Nestlé’s Smarties fully transitions to recyclable paper packaging in global confectionery first
01 Feb 2021 --- Nestlé’s Smarties brand is adopting recyclable paper packaging for its chocolate confectionery products worldwide.
Smarties is recognized as the first global confectionery brand to switch to recyclable paper packaging, removing approximately 250 million plastic packs sold globally every year.
The plastic-to-paper transition encompasses 90 percent of Smarties’ range, as 10 percent was previously packed in paper packaging.
“Shifting Smarties packaging to recyclable paper is one of our key sustainable packaging initiatives in the confectionery category,” notes Alexander von Maillot, global head of confectionery at Nestlé.
“It is a further step in realizing Nestlé’s ambition to make all of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and to reduce its use of virgin plastics by one-third in the same period.”
Pioneering new materials
Smarties’ paper packaging is sourced sustainably and made of a coated paper, paper labels or cartonboard.
“Developing safe and convenient paper-based solutions for Smarties has required the pioneering of new materials and testing by Nestlé packaging experts at our R&D Center for confectionery in York, UK and the Swiss-based Institute of Packaging Sciences,” explains Louise Barrett, head of the Nestlé Confectionery Product Technology Centre in York.
“We adapted our existing manufacturing lines to allow for the careful handling required for paper, while also ensuring recyclability across all new formats.”
Nestlé invested “significantly” to upgrade its factories globally, including in Hamburg, Germany, one of the company's largest confectionery product factories.
The transformation of the Smarties packaging is one of the brand’s “Smart Initiatives,” supporting environmental sustainability and enhancing the overall product experience.
The new packaging also includes information on how to properly dispose of Smarties’ paper packaging, raising consumer awareness.
The promise of paper
Paper is a desirable product amid rising sustainability demands as it is widely recyclable.
However, as Barrett points out, paper does not have the same functional properties as plastic. “It’s more fragile and 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.”
Nestlé worked closely with paper experts to responsibly source a material sufficiently durable but also sealable and recyclable.
A project manager describes the vigorous testing undertaken 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.”
“We would put the product on a pallet, send it to a distribution center and back again. Then we meticulously analyzed thousands of packets for marks, defects, and punctures to understand how the paper packaging would perform in the supply chain.”
Marketing in mind
The development team was mindful they were making changes to an iconic brand steeped in nostalgia, meaning maintaining consumer satisfaction was key.
Nestlé packaging experts at the R&D Center in York and the Institute of Packaging Sciences in Lausanne, Switzerland, worked closely with marketing and commercial strategy teams to ensure all innovation was consumer-friendly.
“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,” recalls Marco Settembri, zone EMENA confectionery category business manager at Nestlé.
“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.”
An 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,” explains Barrett.
“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.”
Supply chain, technical teams and operations all helped in making sure ideas were practical and an achievable reality.
Fast out the paper blocks
Nestlé introduced the Smarties paper-packaged sharing block in the UK last year. Further back, the brand’s standard-sized tubes went plastic-free in 2005.
The sharing block used technology enabling paper to be used on high-speed production lines previously designed for plastic or laminate packaging.
The product’s transition to paper was estimated to save 9.3 metric tons of single-use plastic in the UK market alone, the company told PackagingInsights.
Nestlé’s Yes! snack bars became “the first confectionary bar on the market” to be packaged in paper using a high-speed flow wrap technology in 2019.
The food giant’s packaging partner, Sappi, continues developing breakthrough paper proprietary barrier technology, working in partnership with Constantia Flexibles.
For example, Dutch chocolate manufacturer Tony’s Chocolonely is adopting Sappi Guard Nature MS paper-based pouches for the secondary packaging of its “Tiny Tony’s” chocolate varieties.
Nestlé Japan is also replacing the plastic wrapping on its KitKat candy bars with paper. The Japanese market material switch occurred across five KitKat multipack products in September 2020 and extends to all individual products this year.
By Joshua Poole
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