Taking a Secondary Look: Cartons & Boxes Companies are trending toward greener, more ornate alternatives

Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor

Secondary packaging in the form of cartons and boxes often provides consumers with their first impression of a product or brand. In the beauty, personal care and fragrance segment, the spotlight on boxes is even brighter as companies look to make the most of the medium to generate the biggest buzz on‐shelf and at department store counters.

“The boxes used for today’s high‐end personal care, cosmetic and fragrance products are increasingly unique and brand‐driven,” says Andy Barra of Oneonta NY‐based Burt Rigid Box, a company that’s been making paperboard boxes, slipcases and cans since 1886.“Companies strive to create highly recognizable brand identities, and rely heavily on select materials and chic graphics in order to ‘wow’ the consumer at each new release. All too often, this approach overlooks the possibilities afforded by truly unique structural packaging. In turn, the trend away from interesting secondary packaging eliminates a value‐added component that can substantially aid point‐of‐sale decisions.”

High‐end box manufacturers can offer consumer‐friendly packaging options that are both cost‐effective and beautiful. “We believe that…the pendulum will swing back toward innovative box structure, as it often has in the past,” says Barra. “On the other hand, the availability of a wide diversity of innovative materials such as eco‐friendly adhesives and papers points toward a renaissance in box design.”

The current economy plus the growing penchant for all things green has had a tangible effect on the paperboard packaging segment. “Companies’ desires to go ‘green’ are currently and inevitably coming into conflict with the use of supposedly cost‐effective materials like plastic and metal,” explains Barra. “The proliferation of green materials presents a challenge for buyers: the language surrounding environmental advertising is often confusing and inconsistent, and products must be examined carefully to ensure their true total cost and environmental impact. In addition to upfront costs and certification fees that may be passed on to the customer, many green options require separate recycling, many years in landfills to biodegrade, or other unexpected costs.

Paperboard, says Barra, offers the best green alternative and provides maximum flexibility for graphics with a high “wow” factor. “Recycled board covered with a printed wrap combines exciting design possibilities with sustainable and biodegradable/compostable materials to create unique boxes that can be reused for many purposes,” he says.

To address the “cost vs. environment” trade‐off, Burt is currently developing a product to replace vacuum form trays with an insert that will meet both the design and green goals of its customers. Notably, all materials of the package will be easily accepted into the normal recycling stream.

In the immediate future, Burt Box’s Barra expects ongoing economic pressures to be the most predominant issue shaping the box and carton packaging industry segment. “The dominance of price pressure will continue, driven by low‐cost manufacturing in China as well as the influence of big box retailers on domestic demand,” he says. “These issues are compounded by overseas competition from packaging other than cartons and boxes.”

He also expects there to be mounting consumer and media pressure on consumer goods companies to forego cartons altogether. To counterbalance those dubious trends, Barra says, “Opportunities will emerge for high‐end box manufacturers who are flexible, offer new capabilities to the industry, can easily react to short lead times for any quantity, and are able to provide design input derived from past trends and problem‐solving experience.”

On another positive note, the trend toward including more graphics and less text on packaging will favor the rigid box industry. “Creative structural design will regain importance in this streamlined aesthetic environment,” he says. “At Burt, we have several initiatives in‐place, which include adapting our own unique setup box machinery to produce unconventional shapes that will be introduced across several market segments.”

And last but not least, Barra says that it’s important to incorporate the American consumers’ need to look and feel beautiful into the design and execution of cartons and boxes. “As consumers become more educated about sustainable materials, they will increasingly equate beauty products packaged in striking, reusable boxes with feeling great, inside and out,” he concludes.