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Shelf Appeal v Functionality

Reclose is the finishing touch that consumers come to expect on flexible packaging, but do current reclose products meet expectations? Caine Folkes-Miller, Elplast Group's marketing and innovations director, explains how brands so caught up on shelf appeal are forgetting that functionality should be prioritised much earlier in the design phase.

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We are constantly told that consumers don't have time, they don't like waste, they want this, that and the other, yet brands are still more focused on shelf appeal than function. Design trumps functionality every time. The digital age, traditional advertising and strong product values are the driving force behind purchase decisions of major brands. Yet, the functionality of the product packaging can help to keep consumers loyal, especially in regards to flexible packaging and reclose systems.

With a large percentage of flexible packaging now incorporating reclose systems, we need to question if the current reclose products meet consumer expectations. The answer more often than not, is no.

The flexible packaging market in particular is forecast to grow at an annual average rate of 4.4 per cent during the period 2015-20 to reach $114 billion, according to Smithers Pira report The Future of Global Flexible Packaging to 2020 with the majority of premium products expected to incorporate a reclose system, from reseal labels, to zips and press to close systems.

All of these have their place in the market, yet when it comes to packaging design, the reclose is often an afterthought. The repercussion of an afterthought is a rushed decision and no budget, resulting in the purchase of an off-the-shelf reclose product with limited ability, that is not tailored to the brand ethos or design.

When we prioritise design over packaging functionality, we are setting ourselves up for failure. As Neil Shackleton, founder of packaging consultancy, SaucePM and specialist in flexible packaging development explained: "When reclose is added to flexible packaging it completely changes a consumers mindset. Prior to reclose, consumers would remove the packaging and reseal themselves, or be fully aware that without added action, the product would go to waste. With reseal, we are taking away any consumer responsibility. They expect a product to remain fresh, or at least for a reseal to actually reseal."

"In my experience, brand owners do not allocate enough time to perform sufficient trials before product launch to perfect the little hitches that come with reclose systems. Example issues include, the incorrect material for the wrong reclose, insufficient contact bonding causing leakers, or too much bonding that make reseals impossible to open. And brands actually release these products to market. No wonder consumers are cynical about the value of reclose."

Yet there are success stories. Pet food brand, Beco integrated an innovative reseal into its dry dog food packaging, sourcing a press to close product that locks in freshness, is simple to use and 100 percent biodegradable.  Design Director Toby Massey, who created the pioneering packaging for Beco's new Food for Dogs, said: "Our consumers care for the wellbeing of themselves, their pets and for the wellbeing of the planet. We took great time and dedication in selecting the best organic ingredients to meet these needs within the product, and we did not want to be let down by a packaging solution that could not follow our own brand ethics."

Beco is a fine example of how reclose systems can meet any brand value when the correct mindset, budget and openness to innovate are combined. The brand worked with Tyler Packaging, as Adam Kay continued: "Reclose systems are becoming increasingly popular, which does make them an important element of packaging design. The overall aim should be to provide a solution in the very early stages of the design stage that works for the brand, rather than making an existing product fit."

"We enjoy working with reclose manufacturers who are keen to innovate and work closely with us to create a well thought through packaging concept, especially when it meets consumer expectations regarding functionality, safety and sustainability."

The slow, but ever increasing demand for reseal innovation from the likes of Tyler Packaging has led Elplast Group to invest in a specialist Innovation Centre in Europe. Expected to open in Autumn 2017, we will incorporate production grade lines for product development, improvement and R&D, production grade pouch making lines for small run mockups with client film, horizontal flow wrappers and other capabilities into the centre. We aim to work in partnership with packaging designers and brand owners to design, deliver and manufacture within tight deadlines. After all, we are all striving for the same end goal - to deliver quality. 

At this point we ask how can we meet consumer expectations? In an ideal world, more time and investment should be allocated for product testing, rather than a product's brand appeal. The 'it will do' mentality of brands does impact on the final functionality of a reclose, in turn frustrating consumers.

The important message to brand owners and packaging designers is that one size does not fit all. Every flexible pack requires a bespoke reclose solution that accounts for pack size, shape and density of the actual product, and the ultimate goal of perfect functionality. It may cost more in product development, but in the long run, sourcing the perfect reclose system is a wise business decision, reducing defaults and pleasing the consumer. 

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The development of this project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union
[LIFE16 ENV/ES/000305]

This publication reflects only the author's view and that the Agency/Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains



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