A powerful informal sector, sustainability and innovation are the top trends for the liquid board packaging (LBP) industry. Terry van der Walt, Market Development Manager at Nampak Liquid Cartons, shares some of his thoughts on 2022 as well as his insights for the year ahead.

We’re at the business end of 2022 and it’s a good time to take a moment to reflect on the past year. At Nampak Liquid Carton (NLC), a number of opportunities for growth have presented themselves and have illustrated to us as a company that we are starting to recover and rebuild on the losses of the pandemic years that have gone by. This is not only a sign of our own progress as a company but that our customers and partners are succeeding as well.

We kicked off the year with a great campaign in partnership with Sarah Ferguson who is swimming from Durban to Cape Town in stages to raise awareness around the importance of protecting our oceans. Being a proud sponsor of the #OneOcean Swim was a chance for NLC to demonstrate our commitment to the environment.

In addition, we’ve worked towards creating sustainable packaging solutions that not only meet our environmental standards, but those of our customers. At NLC, we will continue to provide our customers with a top quality product that is renewable and recyclable to help contribute to a circular economy and reduce landfill waste. In pursuit of this ideal, we were able to introduce more boxed water to the South African market and innovate with a local coffee manufacturer for a 100% recyclable packaging alternative to foil bags. But more on this later.  

Reflecting on the wins of the past year is important, but we also need to look to the future of our industry to ensure that we are always at the top of our game. As 2023 comes into focus, it’s clear to see that one of the big drivers of next year’s LBP trends is the emergence of the informal sector and how companies will need to cater to its unique needs. This is just one of the trends on the radar for the LBP sector for the year ahead.

Make way for the informal sector

Big business cannot ignore the informal sector. According to a study by the Department of Small Business Development and the United Nationals Development Programme, the informal sector accounts for 27% of the workforce and contributes 8% to South Africa’s GDP. This is no small feat and represents significant spending power. However, to reach these consumers, companies must meet the needs of the businesses that operate in this space.

The reality is we have an economy of 46% unemployment and rising interest rates. A lot of consumers are turning to informal traders and businesses as a way of tightening their budgets and spend on household goods. These businesses do not have the same overhead costs as established larger food store chains and are, therefore, able to offer more competitive prices to customers looking for savings. At the same time, we are seeing two forms of consumer behaviour: shoppers buying in smaller amounts and others that are buying in bulk for the month to try and save.

At NLC, we’re looking at ways to stimulate small business and create new employment, while also helping our larger customers offer affordable product solutions to this financially struggling part of the market. With this in mind, we are adapting our basket of goods to offer smaller filling machinery designed to cater for lower volumes, and more economical carton sizes.

    Sustainability remains top of mind

    Sustainability will continue to be an important trend in the LBP industry for the foreseeable future. Consumers are more conscious about the products they choose than ever before. Ensuring your products check this box is no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity and there is a lot being done to find solutions that are environmentally friendly.

    A big focus for NLC this past year has been introducing water in a carton to the South African market, following successful ventures in Europe and the United States. In conjunction with some of the finest local and international minds in the industry, NLC is working on some interesting developments to pack new categories of products into cartons, while ensuring the taste, quality and safety of all products is maintained. So watch this space.

    As for the wider industry, we are excited to be part of the great work that Fibre Circle will be doing to establish new waste management protocols to enable a circular economy. This is just one of the organisations launched as a result of the extended producer responsibility (EPR) regulations to ensure companies across the paper, packaging and single-use products industries achieve more sustainable solutions.

    More packaging innovations are coming

      On the topic of sustainability, it played a key role in the unique innovation around the SEAM PurePak Coffee Carton. David Walstra, owner of SEAM Coffee, has always carefully considered the impact of his operations on people and the planet, and he needed a packaging solution that aligned with this sustainability mandate. This led to the creation of the SEAM PurePak Coffee Carton, a 100% recyclable carton alternative to the multi-layer foil laminate bag.

      In addition to putting coffee in a carton – a first for the world of coffee – the design incorporated an innovative one-way valve that allows the beans to degas while ensuring no air enters the carton. The carton is also 53% more economical than a standard foil bag and only has a lead time of three to four weeks as it is made locally in KwaZulu-Natal.

      While it has unique benefits for SEAM Coffee and the planet, it also has a number of advantages for the consumer. Coffee enthusiasts can conveniently pour the beans from the carton rather than scooping from the bag, and it stands upright on a pantry shelf.

      We’re happy to see that the judges at this year’s Gold Pack Awards agreed and awarded the SEAM PurePak Coffee Carton a Silver Medal in the Beverages category.

      This success followed through to the Flexographic Technical Association of South Africa’s (FTSA) 2022 Flexographic Print Excellence Awards where we picked up Gold for our Hrvst flavoured water carton and Silver for 6th Sense Water flavoured water cartons. It’s this kind of recognition from the industry that spotlights our printing capabilities and demonstrates to brand managers that we can offer a packaging product that is enticing to consumers and delivers their desired message.  

      Building on this success, NLC is busy investigating a number of new opportunities for the liquid carton industry. In addition to coffee and water in cartons, we have some new projects in the pipeline for 2023. We’re constantly looking at new ways to package our products that appeal to all consumer groups and create business value for our clients.

      As we continue to move further away from the initial lockdown, we’re starting to see some really exciting developments in our industry. 2022 has shown that we are recovering and next year we look forward to building on these successes for a more inclusive, sustainable and innovative industry.