Flexible packaging in the liquid society

Will packaging be able to adapt to the new models of consumption and the new modes of distribution of consumer goods? There are those that are betting on it, bolstered by technological competencies as well as market expertise built up over the years, that support the ability (and the curiosity) to take a serious look at the world of tomorrow. Impressions and facts from the 32nd Giflex Autumn Congress.

We live in a world where individual experiences and social relations are marked by characters and structures that are rapidly decomposing and recomposing, in a vacillating and uncertain, fluid and volatile way. In other words we are experiencing what Zygmunt Bauman defined the “liquid society”, marked by the “conviction that change is the only thing permanent and that uncertainty is the only certainty”.
Being aware of a reality with such fleeting surrounds already means being a step ahead. Going on to imagine solutions capable of governing or fully experiencing the same, for many is not simply an exercise in style but a fundamental principle for ensuring success in whatever activity they are involved in.
In this scenario, the Giflex Autumn Congress (the 32nd in its history, held in Rome 12 and 13 October last), as well as offering the numerous persons gathered there the chance for an unforgettable and awe-inspiring visit to the museum spaces of Palazzo Colonna, as ever offered Italian flexible packaging producers a fine work-out of ideas and suggestions.
Called upon to imagine the role of packaging in a context in the making, they in fact reasoned on its potential to adapt to the new economy and the evermore innovative distribution models, and on the possible solutions to offer to the “supermarkets of the future” on the basis of emerging needs in terms of sustainability, design and functionality.
Still thinking of the future, in view of training and constant divulgation, this year too the Congress hosted the YOUPACK awards ceremony, organized by Giflex in cooperation with ENIPG (Ente Nazionale Istruzione Professionale Grafica). Having reached its fourth edition, the contest as ever has the goal of putting the students’ creativity to the test, the students being called upon to recount packaging in a video, as a tool to combat food waste and to bear witness to sustainability.

Who said what
As tradition has it, the Congress provided a sector update on the activities and the coming steps to be taken by Giflex stated in the words of their own representatives, namely President Michele Guala, Vicepresident Alberto Palaveri and the Sustainability, Technical and Marketing Committee Coordinators (respectively Neni Rossini, Andrea Cassinari and Gustavo De Ponti).
Worthy of note the trend of the Italian flexible packaging sector that over the last decade registered a growth in turnover of 25%.
The debate then shifted to topics crosscutting the entire packaging production chain, that help indicate the way to be taken in order to develop the right solutions.

Functional and personalised. Andrea Cattaneo (Food Marketing & Innovation Project Leader of SPIRM Italia) spoke of a complex and disjointed society, rich though in opportunities for packaging companies and for all the food industry. The analyses of the macro-trends that arise from social changes and that in particular affect the food consumption world, according to the expert, can be summed up in three keywords: functionality, freshness and form.
The former is born out of the era of simplification and translates into practical solutions for new consumption models; the second speaks of the evolution of concepts of quality and sustainability; lastly, the form, defines an evermore personalised, identity-oriented and human friendly object.

Distribution tailored to the consumer. In cascade form these trends also influence distribution models. The Head of Logistics at Pam Panorama SPA, Ivan Capranica, bore witness to change underway, describing the broad network of salespoints and the variety of group formats in constant evolution. In response to the key demands expressed by the consumers - more waste sensitive, seeking wholesome, health-giving products that guarantee a better lifestyle and rapid purchasing times - the company has fielded the “local Pams”, managed in franchising, expression of an interesting U-turn compared to the mega store. Local shops, but with a specific product assortment, catering for all needs: from ready meals for those in a hurry to single portion packs, with sections dedicated to biological, ethnic and vegan food but also a selection of local DOP and IGP products.
At the basis of the format, the search for all-round sustainability. Not only are the salespoints designed in terms of energy saving but also with an eye to limiting food waste. Lastly, the positive effects on employment for the young, given that the local Pams employ a staff of around ten, all under the age of 28.

From Big Data to the individual. The guidelines fundamental for innovation in all fields and all industrial sectors are evident to Carlo Ratti, architect and founder of the design studio Carlo Ratti Associati and director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab: tech-driven data analysis and a focus on the individual. Today technology in fact allows us to create an unprecedented interface between the individual and the product/world.
Only by integrating these two factors in every area from urban planning to packaging can changes be instigated that in turn foment change at all levels of society.
A painstaking reader of world issues, Ratti revealed that digital has made us used to information, an approach that for the consumer translates into a demand for great transparency and clarity in terms of the products and their origins.

The allusion to the Supermarket of the Future that Coop brought in experimental form to Expo 2016 was clear, on the definition of which Ratti cooperated actively and that has recently led to the creation, in Milan Bicocca of a “real” supermarket: a lot of take-away and fresh and extremely fresh products (fruit&veg, meat, fish), interactive tables that recall market stalls, monitors showing products’ “augmented label”. Thanks to the Microsoft gesture recognition technology implemented with a simple hand gesture in the direction of the product, the consumer can obtain onscreen indications that go beyond anything placed on the pack label, showing the origins of the raw materials, disposal instructions and current promos. Hence “augmented” information, for a consumer who becomes the leading light.

Do well with little. Exalt the service function of packaging, designing it starting from the study and correct usage of available technologies, guaranteeing greater savings. This is one of the concepts expressed by Pier Benzi, Design & Innovation Director of Artefice Group, who proposed an array of functional and personalised packaging created on the basis of real needs. He also underlined the need to integrate different competencies and skills, while involving the consumer.

Consumer: tipping the scales. The words of the designer were echoed in the talk given by Matteo Vignoli (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia) focused on “Design thinking for brand and consumer: the case of Barilla”, that bears witness to how product innovation has to go by way of creative processes that places the person at the centre of things.
Barilla Design Thinking, devised in partnership with the Food Innovation Program Master of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, is hence a different approach to product development, aimed at the planning and creation of new projects, focussing each solution on the person in response to a specific need. The user, via interviews and studies made by the designer, hence becomes the decisive element to establish whether a product should be placed on the market or not.

Packaging beyond packaging. During the round table discussion that befittingly ended the two Giflex days, the key message of the Autumn Congress was summed up, shared by all participants: today more than ever, the present and the future of packaging in the liquid society are played out on synergies, creative innovation, technology, personalisation and paying heed to new models of consumption.                                                        



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