Boxing match: Getting goods from A to B in 2021

Cosmetics Business speaks with transit packaging players to find out how recent events have shaped the industry

The lockdown shift from traditional store retail models to e-commerce, combined with consumers’ desire for this change to have minimal environmental impact has inevitably put pressure on those companies making packaging for transportation purposes.

For some beauty brands, transit packaging sits firmly in the realm of ‘something my outsourcing partner takes care of’. But, for a growing number of companies, transit packaging is another extension of their branding and mission statement, and therefore deserving of hands-on treatment.

And this is the case more so now than ever, given that goods are as likely to be dropped off at customers’ doorsteps as supermarket loading bays.

Whether you’re packing row-upon-row of Chanel fragrances, or shipping a single perfume bottle to its ultimate user, the consensus is that corrugated cardboard is king when it comes to getting goods from A to B safely.

“Corrugated cases remain the primary form of transit packaging,” says Dominic Cakebread, Head of Global Packaging at market analytics and consulting firm GlobalData.

“The main reason for their use is the protection and cushioning they provide to the product in transit, but with ever more interest in sustainability, the facts that corrugated comes from sustainable forestry resources, is totally recyclable, is already highly recycled and contains high recycled content, are major environmental plus points.”

Gareth Rollo, Commercial Manager for UK-based Belmont Packaging, which specialises in transit packaging among other sectors, confirms that corrugated cardboard, “referred to in the industry as an 0201, the Fefco code for a standard cardboard box”, is the preferred choice.

“Corrugated cardboard is the perfect solution for transit packaging,” Rollo adds. “It is naturally lightweight yet extremely durable, which means it can withstand a bumpy journey and arrive exactly how it left.”

The e-commerce revolution

While this choice of transit packaging material might be traditional, what is changing – and dramatically so – are the requirements of packs developed for e-commerce.

“E-commerce, obviously, was growing apace before Covid came along last year and now it has absolutely gone through the roof,” says Rodney Steel, Chief Executive of BCMPA, the UK-based industry association for contract manufacturing, packing, fulfilment and logistics.

And packaging for direct delivery to the customer has had huge ramifications when it comes to BCMPA members’ activity. “People can’t go to shops, so they’ve been ordering online,” Steel observes. “But, in the case of upmarket things like drinks and cosmetics, there is a risk. The exterior of a pack needs to be discreet, because, if it’s obvious that it contains some valuable perfume, there is a good chance it is going to get nicked.

“On the other hand, if I was giving my girlfriend an expensive perfume, I wouldn’t want it in a cardboard box just wrapped up with tape... it needs a ‘wow factor’ inside.”

Cakebread agrees: “The whole ‘unboxing’ experience has become a big thing especially for high-end products with the inside of the pack becoming as, if not more, important than the outside.”

He provides an example from beyond the beauty industry in the form of Samsung’s watches, which come in standard brown corrugated outer boxes, but whose interiors feature a bright blue kraft paper liner and a stand for the product, with the effect that the containers open out almost like a flower “giving a relatively simple, but highly effective, luxury image”.

And, as Rollo adds: “If you make the experience of opening your box feel special, it becomes something that people want to share with an audience. And the more shareable that experience is, the more exposure your brand gets.”

In addition to this new need for revelation and entertainment, the old requirements remain; as Saloni Doshi, CEO of EcoEnclose, a provider of sustainable shipping supplies, tells Cosmetics Business: “The main purpose of packaging is to ship products safely with minimal damage.”

And, while Doshi includes a “unique and exciting customer experience” among his list of secondary characteristics of e-commerce packaging, he also notes the importance of “enabling seamless returns in industries where returns are common” and “maximising sustainability and ensuring responsible end of life for the packaging”.

EcoEnclose, Doshi adds, ensures all of these characteristics can be met. “We offer a wide range of packaging, but our two most common options for cosmetics brands – padded mailers and shipping boxes – are both 100% recycled, curbside recyclable and naturally biodegradable. They can both be custom branded and both deliver products safely and effectively.”

As for global packaging company DS Smith, a spokesperson says it has a feature-based approach to meet the expectations of e-commerce buyers. This comprises protection; optimisation, as “transit packaging is often standardised and therefore disproportionate” and optimised solutions can “minimise empty space and unnecessary material”; easy opening and return; and client experience, which, again, positions packaging as “an important asset in presenting brand values”.

Then there is a whole new category to take into account as a result of e-commerce, as Suzy Harrold, Divisional Marketing Executive at paper-based packaging giant Smurfit Kappa, explains. “The rise of letterbox deliveries means more and more companies are looking for a slim yet secure pack, which can be delivered without the need for a signature,” she tells Cosmetics Business.

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