Nestlé Australia’s Confectionery General Manager Chris O’Donnell remembers when he heard that paper packaging was coming to the Smarties range.
“Transforming packaging from plastic to paper might sound simple, but it took more than a few smarties in our team to crack the design.”
Smarties is the first global confectionery brand to switch all its plastic packaging to recyclable paper packaging, removing approximately 250 million plastic packs globally each year.
“Shifting Smarties packaging to recyclable paper is an important step in realising Nestlé’s ambition to reduce our use of virgin plastics by a third by 2025,” Chris said.
So how was this mammoth task achieved? And what does it mean for the future of sustainability in packaging?
"Smarties mission is to create a colourful world. We therefore want to play our part in ensuring we protect the planet for future generations” Chris said.
The change presented an opportunity to implement something that is both meaningful and long-lasting.
A GROUP EFFORT
Everyone involved was mindful of the fact that as they were making changes to an iconic brand steeped in nostalgia, consumer satisfaction was key.
Nestlé packaging experts at the R&D Centre in the UK and the Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences in Switzerland worked closely with marketing and commercial strategy teams around the globe 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.
First step – finding the right material. Paper is desirable because it is recyclable. However, it doesn’t have the same functional properties as plastic as it is more fragile – it's not moisture and oxygen proof. To make recyclable paper packaging work requires pioneering new materials, while also ensuring product safety and quality. This meant working closely with paper experts to responsibly source a material that was sufficiently durable but could seal and be recyclable.
Local Project Manager Joe Haber describes the vigorous testing undertaken by the team of packaging technologists, engineers, and confectioners to test prototypes. "We exposed the packaging to different scenarios as if it were in the supply chain. We would put the product on a pallet, send it to a distribution centre and back again, meticulously analysing hundreds of packets for marks, defects, and punctures. We needed to know how the paper packaging would stand up during transportation, on the shelves and in consumers hands” he said.
The Nestlé factory in Melbourne upgraded its manufacturing process to shift to paper packaging, investing in new production equipment including a new wrapper machine.
“The paper packaging requires careful handling, so we needed to adapt our manufacturing lines to allow for the new formats.” Chris said.
“Australia’s varying climatic conditions proved challenging - we had to go back to the drawing board on more than one occasion to get the formula just right”.
The Australasian Recycling Label has also been included on all packs to ensure Smarties fans know how to recycle the packs.
The development of the new packaging materials has been finalised and paper packs are hitting shelves across the country.
“The business has come together to deliver on a bold change, laying the foundation for even more sustainable packaging initiatives,” Chris said.
"This is an important step on the road as we accelerate our actions to make all of our packaging recyclable or reusable."