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Plastic to paper: the eco packaging revolution

Smurfit Kappa Food Contact Packaging provides some advice...

Consumers are becoming more sustainable: a YouGov survey concluded that a huge 69% of respondents thought that companies should be required by law to create environmentally friendly packaging – even if it meant them paying more for the goods.

Meanwhile, the same survey found that 46% of people actually feel guilty about the amount of plastic they currently buy.

And while on the whole the nation has focused on plastic bags and vegetables wrapped in unnecessary layers, another industry has been taking note: confectionery.

That isn’t to say it is an easy switch for those selling sweets: there are all sorts of problems involved in making the switch from plastic packaging to paper.

Like any food packaging, it has to be free from contaminants, and sturdy enough to not allow outside sources to spoil the products inside.

There is, of course, hope – brands just have to be a little more creative! And what is more, this global switch from plastic to paper opens up some interesting new packaging possibilities.

For foodstuff like chocolates and biscuits, the packaging has to ensure the product doesn’t melt or leave a greasy residue seeping through to the outside of the packaging. More importantly, paper has to prove to be as good as plastic in preventing contamination – especially in times where we are especially conscious of it. Similarly, moisture cannot reach the food – almost all confectionery is vulnerable to it, and nobody wants to open a packet of sticky, melted mess.

One solution for this is to use an interior coating of some sort – but then you have the problem of ensuring that the coating is as recyclable as the paper itself, and doesn’t hinder or negate the efforts made to use paper packaging in the first place.

Another area of change is confectionery brands swapping traditional shrink wrap plastics for paper glassine cushion pads, which add a layer of protection in between product and outer layer.

These protect the paper outside from the sweets inside and prevent moisture from spoiling the food. Additionally, any effects of bumps in transit are minimised by the cushion – so your product is more likely to arrive in top shape. No crushed truffles for your customers!

It is a risk that consumers just won’t trust that confectionery packaged in paper will be as safe as that packaged in plastic. However, given the effects of customer loyalty, it is likely that they will at least try the new packaging – hopefully to find it has no detrimental effects on their favourite chocolate bar.

Besides which, some brands have been pioneering paper packaging for years, like Tony’s Chocolonely. This might actually work to the advantage of brands late to the game.

Typically, it is smaller businesses with higher end offerings that have had the higher prices and therefore the profit margin to find and use sustainable packaging options.

By switching to paper packaging and thus inviting comparison with these high quality products – though generally at a lower price point – brands might well benefit from the association.

Additionally, extra touches like bespoke cushion pads let customers know that your brand quality hasn’t decreased. If anything, cushion pads enhance that luxury image a little more: they are an extra layer to unbox, adding to the excitement.

Finally, there is the fact that paper packaging just won’t look the same: printing quality may even be reduced, leading to difficulties showcasing ingredients and nutritional facts. Appearance wise, the packaging industry comes into its own. Yes, the products might look a little different, but that might not be a bad thing at all.

It is possible for paper to mimic the gloss of plastic – but on the other hand a matte finish will tell customers immediately that something has changed, demonstrating the brand’s ethos without them having to say a word.

In terms of printing quality and making writing legible, changes might have to be made. Font size could be made incrementally larger, perhaps removing unnecessary words or putting them in a different place. A mixed confectionery box might swap lengthy chocolate descriptions from the outer layer for a custom cushion pad inside the box. This would not only give the brand more room to play around with design and a chance to promote the message further, but also offer more protection for the food inside, shielding it from dents and blows.

Having swapped to paper packaging, the relative fragility compared to plastic is an important factor to consider and compensate for. No wonder cushion pads are becoming more popular again!

Some brands, like ‘Smarties’ so many years ago, might have to give up iconic packaging: the round tubes, complete with plastic lids, will be fondly remembered by many. The new iteration still has an integral lid that you can open with one hand and which is the perfect vehicle for the famous letters on the underside of the lids. Some things never change!

To find out more about paper packaging solutions for the confectionery market including cushion pads and single face corrugate, visit

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