8 alternatives to plastic packaging

All products need to be packed in a safe secure packaging that not only provides the protection to the product but also adds to the aesthetic presentation of the product. Today plastic packaging is one of the most common and popular form of packing material. It is cheap, strong, and durable and can be moulded into any shape required. However plastic has one major disadvantage. It is not bio degradable. Once discarded, it goes into the landfills where it sits for thousands of years. With consumer becoming environmentally conscious there is a need to move away from plastic packaging and use more eco friendly alternatives. Most of these alternatives have been around for years. They just need a fresh perspective to add some aesthetic appeal. Here are some alternatives which are not only better than plastic, they also add to the aesthetic appeal of the product.

  1. Paper is degradable. Not only that, paper is also reusable many times: Brown paper bags were quite common until some years ago. They are now making a comeback. Paper is used to make paperboard that is in turn used to make strong boxes which are used commonly to pack small light items. Paperboard has come of age and can be used for making food grade packing as well. Paperboard based sandwich packs are quite common. Paperboard cups are also commonly used for serving beverages. These can be shredded and reused again for different (non food grade) products or can be put down for bio degradation. It is made of wooden pulp that is natural.
  2. Cardboard is a thick form of layered paper is also very common in packaging industry: Cardboard needs no introduction. It is very popular packing material in form of boxes and cartons. It comes in all sizes, for small hand held products such as mobiles and toys to large boxes well above 1 meter on each side. Corrugated cardboard boxes have good strength to handle heavy products. They can be carried unfolded, requiring minimal space and can be easily disposed off. In fact strong large cartons are now being reused at homes to make coffee tables and as storage space among other things. And they disintegrate quickly, just like paper.
  3. Corn Starch: Corn starch is used as a Styrofoam replacement in packaging. It has the strength similar to plastic. It is shaped in form of beans and peanuts for providing cushion in packing large products and in making packing trays for food items. If disposed properly it decomposes into water and carbon dioxide within months, which is much shorter than the decomposition time required for plastic. It is made from corn, which is cheap and readily available.
  4. Zip lock bags: Though these are made of plastic, they are designed to be reused. They are airtight plastic bags that can store any product, which they can accommodate. Many households reuse them for storing food products. They may not be easily decomposable, but they are definitely reusable which increases their usable life and reduces the stress on resources used to produce them.
  5. Glass by itself is made from plain silica: It is an excellent material to store food items as it is water tight, air tight and inert. It also lends a classy look to the product and well designed glass jars are quite presentable. The jars and bottles that have wind up caps instead of crowns can be reused as household storage for Jams, sources, marmalades and many other items. If nothing else, a well designed jar is used as decorative item by itself. It is not only degradable (it is just sand after all), it is highly reusable. In fact soda companies reuse most of their bottles. There’s no reason why a business cannot have a well designed glass container that lends an aesthetic look to their product and remain eco friendly.
  6. Jute has become a coming of age material when it comes to its use as packing material: It was used to make large gunny bags to carry produce and grain (such as potato, rice, wheat etc) in large quantities. But today it is being used as a chic packing material that comes in various shapes, sizes and colours. It gives a rustic, classy old world feel to the product while retaining the earthy look. It is used to pack speciality items such as Tea leaves, dry fruits, speciality wines and gift items. It certainly does lend a certain class to the product. Jute is strong and can carry good amount of weight in small size packing, making it ideal for shipping.
  7. Wood is totally eco friendly: It has been used as packing material for large items for very long time. Even though the plastic pallets all are rage in the industry, wooden pallets are still very commonly used in freight industry. Wooden crates have been used for long. With recent advances in cutting and carving tools, small wooden boxes have become popular to pack speciality items. These are now used to increase the perceived status of the product and are by themselves reusable. This makes them a very effective choice as a packaging material if you want to increase the status of your product.
  8. Various forms of metal have been used for packaging sensitive material: With recent advances, the metal, in form of aluminium cans, foils, steel cans and jars, it has again become popular. It can be reused by consumers in the home for storage, and can also be easily recycled. It has been used for packaging food products like Oils, tea and other aromatic substances that need to be kept away from light and air. The thin aluminium foils are used to pack candies and chocolates. A non reusable but recyclable form of packaging made of metal, is the very popular can of soft drink. These are crushed, melted and reused to make cans again. Metal packaging is very versatile. It has been around for a long time. With new innovation it has become cost effective and attractive.

 

Packaging can be fun. It can be reusable, recyclable and economic. Producers just need a little imagination to use eco friendly products and make their product elegant and attractive.

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Myths and Realities of Co-Packing

Co packing, or contract manufacturing in other terms, is generally looked with an inferior eye. It is generally misunderstood that co packing is just a back-end production grunt work with no interest in the business of that product. However, truth cannot be far from this. Co packing is a highly competitive, engaging business that provides a lot of value to its clients. Here are some of the common myths that surround the co packing business.

 

  1. Co packing increases costs: Co packers are focused on manufacturing process optimization. They employ best and latest technology and developments to optimize their processes and reduce the cost involved in their processes. This subsequently means lower costs for their clients.
  2. Co packers do not have expertise: Co packers focus only on Manufacturing and Production of a subclass of a product. (e.g. in food processing, one co packer would specialize in processing of fruit products and a separate one in meat products) All the resources of the co packer are focused towards optimizing their manufacturing processes, increasing efficiency and quality of output and reducing costs and process times. Co Packers usually have the best talent focused on the process.
  3. Co packers do not invest in business: On the contrary, co-packers always strive to have the latest and the best machinery. One of the key differentiator for the co-packers is their technical infrastructure. The more modern and efficient machinery they have, the higher product quality and throughput they can achieve. It is in their own interest to invest in improving their manufacturing processes and they regularly do so.
  4. Co packers do not provide additional services: There is a general impression that contract manufacturers simply manufacture in bulk and deliver the whole bulk. However, reality is that Contract manufacturers provide many value-added services and final packaging is one of them. They provide retail size packing, labelling and collaborate with shippers to transport directly from their premises to distributor and other intermediaries.
  5. Co packing requires management overhead: The management overhead requirement really depends upon the requirement of the client. A good packer would have processes set and optimized, not just for manufacturing, but also for receiving order, raw material procurement, production, packaging, dispatch amongst others (i.e. the management processes). They would have efficient reporting already in place for their management, which is also shared with the clients. Clients gain high visibility into processes related to their products, with these reports. There really is no requirement for any overhead unless you are not confident about copackers processes.
  6. Certifications are irrelevant: Authorities issue the certificates only if the co packers adheres to the stick rules and regulations set by the authority. Certifications such as HACCP, OSHA, ISO 22000 (in case of foods) etc. ensure that there is no hazardous element in the food when it is manufactured. Certifications such as Six Sigma, GMP, TQM etc. ensure that the manufacturing practices followed by the co packer adhere to the best in industry standards. The benefits of all these certifications, which result in safer food, higher product quality and higher consistency, reduced wastage are passed on to the client of the co-packer.
  7. Co packers do not focus on quality control: Co packers are in business of manufacturing. They operate in B2B environment, where the focus on product quality and value gained from the engagement is higher relative to the B2C engagement. This means that the cost and the quality become two key parameters to differentiate on. Needless to say, co packers actually pay extra attention to the quality, simply to stay competitive.
  8. Co packing is slow and time consuming: Co packers or contract manufacturing business is a capital-intensive business. They install expensive machinery which has high fixed cost and limited operating life. It is in the interest of the manufacturer to make the most of their infrastructure to earn profits. Thus, it is in their own interest to be fast and agile churning the products quickly.
  9. Co packing means giving up control of operations: This is probably a myth from days when IT was still evolving. Today with advanced systems and deep integration into systems, the clients can have as much visibility as they desire into their outsourced operations. The limit here is client’s own bandwidth required for the oversight.
  10. Vertical integration may be a problem: Vertical integration, which means seamless transfer of material from one process to another, used to be an issue when the raw material used to go from client’s premise to co packer and the finished product used to come back to client’s premises for further packing and onward delivery. Today, the raw material can be directly shipped and stored at co packer’s premises, processed, packed and shipped to the downstream supply chain point of the client. Co packers, suppliers and logistics providers can be quickly integrated to give a seamless view of the process flow of the client.
  11. Co packers cannot scale up: Co packers are into business of manufacturing. For them growth in scale is growth in business. They keep abreast of latest developments in the field of production. Provided there is a justification for investment, co packer can scale up faster than an in-house manufacturing unit.
  1. You need to manage multiple relationships (vendor, shipper) with co packers: Co packers are not just contract manufacturers. A good co packer will have existing relationships with various other service providers in the value chain, right from raw material supplier to end shipper. If you so choose, the co-packer can work with the suppliers of your choice, or provide you with the option of working with their suppliers so that you have single point of contact for all your end to end needs. The downstream relationships are managed by the co packer himself.
  2. Co packers are only interested in transaction business: Co packers invest heavily into machinery. They like to maintain focus on improving their manufacturing capability, spending less resources on business development. They value long term strategic relationships more than transaction oriented business. Strategic long term partnership is where they can provide best value.
  3. Co packers do not do any research and development: Anyone who needs to stay competitive in any business needs to improvise. R&D is one of the key areas where co packers invest not only to improve their processes, but also to improvise on the products, should their client choose to.
  4. Lowest cost co packer is best co packer: Cost in an important factor, but as any businessman knows, it is only one of the factors of a successful business. Efficiency, quality and consistency are equally and sometimes more important than cost. Low cost product does not necessarily mean the best the best value product.
  5. I and my competition cannot use same co packer: Most co packers work with multiple clients. This helps them increase their utilization, keep the costs low and absorb and evolve best practices in the industry. Co packers are professionals who maintain segregation of not only your product but also maintain the secrecy of your formula from your competitions. In fact, since same machine is used for both, you and our competition the cost actually goes down, if you and your competition use the same co packer.
  6. Large co packers are the cheapest co packers: The general perception that bigger is cheaper is hardly true. Large units need large piece of lands and are located at remote locations. The transportation cost alone can eat up any gains made due to large facility. Further, a large setup needs to have a large number of units made in a single production run, otherwise it is not economical. If your production runs are smaller, the large unit will actually turn out to be more expensive.
  7. Co packers don’t understand the Market: Co packers are heavily dependent on the market environment. They understand that if the market of their client goes down, their business goes down too. So, they keep a constant watch on the markets of their client and also recommend changes and future direction to their clients. It is in their own best interest to understand where the market is heading, to manufacture relevant products.
  8. There’s no need to consider the Co packer in your strategic growth plan: A good co packer, will work with you to define and refine the production process, best suited for your product. He will make investment in his plant to accommodate your growth needs. Sharing and including him in your growth plans, not only helps him to plan his growth, it also provides you the benefits of reliable partner and ongoing reduction in costs.
  9. They are just a co packer: They can be much more than just an outsourced manufacturer. They can take up both upstream and downstream activities in value chain. They can make investment to scale up, as your business grows. They can also provide research and development facilities right next to manufacturing facilities. This makes a lot of sense as R&D can have direct input from manufacturing and vice-verse. You can leave all of these to your co packer, while you focus your energies into your core skills. They can be your true business partner.

 

Co packers add value when a business wants to focus its energies in its core competitive skills and delegate the product manufacturing operations to the experts. In fact, that is how many of the successful businesses operate today. Can you imagine, how Nike would operate if there was no co packing?