grades. A popular mithai brand switched from recycled grade boxboard laminated with film to a virgin grade board at a 15% higher cost but the increased yield obtained from a lower GSM helped to keep costs in check while dramatically improving sales. Another brand wanted to highlight the slimming effect of their product by making the carton with vertical curved creases similar to a woman’s toned body shape. Special design effects can only be created by prescribing the right grade of paperboard. Pharmaceutical pack buyers were able to overcome rampant counterfeiting issues by switching to ‘both side coated board’ – thus overcoming counterfeiting problems and experiencing remarkable growth in a six month period.

With growing consumer awareness and sophistication, the brand owners need to look carefully at the issues related to Food Safety Laws, hygiene, environmental aspects amongst other factors to stand out on shop shelves. Some time back white-back recycled board stood out against grey-back but now is the time for virgin fiber grades to be noticed.

Q: Please tell us about some of the latest developments in paperboard finishes and production technology that put Invercote and related brands at the forefront of the industry.

The Invercote range of products consists of a family of products customized for different end-user applications and is manufactured at the integrated Iggesund mill in Sweden. Invercote is a multilayered Solid Bleached Board (SBB) made from chemical pulp produced by the sulfate pulping method. The use of virgin fiber and the sulfate pulping method ensures a hygienic, odor, and taint-neutral product. All materials used in making Invercote products are approved for food contact as per existing regulations. To give you an example, we offer a grade of paperboard that is equally coated on both sides and has physical properties that the conventional coated paper does not. Thanks to its resilient fiber and advanced multiply construction along with a patented coating you can fold it more than 4,500 times and it will not break. Most other paperboards would come apart after less than 50 cycles! When it comes to the shape we can take you where no other paperboard can go. With our paperboard grades, your package will still attract the eye of consumers, your card will still be saleable and your book will look like it has never been touched before even after weeks or months on the shelf, in the glare of spotlights or out in the sun.

To keep pace with recent developments in the digital domain, Invercote has been selected as an HP Indigo Preferred Media Partner for HP Indigo Digital presses, a standard created by HP to recognize its top-flight partners who are the best positioned to provide tailored substrate solutions for HP Indigo equipment. It is also certified for use in a range of digital presses.

The brand Invercote to us, therefore, relates not only to the superior physical characteristics of the paperboard we produce, but also to satisfy our customers’ needs through all aspects of the business relationship — from product development through manufacturing, distribution, and commercial service, to after-sales support. In this way, Invercote products are not just a commodity, but a vision of the demands of business for the next decades to come.

Q: How do you foresee the emerging demand for paperboard in India? Is increased digitization in print and material substitution in packaging affect the growth of the paper industry in any way?

The growth in demand for paperboard cartons and labels seems to be robust and mainly driven by the FMCG and pharma sector. The growth in packaging is directly related to the growing economy of the country. So, in terms of tonnage growth in India, one can’t really go wrong in the long term. The real challenge, however, is in creating awareness and differentiation for a superior range of products for a more discerning class of end-users. With the increased sophistication of printing machines and prepress — print, after all, is standard; the real differentiator is the substrate! Substrates must deliver better surface smoothness, whiteness, and printability. We are confident that customers will become increasingly discerning about substrate performance.

Also, many companies are increasingly becoming conscious of the environmental impact of the material they use for packaging their products. Paper and paperboard are renewable, reusable, biodegradable, and sustainable media, making them a fantastic choice for packaging with social responsibility.

This article was first published in the February 2013 print issue of Packaging South Asia.
The headline has been changed and minor corrections in the article have been made on 7 November 2020.

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Deepak Manchanda
An engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Milan, Italy in Human Factors Engineering. Over 40 years of work experience in branding, packaging design & development. Worked as Head of Packaging at Oriflame – Silver Oak; Dabur India and Ranbaxy Laboratories. Currently - an Associate with The Packaging Consortium – a packaging development consultancy. Worked closely with Jindal Polymer Films for Application Development of Specialty Films for flexible packaging. Now a packaging consultant for some reputed companies. He is also an Associate Director with Firstouch Solutions – a design company providing services in Brand Comm, Packaging, Exhibitions and Branded Retail Environments. He is closely associated with the Indian Institute of Packaging as a Member of the Northern Regional Committee. He is also active as a contributor to Packaging South Asia magazine and other journals and at forums and conferences. Has been writing articles on packaging design and marketing for Packaging South Asia since 2007.

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