Packaging the Future: Innovation, Sustainability, and Insight

PZ Cussons’ Chris Allinson talks about pioneering sustainable packaging by integrating innovation, consumer insight, and environmental responsibility. As a judge for the London Packaging Week Innovation Awards, he brings a unique perspective to the industry’s evolving challenges.

In a packaging industry that is increasingly driven by the imperative of sustainability, PZ Cussons, a brand-owner which operates in various regions around the world, across hygiene, baby and beauty categories, has committed to innovative solutions that minimise environmental impact while maintaining product quality and consumer satisfaction.

With brands ranging from Original Source and Sanctuary Spa in Europe to the Cussons Baby range in Asia, and who are setting ambitious goals to transform its packaging. Like many FMCG companies, it is dedicated to reducing its reliance on virgin plastic and ensuring all its packaging is recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2030.

Navigating the complexities of its diverse markets — from the UK to Asia and beyond — requires tailored solutions that address varying infrastructure and consumer expectations. While the pursuit of sustainability is a commendable and necessary objective, the path to achieving it is fraught with significant challenges. The task demands successful navigation of technological, financial, regulatory, and infrastructural obstacles, all while staying competitive in a rapidly evolving market. For Chris Allinson, Group Packaging Leader for PZ Cussons, this multifaceted challenge underscores the reality that transforming packaging practices is difficult.

But with a focus on innovation, consumer insight, and environmental responsibility, Chris leads PZ Cussons’ efforts to deliver both packaging innovations and the tools and processes required to innovate in this space and move towards a more sustainable future in the packaging sector.

“As well as having these big, ambitious sustainability goals, we also have some fantastic brands, who are looking to use packaging as a means to offer our consumers a better experience,” he told London Packaging Week.

A global challenge

Navigating the complexities of sustainability in a global market presents unique challenges and opportunities. The readiness of markets, the maturity, and capacities of their recycling infrastructure, as well as their consumers’ awareness of sustainability varies between the regions.

“Having business units that operate across all these different categories and markets, makes us quite a complex business,” he continued. “We’re very much a personal care business here in the UK and we have just brought our beauty business into our UKI business unit for ‘one face to the customer’, then we’ve got markets in Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, not just operating in personal care, but also Rafferty’s Garden, a successful baby food business in ANZ, that in the past has resulted in very different packaging partners, solutions, and ways of working.”

His new role as Group Packaging Leader addresses these disparities, focusing on developing a standardised approach to packaging across the PZ Cussons Group, seeking innovative packaging solutions and forging new partnerships that are tailored to meet different consumer and market needs, whilst continuing to deliver against their sustainability targets. Chris believes it’s crucial for a business like PZ Cussons to have such a role that enables their brands and business units to have a longer-term packaging strategy and innovation programme, and to build robust ways of working, internal and external networks and eco-systems that enable them to grow their brands and delight their consumers with better performing products.

“That starts with the basics,” he said. “in terms of how we do packaging here, but beyond that, it will help us to start to unlock new packaging materials and formats that respond to those consumer insights that we are identifying.”

A focused approach

PZ Cussons is on a transformative journey to become a more consumer-led and insight-driven business, building on an excellent history of optimizing its supply chain and maintaining efficiencies, and Chris believes that packaging has a very important role to play in this transformation.

“Innovation is the lifeblood of any industry,” he said. “Driving progress and redefining possibilities, and packaging is no different, where over the past 20-30 years, we’ve seen various advancements from ultra-lightweighting PET bottles, the gradual increase of PCR inclusion, the introduction of bioplastics and bio-composite materials, concentrated refill systems, returnable packs, direct-to-consumer, and the merging of forming and packing line technology platforms.

“However, these new and emerging materials and technologies will come with challenges, like being able to scientifically and objectively measure their environmental impact, by using life-cycle analysis, to make better informed choices. Bioplastics are a great example, where there are already several different generations of materials, some that produce conventional polymer types such as PP, HDPE and PET, and others that are creating new types of plastic, some of which are compostable, and others which aren’t compatible with today’s recycling infrastructures.”

Unexpected wins

In today’s competitive market, innovation in packaging is not just a necessity but a driving force behind sustainability and efficiency. Companies continually seek ways to enhance their products while reducing their environmental footprint.

Interestingly, it’s often the small, unexpected things that can be the source of innovation. Minor tweaks in material composition, for example, can significantly improve packaging strength and weight. Sometimes, a simple change in the design of a component can enhance functionality, make a product more inclusive, and reduce material usage. These seemingly minor adjustments can accumulate, resulting in substantial advancements.

“It’s all about listening to our consumers and hearing their requirements and needs,” he added. “And bringing together different combinations of materials, designs, and technologies, to offer them a better way, not just a different way, and all this needs to be sympathetic to the fact these are often mass-market products such as bodywash and hand soap.

“I’m also interested to see how mono-material solutions evolve, whether that’s for flexible doys and pouches or for pumps and dispensers, and how the former will respond to heat-treatment and what they can offer in terms of barrier properties, or in terms of the latter, how durable they will be over many cycles, particularly in re-use applications, and what the consumer will experience, as these will all require innovative solutions that allow the replacement of the other materials that are typically used in these types of components, without any negative impact to the consumer experience, or our supply chain.”

As a London Packaging Week Innovation Awards judge, it highlights the importance of scrutinising these innovations to ensure they truly benefit consumers and can be practically applied.

“I’m looking for something that could provide a strong claim because,” said Chris. “Ultimately, you want to demonstrate to your consumer that you are doing the right thing, and you want to be able to do that confidently, backed up by data and science.

“We need to ensure that we’re offering a fantastic consumer experience, in the best format for the environment, but it must also be cost-effective, and stand-out on-shelf alongside the competition. So, when you factor those three things together, finding something that hits that sweet spot can be quite difficult.”

As PZ Cussons ventures forward on its ambitious path to revolutionise its packaging, it’s clear that the blend of sustainability, consumer insight, and innovation is the cornerstone of its strategy. By harnessing the power of innovative materials and consumer-centric design, they’re being bold and helping to drive change. With a keen eye on their market-specific challenges, a commitment to tangible, impactful change, and an agile and bold approach, PZ Cussons is playing its part in shaping a packaging future that’s as thoughtful as it is impactful.

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