Feature: Packaging


Great packaging can make or break a product’s success. Take a look at how it can also work to support the onboard passenger experience.

There is no doubt packaging sells products. Whether it’s clever branding, bright graphics or innovative construction, packaging can make or break the customer experience.

Packaging has the power to make or break a product’s success too. It allows suppliers to tell the product’s story and helps ensure it connects with the consumer where it is sold.

Packaging today has to do much more than just wrap something up, it has to contribute to the customer experience, bring something to the marketing or to the logistics, and as it becomes more complex and expensive to create, it has to add value and justify itself as an important part of the product offering.


Innovation is often at the heart of it. So now we increasingly have tactile packaging that is good to hold, or recycled card reflecting an eco image or even a wood effect. We have active packaging that turns from one thing into another, or intelligent packaging which does other jobs beyond its wrapping role.

Increasingly packaging is working to engage the consumer and give them a unique, even personalised experience. It worked for Coca Cola with its Share a Coke campaign which became its most successful marketing campaign ever, replacing the Coke branding with popular names to personalise the product and encourage gift giving through the packaging.

And at the other end of the scale, check out the connected magnum from G H Mumm. When the champagne is uncorked, a sensor links to a receiver in the vendor’s audio and visual system, triggering an interactive sound and visual experience that can be personalised to the celebration.

Or consider the Medea Vodka bottle which has integral LED lighting and comes pre-programmed with six often-used greetings and the option to personalise the message through a linked app.

There are now colour-changing bottles popular in nightclubs. Stölzle has developed an illuminated bottle for Ciroc Ignite, which incorporates an LED light in its base for maximum impact.

Digital printing

While these might not yet be something the onboard market is ready for, the rise of digital printing technology does make creative marketing and increased personalisation a relatively simple possibility for strategic onboard initiatives.

The Alexir Partnership last year invested in excess of £1 million to stay ahead of that curve, with the only digital press in the UK that can print on 600 micron board. It allows them to offer short-run personalised packaging ranges with names or special messages on – great for classy gifts and specific campaigns in runs of 1 to 50,000.

Peter Hargreaves, partnership business development director at Alexir, says: “The customer experience of packaging is not just about the function or form. Today airlines need it to reflect their marketing and branding ideas and wider fashions and trends too. They expect caterers and packaging experts to make that all happen.

“We are in an age of dot.com companies, entrepreneurs who have ideas around a brand and an image, and about ways to make this successful, but with limited knowledge or understanding of manufacturing. They are brand marketing companies that don’t manufacture anything themselves, and without practical design and engineering skills. It’s packaging experts who can actually manufacture the product ready for market and make the concepts come to life under a commercially viable umbrella.

“It’s one thing to have a great packaging idea, but quite another to make it happen, especially in the onboard environment.There are a lot of companies which have successful products on the ground and want to go into travel but they know they need a packaging solution specific for the travel market. It has to look good, add to the customer experience onboard and maximise trolley space as well as being easy and quick for the cabin crew to handle.”

Practical trends

There are practical trends to be addressed too. Packaging must reflect the brand but tamper evidence is increasingly important and the priority to minimise waste carries weight too. The growing importance of the buy-on-board revenue stream is also having an impact as airlines seek to stock inventory which will maximise sales.

Ariane van Mancius, of Now|New|Next, says: “Packaging has to work harder than ever – it has to inspire you – you can’t taste what is inside a F&B package until you have bought it so nothing is going to persuade you to buy it other than knowledge you already have of the product or the package. The packaging has to hook you in.”

She sees a strong cross over between packaging design and wider worldwide developments and says: “The travel F&B sector doesn’t operate in isolation, it has to draw on what is going on in furnishings and technology, fashion and interior design in the wider environment. It also has to give the consumer what they want, reflect something that resonates with current thinking and makes them feel comfortable.

“Currently all around the world we see images that suggest we are in chaos, but in food, beverage and packaging that isn’t happening at all, there is no chaos. International influencers on these matters are not moving apart, they are melding more together. People know there are options out there – big business, buying local, globalisation, innovative niches – but in F&B and design there is a lot of hybridity, a lot of blending and blurring of all these business cultures in very creative ways.

Consumers know there is good and bad in all these elements and see that in their daily life, so when elements are drawn together creatively in a positive way, they respond to it. It’s subtle and complex but it is also inspiring.”

She highlights as an example the trend towards top chefs offering comfort foods at very affordable prices and gives the example of Frites Atelier Amsterdam – which is offering a Michelin experience of fries with handmade sauces in classy ceramic pots – currently opening in 10 locations. The fries cost six euros, more than your average bag of chips, but they offer access to a Michelin experience created by two-Michelin star chef Sergio Herman, at an unheard of accessible price.

Adding style

This, she says, translates onboard with increasingly innovative ways needed to present F&B whether it be in the art of plating or stylishly delivering a sachet of salt.

“We have to look to the best restaurants and aim to translate what they offer throughout the market, make it suit the wider consumer and onboard setting based on the budget available,” she adds.

Paul Garner, MD at packaging designers 3 Monkey Design, agrees: “It is no longer enough for packaging designers to offer up plain white box samples. We have to present packaging as a finished item fully imagined for the market. We work to create and translate a client’s brand and evolve brand extensions and are creating the packaging as a key part of a wider process. From brand concept through market research to brand creation, image, name and marketing, the packaging is integral to taking the product to market.”

Stuart Logan at Easysnap also agrees: “Packaging is the window to the consumer’s heart. Marketing initiatives used in packaging can trigger the consumer’s senses along the journey of the meal. Passengers want new and exciting ways to experience food and they enjoy getting involved and adding the finishing touches to a meal themselves.”

The eco-friendly trend is also driving developments he says. “As the market develops, we aim to offer bio-degradable products and to align ourselves with the environment as well as market needs.”

The Easysnap packaging technology has been well received in the travel sector and the portfolio has expanded to offer airline-sized portions suitable for all cabins, including for Peruzzi coffee syrups, jamjarjam, Luv Ketchup, soya sauce and Marinelli’s olive oils.

Logan adds: “The travel sector’s demand for a core range of ‘commodity’ products available in single dosage, portion controlled and with easy-to-handle packaging. The increase in demand is driven by the product’s highly-advanced packaging technology which offers customers a unique product interaction while also allowing a strong opportunity for portion control and a ‘sexiness’ in the branding, all in one go.”

Among companies which have picked up on the eco imperative is deSter which is putting its focus on recyclables with all boxes and lids, as well as dishes and plates, made using recyclable plastic or cardboard materials. Its large range of containers and hinged boxes can be customised to include embossed logo, colours and textures to suit the marketing message.

Technological leaps

Meanwhile WK Thomas is working with sugar cane fibres. The company has incorporated advanced technology which, it claims, makes its hot food dish the first moisture and heat resistant product that is truly 100% degradable. The Eco Heat Tray can be disposed of with food waste providing significant operational efficiencies.Conventional polyester lidding film can be used to seal the dish to ensure it stays intact through the supply chain.

A new range of ‘Revive’ clear pots has also been developed to let the food itself do the talking. Versatile for a range of products from yoghurts and salads to cold pasta dishes, the pots come in high clarity RPET material in four sizes from 175ml to 425ml with clip-on lids.

Interpretations vary but the focus is clear: packaging has to work harder and increasingly, across the onboard offer, it is.