“People have a very strong emotional connection to our products. Many of our products bring back important memories, and our brands are well loved by everyone. This is one of the reasons we think that the materials we use for our products, including packaging materials, must be of the highest quality and responsibly produced,” says Senior Manager Hanna Lehtonen from the packaging development department at Fazer Confectionery.
For Fazer, responsible packaging means that material suppliers have produced the raw materials responsibly and in compliance with legislation and that the packaging is manufactured as efficiently as possible, keeping the wastage to a minimum.
Recycling is also important.
“All packaging materials that we use can be recycled, reused or used in energy production,” says Lehtonen.
The packaging supports the brand promise
In addition to quality standards, the design of packaging is influenced by production and marketing aspects. Sweets belong to the so-called impulse purchase category, i.e. people buy sweets because they bring pleasure, and they fulfil completely different needs to bread or milk.
“It’s important to know the situations in which people use products in this category. The fit-for-purpose principle is applied to the design: not everything for everyone but the product and its packaging are designed for a specific target group for a specific need.”
Fazer’s confectionery business includes chocolates, biscuits, sweets, liquorice, chewing gum and pastilles, which means that the product range is quite wide. According to Lehtonen, packaging development and possible new designs are always guided by the brand that is being dealt with.
“One could say that the Karl Fazer brand, which includes the Fazer Blue chocolate, belongs to all Finns. Its packaging is revamped from time to time, but very subtly and always respecting the brand.”
Lehtonen says that she is proud of Fazer’s current packaging design trend, which supports the brand promise and appearance.
“Our design has developed tremendously in recent years. The various prizes are a testament to this, such as the Red Dot Award for our biscuit range this year, the Fennia Prize Winner award for Fazer Liquorice and the Hopeajyvä award for the Marianne sweets.”
The importance of packaging is recognised
As a professional in the industry, Lehtonen is happy that there is now more focus on packaging and a better understanding of its function.
Finnish companies closely monitor the kinds of packaging campaigns that are launched in other countries, and they are eagerly followed.
“Products can now be personalised, and we can customise batches of products according to seasons, campaigns and seasonal events such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day or even the Ice Hockey World Cup. Limited edition products are also on the increase.”
One current example of a campaign package is the ‘Little piece of Finland’ packaging to mark Finland’s 100th anniversary. The most iconic Fazer product, the Fazer Blue chocolate bar, will be wrapped in it until the end of the year.
Although it is necessary to change the packing methods, materials and design from time to time, not all consumers are happy about changes to the packaging of the oldest products that they remember from their childhood.
This became evident when the cellophane wrappers used for the Omar toffees were replaced with new flow pack wrappers to improve their shelf life.
“In no time there was a comment on social media: ‘Nothing is as it used to be.’ It is clear that some people don’t like it if familiar products are touched – even if it is new packaging that improves the product quality,” says Lehtonen, smiling.
However, a long shelf life is essential for sweets, and the materials must have the same properties as other food packaging.
“Chocolate in particular is a very delicate product, so the packaging material must protect the product against harmful flavours and smells. The packaging material must not cause any kind of defects in the product that could be detected by the senses. Due to their long shelf life, some of the products require protection against moisture or light. That’s why the so-called barrier properties of packaging materials are particularly important for our products.”
The packaging material properties must also take account of the great variety of places where the products are sold.
“Sweets are sold in hardware stores and flower shops, for example, and we don’t have a say in what kind of products are placed near them.”
The eventful road from idea to product
The innovation process for new packaging goes through several stages. Of course, it all starts with an idea of an entirely new product or the need to renew packaging.
“At Fazer, the packaging development team is responsible for bringing together experts in marketing, procurement, production, product development and logistics at the innovation stage. We assess the product concept, where it is sold, what needs the product fulfils and who the target group is.”
During the design phase, the team decides on the packaging line to be used, the packaging material requirements, the packaging structure, the size of the batch and the logistics standards. Potential material suppliers are also surveyed.
“This phase includes checking whether the required packaging material is already available from one of our partner manufacturers. If the material supplier is a new partner for us, it will be audited carefully.”
The packaging material and the structure are finally selected after test runs and shelf life tests. The product in the printed packaging goes through a sensory evaluation so that inappropriate flavours and smells can be eliminated. The inks, varnishes and glues used in packaging can cause significant defects to the product.
“Packaging design also involves coming up with ideas that make the packaging more user friendly. Examples include different opening and closing mechanisms such as stickers and zippers.”
The packaging material is finished with a printing press. The printing method depends on both the material and the design to be printed. The packaging is then ready for the production line.
A product that is new to consumers is already familiar to Fazer employees.
“It takes about 18 months from the start of the innovation efforts to the launch of the product to consumers. If it’s a case of revamped packaging, the process takes about six months.”
Less environmental load
The whole packaging chain has developed in leaps and bounds.
“For example, the materials have become thinner, the variety is more extensive and the production machines have improved so that less waste is generated,” Lehtonen lists the benefits.
The standards are also higher and the legislation is becoming tighter regarding issues such as what kind of product information the packaging should contain.
Cost savings also guide packaging design and material choices, resulting in fewer cases of over-packing, and consumers’ wishes are also taken into account.
Biomaterials are the topic in the packaging industry but they have been slow to appear on the market.
“Only a fraction of existing biomaterials are food safe, which is the reason they are not widely used. Existing applications are also very expensive and don’t meet the barrier properties standards for the packaging of our products,” explains Lehtonen.
New materials are being developed, however, and Fazer closely monitors the situation.
“Another feature of biomaterials that is important to us is that it’s possible to guarantee the environmental efficiency of their entire production chain.”
Text Susanna Haanpää
Photos Vesa Tyni