Small nibbles, big turnover

More and more Germans are snacking their way through the day and prefer to shop for their favourite brands in smaller sizes. Manufacturers are trying to please consumers through sustainable packaging coupled with convenience.

von Karen Gellrich

The husband is a frequent flyer. His job-related disastrous ecological balance sheet often leads to heated discussions with friends. His children, however, aren’t particularly bothered by their father’s ecological footprint. They’re happy about all the salty and sweet snacks their dad brings them back from his business trips. By now, a look into the kitchen cupboard at home gives a good overview of what the industry has to offer in terms of muesli, oat and nut bars, chocolate biscuits and snacks in mini format: The collection includes Cereola oat snack, Manner Sticks Mignon wafers, Milka Nussini and Kitkat. And – last but not least – Corny & Co cereal bars.

“Everything is more and more about convenience, everything is getting smaller and smaller. There’s a snack version of every product, and consequently more and more waste – I reject this,” says Uwe Melichar, Managing Partner responsible for packaging at Factor Design in Hamburg. He is always surprised that snacks with a toy aspect such as Babybel Mini Rolls or Nutella for on the go (B-ready) succeed at all on the market. After all, snack products should have added value and satisfy a wide range of consumer demands. And consumers ought to interpret added value as meaning gluten free, lactose free and GMO free, or resealable packaging for “sustainable convenience”, which is obviously the major trend in the packaging market. Instead, however, the current move towards smaller and smaller packaging sizes is diametrically opposed to increased environmental awareness and efforts to avoid plastic waste. “Why isn’t there a resealable potato chip bag in Germany?” asks the agency man, who is President of the European Brand & Packaging Design Association, and familiar with the international packaging market. He argues that resealable bags mean that the chips can be easily portioned in larger containers.

Difficult balancing act between the trend towards convenience and sustainability goals

Germans are choosing healthier snacks than expected, according to a survey by Degusta Box in five different European countries at the end of last year. About half of all Germans mainly eat fruit as a snack. Rewe to go responds to this preference by selling 200 grams of pre-portioned melon cubes in around 17 grams of disposable plastic. This outrages environmentalists. The ready-to-eat melon cubes, a piece of Lidl apple pie packaged in plastic and Haribo gummi bears packaged in portions were all sanctioned by Environmental Action Germany with nominations for the 2019 Golden Vulture Negative Award. Rewe responds that packaging is “unavoidable” for a ready-to-eat snack with an eat by date, as a matter of hygiene, freshness and transport.

Material savings and food safety are just two of the many topics that decision-makers and stakeholders from the packaging industry have to deal with. Packaging innovations are coming onto the market every day. For example, Pöppelmann Famac from Lohne and Merulin Gartenbauservice GmbH & Co. KG, Geldern-Walbeck, have jointly developed a new packaging for snack tomatoes, which enables material savings of up to 30 per cent with unchanged performance in terms of product protection, automation, logistics and marketing suitability. The transparent plastic bucket with coloured handle and a capacity of 870 millilitres is injection moulded, and weighs only 21 grammes, significantly less than its full-surface counterparts. Even so, the bucket has the required stability and machinability. The lattice structure also allows better ventilation of the food when stored in a cool place.

Manufacturers respond to the snack boom with innovative packaging solutions

The market launch of the first cardboard containers with Topseal emphasises BelOrta’s commitment to sustainability. The containers are linked to the launch of a new “Happy Snacking” offer, which is the Belgian company’s response to the growing demand for healthy products for the occasional snack, with raspberries, blueberries and blackberries that can be taken with you and eaten anywhere. “The introduction of these new cardboard bowls shows our absolute commitment to this issue. The shift in consumer attitudes to plastic has been obvious for a long time,” says Jo Lambrecht, Sales & Marketing Manager, explaining that BelOrta is working to develop innovative packaging solutions that are both good for the environment and visually appealing. Besides fruit, the Degusta Box survey shows that Germans also snack on sweets (48 per cent) and crispy items and chips (43 per cent). According to the German Engineering Federation (VDMA), demand for sweet and salty snacks is rising internationally. “The British market research institute Euromonitor International forecasts growth of 8.5 per cent to 941,000 tonnes for Germany between 2018 and 2023. This benefits the manufacturers of not only folding cartons but also of flexible packaging, especially stand-up pouches,” says Vera Fritsche, desk officer at the VDMA Food Processing Machinery and Packaging Machinery Association.

Digital printing benefiting from snack boom

Horst Bittermann, President of the European Association of the Board Industry Pro Carton, is optimistic. “Our industry will continue to develop positively over the next few years, significantly faster than EU annual growth rates. Packaging is needed more than ever to protect products and the environment, and also to sell the packaged products.” In more and more product groups, product line extensions are appearing that position themselves as fast snacks with descriptions such as snack, portioned, small-bite or mini. Ruth Hemsing, confectionery expert at The Nielsen Company Germany GmbH in Frankfurt, notes, “Brands are performing well with new listings and variants of strong articles. Small manufacturers and start-ups in particular are addressing a growing niche among consumers with trending themes such as organic, fair trade, portion control, snacking and personalisation.” And this niche also seems lucrative for machine manufacturers. “Digital printing is benefiting greatly from the snack boom and the resulting market requirements. Product lifecycles are getting shorter and shorter, as is the time-to-market, and print runs are increasingly limited,” explains Jörg Hunsche, Market Development Manager at HP Deutschland GmbH in Böblingen. For example, packaging of different sizes can be produced, individually printed and produced in small runs in a single printing process via digital printing. This is an efficient way to present new products during launch campaigns.

In response to the booming snack market, Nestlé has reorganised its Confectionery division. The Swiss Group has added Healthy Snacking to its existing chocolate business. The food giant also offers a range of snacks such as the new YES! fruit and nut bars. These come in a paper package that can be recycled like a daily paper in the wastepaper collection. According to Nestlé, it is the first supplier to use the so-called “High-Speed Flow Wrap” packaging technology, previously only for plastic films and laminates. “This technical innovation makes it possible to use recyclable paper packaging on a large scale, while ensuring product quality throughout the shelf life,” says a spokesperson. The start-up Foodloose in Hamburg has not yet reached that stage. Although the organic trend is a matter close to the heart of the two founders, Katharina Staudacher and Verena Ballhaus-Riegeler, and their organic snacks do not require additives, flavours or industrial sugar, they have not yet found the ideal solution for the packaging: “Developing the right packaging for our nut bars and fruit gummis is a highly complex subject with which we are far from satisfied,” admits Staudacher.

Open, remove, seal, dispose. Consumers expect this to be simple and easy to manage. And it is precisely this consumer expectation that private labels are using to gain an edge over branded products, with the result that packaging convenience has become a domain of the private labels. Christian Schiffers, Managing Director of Fachverband Faltschachtel-Industrie: “Snacks need packaging that helps the consumer to remove and consume the product, and guarantees resealability and product visibility product. These are all attributes that folding carton manufacturers can offer and which provide convenience for the customer.”

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