Neil Farmer looks at new packaging innovations for flowers that could help prolong the shelf life of gift-style plants in garden centres
We all know how hectic it is for consumers at Christmas. The pressure is intense to get all the shopping and the other 101 things done that are necessary in the lead up to the festive season and the Big Day. The pressure on packaging producers is also intense. Packaging producer companies all know they are up against competing packaging designs and attractive products which will all be challenging to gain the consumers immediate attention, as they walk into a crowded retail garden centre or hardware store.
It`s that blink of an eye moment, those seven seconds when a consumer has to make a decision as to whether the pack on the shelf is worthy of his or her further attention, leading to the ultimate decision to buy the product. However, whilst the attractiveness of the print or the design of the pack is important, there is much more to it when it comes to the functional performance of the packaging to protect, preserve or more effectively contain the product inside. And that`s where Active and Intelligent (A&I) Packaging can play a big role in the extending the shelf-life of the seasonal offerings in the store.
Active packaging has active functions beyond passive containment and protection of product. It can also actively reduce the level of oxygen or even the microbial count in a pack. Intelligent Packaging is packaging that has the ability to sense an attribute of the product or atmosphere that is surrounding it. It`s becoming more and more important for the garden and hardware market because one of the technologies, called modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), is helping flowers and bouquets stay fresher longer and extend shelf-life.
New packaging for flowers came in 2013 when Marks & Spencer claimed to be the UK`s first retailer to use MAP to deliver water-free flowers to its customers. Flowers sold over Valentine`s Day period used a new MAP process that sealed flowers in an airtight bag. This slowed down the respiration rate, allowing flowers to be transported without requiring water. The technology removes oxygen, so carbon dioxide levels rise, slowing down the respiration rate of the blooms. When removed from the bag, simply cut and put the flowers in water and the blooms are woken up. In March 2014 Marks & Spencer undertook a similar exercise with flowers for Mothers` Day where 160,000 blooms were ordered in the new packaging. Overall 1.6 million blooms were sold in this way. The whole process saved 50,000 litres of water and 19 fewer lorries were involved for transportation. MAP also helped lower the carbon footprint, as each bouquet takes up less space. Marks & Spencer say in 2015 all flowers in its stores will be sold this way.
Forecasts say the global Active and Intelligent (A&I) packaging market will be worth $3.5 billion by 2017. It is estimated to be growing at eight per cent per year. Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) is just one of the technologies that are available. Previously used for many years in food and fresh produce markets, MAP technology and others are now expanding into new sectors.
We have just come through a long economic downturn and the signs for the consumer and retail economy are encouraging. We all know the massive problem the world is facing with waste. There is now a global drive to save and replenish the earth`s natural resources. Efficient and cost effective packaging materials and processes can play a vital part in this holistic world approach. The need is for more packaging that can add value, extend shelf–life and help reduce waste.
At Christmas and on other special festive occasions we all now have an opportunity to play our part in this process, thanks to innovations in packaging.
Let`s remember that it`s not just the 15 million tonnes of food we throw away each year, it`s the other things we dispose of in our home or our store and garden centre that also cause the problem.
Education of the consumer is also called for and we can all play our part in this.