The paper hygiene products market and its packaging are undergoing massive change. There are three main drivers behind this, says Oliver Rebstock, the Managing Director of Optima Nonwovens. Is there urgent need for action?
In many parts of the world, consumers are putting their consumer behavior to the test, particularly when it comes to packaging. Sustainability is one of the central issues of the future for many people, particularly in Europe and North America, as well as in South America.
Major companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and politicians in Germany agree that the environmental impact of packaging needs to be reduced. Currently, something that does not exist is a consensus on the best solutions to use. There are new ideas out there for packaging paper hygiene products, but Oliver Rebstock, the Managing Director of Optima Nonwovens, is convinced that for the foreseeable future, the most diverse approaches will continue to coexist. “Many things are imaginable, from single-material packaging, which already exists and provides optimal conditions for recycling, to a deposit system for diaper packaging made of Plexiglas, for instance, but from the current perspective this is still a utopian idea. Nonetheless, here within the company we initially accept a wide range of ideas here, even some of the 'wilder' ones.”
t's clear that in many parts of the world, the paper hygiene product markets have become saturated. With saturated markets comes diversification and personalization, according to Oliver Rebstock. “Here, we benefit from the Optima Group's experience and are currently seeing a development in paper hygiene that is very reminiscent of the cosmetics industry, for example shampoos.” The range of products available is becoming more diverse, and providers want to set themselves apart and draw attention to themselves by offering specific features. This not only concerns the products themselves. Increasingly, marketing and packaging technology are now converging: special promotions, special designs, matching product add-ons and customization. The precondition here is that packaging technology – like environmental protection – is capable of performing these new tasks.
The third aspect is packaging aesthetics and quality. Classic PE bags for paper hygiene products continue to have great potential, notably in terms of aesthetic optimization. The criteria here are symmetrical film packaging, exact alignment along the side gusset, for instance, and packaging tautness. Here, too, there is a close relationship with marketing requirements. According to Oliver Rebstock, there is no question that for fast moving consumer goods, packaging aesthetics will also play an even more important role in the future. “If the price and product are comparable, when in doubt consumers will always choose nicer packaging,” is the core of his argument. User expectations rise.
These highly divergent trends are expected to “coexist.” In an ideal world, it will be possible to combine the demands of marketing with ecological objectives. Furthermore, the change is not disruptive. Classic PE bag packaging has not become obsolete, but it is being complemented by numerous variants and varieties.
Oliver Rebstock tells us that previous key performance indicators for packaging processes, such as output and machine availability, remain important. On top of that, technological options for new requirements have become a criterion that is complementary and just as important. This enables Optima customers to actively accompany change and drive it forward in the marketplace. This fundamental strategy is already being pursued by Optima Nonwovens in terms of R&D, and it will continue to do so.
The good news is also that with the equipment they already have, Optima machine operators are very well prepared for the changeover. With an additional small to medium investment, new packaging materials can be tested, or a new level of packaging aesthetics can even be attained. Optima is already making a significant contribution to positively managing this change.
This changeover and the technical developments associated with it have been on the R&D radar long before 2021. One example of this is the OPTIMA ZERO concept machine. The underlying idea had been conceived over ten years ago, but at the time it was not technically feasible. The real show-stopper came at INDEX 2017 when Optima presented the OPTIMA ZERO as a leader in technology and provided a glimpse of the not-so-distant future in paper hygiene packaging. A machine that packages a varying number of products in film from cycle to cycle and can print them with different, individual motifs.
“This represents the maximum in flexibility, which of course is not yet required by the market in this format, but it shows that it works, and the things that we have learned with the OPTIMA ZERO can now be applied to serial production for what is needed today,” says Oliver Rebstock. Furthermore, as part of the Optima Group, Optima Nonwovens has access to a range of technologies that is unparalleled in the industry. Cross-links with the pharmaceutical, consumer and life science industries have lead to new, even unconventional ideas and solutions.
“Our core skill is taking paper hygiene products out of the manufacturing process at any speed, handling them smoothly and gently, and stacking and arranging them into precisely aligned, compressed configurations. For the time being, the packaging material we use to package them is only secondary for us.” Packaging in PE films – opening bags, inserting the compressed stack, sealing bags – is what Optima Nonwovens has been known for for decades as the world market leader. Developments in this area will be consistently pursued, but they are already being expanded to include innovations and new options in light of changing markets.
For environmental protection
For the highest levels of packaging aesthetics and quality