JAPAN - Today’s industrialised packaging sector has come a long way from Furoshiki. Now dominated by the converter, the package manufacturer is responsible for both design and manufacturing of most retail packs. But the concept of ‘delight’ remains, as Stuart Hoggard explains.
In Japan very few brand owners invest in packaging Research and Development, preferring to direct their resources towards product development and marketing. Instead, it is the converter, or package manufacturer, who develops the material, laminates, barrier properties, shape and even recommends portion size.
Many manufacturers have developed back up the supply chain to include co-packing – mixing and manufacturing the product to the brand owner’s recipe, filling and taking responsibility for final delivery to the brand owner’s warehouses throughout the country – a real one-stop shop.
Packaging manufacturers, such as Rengo, Toppan, Oji, Dai Nippon and Toyo Seikan are major conglomerates in their own right, with divisions converting and manufacturing most materials; paper, plastic, corrugated etc. Along with their smaller competitors, they are the real drivers of packaging innovation, investing heavily in Research and Development, from substrate to structure.
Toyo Seikan, for example, was founded in 1917 as Japan’s first can maker, but has evolved into full service manufacturer offering steel and aluminium cans, PET bottles, flexible packaging pouches, aerosols, paper and plastic cups, from 16 plants throughout Japan, and subsidiary manufacturing in 15 plants across Asia. In all, the group has 76 subsidiary companies including food processing and packaging machine manufacturing divisions, and logistics and distribution companies, has more than 18,000 employees and revenue for 2013 topped a modest US$119 billion (¥ 11.232 billion).
Package formats, developed by conglomerates, such as Toyo Seikan, are then sold to brand owners as a completed product. In this system, the converter retains ownership of the intellectual property, allowing the pack concept to be marketed to different customers –with the result that the package format is often commoditised and (in the case of PET bottles) the same pack can contain a range of beverages from different brand owners.
True, it results in standard, uniform bottles – but the results are ‘delightful’ and the economies of scale massive, and competition is fierce.
Toyo Seikan’s ribbed PET bottle rectangular formats for both Hot Fill and Aseptic packaging have become ubiquitous in the market; produced in their tens of millions they can contain fruit juices, RTD (ready to drink), soya milk, teas, carbonated soft drinks, water. On the supermarket shelf, the form is identical; it is the shrink sleeve that provides the point of brand differentiation. (see top image)
Pretty boring, eh? So one might ask, where is the ‘delight’ in such a dull rectangular pack? Well first it is rectangular because, unlike the more traditional cylindrical bottle, it can be stored either standing vertically or on its side and fits neatly into the door compartment in all standard fridge with minimal wasted space – nicely practical, but hardly what would ‘delight’.
On examination, the bottle’s ribbed structure has three indentations for the consumer to grip: one at the top near the neck so that it can be easily lifted out of the fridge with no fear of slippage.
A second hand grip just above the centre is convenient for pouring, while a third at the base allows the bottle to be completely inverted to pour out those final drops… important if the contents are a more viscous liquid like cooking oil. As a ‘delighting’ pack it is getting there but not quite!
The ultimate delight for the consumer is that once the shrink sleeve has been ripped off using the handy perforated pull-tab, the pre-stressed rib structure can with minimal pressure collapse, allowing the entire bottle to be folded in on itself to form a small square; origami with PET!
Under Japan’s Containers and Packaging Law, householders are required to wash, clean and return PET bottles to bins outside most convenience stores – carrying a week’s supply of bulky drinks and cooking oil bottles could be such a chore, but the origami collapsible structure reduces the volume to less than 15% of its original dimensions – and there is the ‘delight’.
Read Part Three here
Extracted from the 280-page heavily illustrated market analysis report: Zen & the Technology of Packaging Design in Japan.
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