Louise, the Head of the Nestlé R&D Center for Confectionery in York, UK, remembers only too well the meeting when the plan was devised to transition Smarties packaging to paper. "It was back in 2018. We decided that to have a real impact we would need to do it across all formats globally," she recalls. "We were aware of the complexity of what we’d set out to do." The R&D team took a collective deep breath.
In the UK, the Smarties Sharing Block was launched in a recyclable paper wrapper in June 2020. Now other products in the range have followed suit: Smarties is the first global confectionery brand to switch to recyclable paper packaging. The move will help in achieving Nestlé's commitment to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. So how was the mammoth task achieved? And what does it mean for the future of sustainability in packaging?
"Smarties represents positivity, hope and the vivacity of the world. We therefore want to play our part in ensuring we protect the planet for future generations," says Mark, Vice President of the Strategic Business Unit. It seemed only logical that the brand invest in switching to recyclable paper packaging. It presented an opportunity to implement the type of change that could be both meaningful and long-lasting.
A group effort
All involved were mindful of the fact that they were making changes to an iconic brand steeped in nostalgia - consumer satisfaction was key. So, Nestlé packaging experts at the R&D Center in York and the Institute of Packaging Sciences in Lausanne, worked closely with marketing and commercial strategy teams to ensure all innovation was consumer friendly. Supply chain, technical teams and operations all helped in making sure that ideas became practical and an achievable reality.
"Together, we worked on transitioning not just the iconic round giant tube, but everything from sharing pouches to multipacks of mini cartons to the trays the Christmas and Easter hollow figures sit in," says Marc, Zone EMENA Confectionery Category Business Manager.
First step - finding the right material. Paper is a desirable product because it is recyclable. However, as Louise explains, it does not have the same functional properties as plastic - "it's more fragile and it's not moisture and oxygen proof. To make paper packaging work requires the pioneering of new materials. We also need to ensure product safety and quality, while ensuring recyclability."
They worked closely with paper experts to responsibly source a material that was sufficiently durable, but could seal and be recyclable. Project Manager James describes the vigorous testing they would undertake to test prototypes at the R&D Center. "We exposed the packaging to different scenarios as if it were in the supply chain. For example, during transportation, on the shelves or while consumers are shopping" he says. "We would put the product on a pallet, send it to a distribution center and back again. Then we meticulously analysed thousands of packets for marks, defects, and punctures to understand how the paper packaging would perform in the supply chain."
The transition of such a well-known brand could only be truly successful if the end results added value for people.
"Smarties celebrates color and imagination, so we wanted to bring that thinking into this project by being imaginative about how we transition the packs to paper," says Marc. A perfect example of this approach can be found in the new hexatube multipack, where the plastic wrapper has been replaced by a perforated paper label that brings the tubes together. "You can now tear one product off at a time, which adds an additional functionality to the packaging," Louise explains. "Making changes was not just switching plastic for paper. We took a holistic approach during the development process. Thanks to the new design we were also able to reduce the packaging material versus the plastic version."
The development of the new packaging materials has been finalised and they are ready for roll out globally across the Smarties brand. Louise and her colleagues have made the impossible happen. And all in the midst of a global pandemic. "We've delivered on the promise to make a bold change, when we come together as a team, anything is possible," says Louise. "That's something that we're really proud of."