- Barry McCann
How to Move a Brand Packaging Innovation From Idea to Market
Developing thermochromic, photochromic, glow-in-dark and BlindSpotz™ ink technology involves challenging chemistry and thousands of experiments and tests.
But how do you actually commercialize a solution and get it into distribution, especially when there are multiple players in the supply chain and decision-making? You can imagine why a lot of innovative ideas fail to reach the light of day.
Chromatic Technologies (CTI) has guided many major brands and converters through the process of planning, costing, developing and producing a large-scale consumer packaging innovation in just a few months.
One example: CTI helped a large beverage brand launch a summer campaign across seven European countries using three regional bottlers. This massive effort included many beverage container sizes from sleek cans to 2 liter bottles and several print methods (Water-Based Flexo, UV Flexo, Wet Offset, UV Wet Offset and Metal Deco). Conversations with the marketing, brand, ad agencies and internal design teams started in December. Trials with 16 converters started in February. Production started in April. 290 million beverage packs with thermochromic packaging appeared in market starting in June.
How do you pull off something that big in seven months? A solid process and a lot of communication with all players.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the major development stages CTI uses with its big-brand customers:
The first step focuses on gathering the right stakeholders to gather information. Assuming that the -disclosure agreements have been completed, the most important question to ask first: What does each stakeholder consider success?
A consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand will likely want a boost in revenue, social media attention and brand image with certain buying segments. A packaging converter, on the other hand, may want to ensure that everything goes smoothly and that a new feature doesn’t turn into an expensive production nightmare or failed execution, which could affect its relationship with the brand. The bottler and distributors may want a promotion that brings positive attention to the brand in stores and, of course, increased local sales.
Bringing awareness to all parties’ success criteria sets the stage for discussing the desired customer experience. What does the brand want consumers to see, feel, do and remember? In the case of the European thermochromic feature, consumers saw printed images change color so that they could take a photo and win prizes.
After technology and design ideas combine into a short-list, the brand may want to complete consumer surveys and even focus groups. Based on the above discovery information, a return-on-investment model can guide a go or no-go decision or at least define the financial criterion that the converter has to meet in order to move the project forward.
The ink hits the paper now, first with qualification trials to ensure graphic designs and CTI specialty inks will work with existing print structures and press-setups. A technical discussion between the converter and CTI covers the following details:
Design: Do the specialty inks cover large areas, avoid fine detail and are gradients less than 50%? Is there trapping of standard inks?
Press-setup: How many inks? Will it require multiple passes to achieve the target color? If Flexo, what aniloxes will be used? If Gravure, what cylinder engraving stylus and angle? What’s the drying method and press speed? Have the clean-out procedures been reviewed?
Ink handling: Do press operators understand how the CTI specialty ink may differ from standard printing inks, in terms of shelf-life, sensitivity to solvents, storage, etc.?
Logistics: Will CTI attend the trial to assist the operations team? What printed sample tests will be performed, and what are the test methods and passing criteria?
Often, printed samples ship to marketing teams for approval at the same time as compliance testing. Production planning and scheduling now trigger purchasing teams to order raw materials for the manufacturing start date, which is now linked to the in-store date. Quality control teams create standards and new test methods if needed. Once the brand approves the samples, it’s all about flawless execution.
As you might imagine, after the CTI specialty ink has been qualified and all compliance testing completed, the attention turns to meeting the production schedule milestone dates: print production, package converting, product fill line, shipping, store delivery and in-market. With purchase orders in place by now, these dates don’t generally move and require partners to work together closely.
For large production orders, CTI Technical Services personnel may attend initial or entire print runs to support operations teams. In addition to minor press-side adjustments to optimize press speed and print quality, pressroom supervisors will check ink mileage against estimates and adjust purchase orders so that they don’t run short or have excess inventory. Just-in-time deliveries help minimize over-buying, especially if the promotion will only appear in stores for a limited time.
Lots of printed samples and test data will be available now, which leads to the last phase.
Now the focus centers on production forecasting, raw material planning and purchasing, optimizing supply chain manufacturing schedules and deliveries and continuous process improvement.
Even if the production was a large-scale one-time campaign like the European beverage CPG brand example above, analyzing and monitoring performance improves efficiency and keeps costs down. Key metrics may include
Batch-to-batch specialty ink variance – Normally, production processes and raw materials should be highly consistent and yield measurable color differences less than a delta-e of 2, which are not visible to the naked eye. CTI, in working with large CPG brands, easily meets this important criterion with its finished thermochromic, photochromic, glow-in-the-dark and BlindSpotz inks.
On-time shipping – Even occasional delivery misses can reveal weaknesses with raw material purchasing, production scheduling and even accounting issues.
Waste – Even discarding 2-3% of a specialty ink over a sustained annual production run adds up, so everything counts, from properly sealing opened containers to using the right doctor blades.
Many suppliers simply do that: supply a product. When evaluating any new supplier, there will be stress and time pressure to make a smart decision. Run the supplier through a “SAWS” review: Safe – Is product safe? Affordable – does supplier help you understand cost and financial return that’s needed? Work – does the product work/perform properly in your printing environment? Scalable – Does supplier have track record supporting global supply chain?
At CTI, we work with large CPG brands on large projects, providing technology solutions, design, qualification support, production and continuous improvement. That’s why the world’s biggest brands turn to CTI when they want to wow customers with first-ever packing innovations: They know the technology will work, it’s safe and CTI can support a global supply chain.
Want to explore how we can help you and your customers? Contact our team today to kick off a discovery call.