Jan 26, 2022

Making premium packaging sustainable

What steps can be taken from a design and manufacturing perspective to convey a premium image and stay sustainable? We speak to O-I Glass's Melianthe Leeman.
Elisabeth Skoda

The O-I : EXPRESSIONS AWARDS 2021 was set up to challenge young designers to create innovative and appealing glass packaging for a spirits brand, conveying both premium brand cues and sustainability. The winner of the award was unveiled at Packaging Innovations in London last month.

We catch up with Melianthe Leeman, Global Marketing Director, Wines and Spirits, O-I Glass, to discuss the awards and to explore the possibilities of glass packaging in the premium spirits sector.

Demand for sustainable packaging has grown tremendously in recent years. Luxury spirit brands strive to convey both premium brand cues and enhanced sustainability. How can this be achieved?

We have certainly observed that sustainability is becoming more important. Whereas in the past, it was considered optional, and nice to have, now it is the number one priority. At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive in the area of high-end spirit packaging, as it often comes with heavy bottles, and the perceived quality is linked to bottle weight. But we at O-I believe that people can have both a premium and sustainable design, with no compromise on the glamour factor. We took a closer look at what designs we knew performed well and gave them a sustainable, premium look. For example, with our LUX, ATTENUA and NOBLE bottles, we took design cues from the super-premium category. One version comes with the 760 grams heavy base but uses a high proportion of recycled content. This was achieved by switching from premium, transparent flint to regular flint. This allowed us to include 30% recycled content in the bottles. We also developed a bottle where we removed the heavy base, which made it 160 grams lighter.

Have you seen demand increase for these bottles?

Definitely! Following the initial launch with a craft spirit customer, demand has been steadily growing. We're currently looking at how to extend the collection beyond the 70cl shape, offering more shapes and adding different designs to the range.

How does this tie in with developments in the spirit market on the whole?

The spirits market has always had a strong focus on aesthetic appeal and product protection, but as I mentioned there is now a shift happening. Sustainability becomes a true brand priority, with more and more initiatives in the market.

It is important to make packaging designers and brand managers aware of how brand choices are impacting the sustainability of the final packaging. We try to educate people on how shapes and colours impact the sustainability performance of their bottles. Small design changes can have a big impact.

O-I’s Ultra workstreamR&D department has launched a strategic initivative, called ULTRA,is looking into what can be done beyond current production and design capabilities. Over time, we expect that Ultra will allow us to go beyond what is possible now and allow us to achieve up to 30% lightweighting across our global portfolio.

Recycling is also a key topic. Glass is 100% recyclable and can be reused without any quality loss. In Europe, recycling rates are already good, but we still work with local associations and the European Glass Association to promote glass recycling. In the US, we are putting a lot of effort into boosting the recycling rate as it's below what you would expect in a developed market.

All our products are designed to be recyclable, but it’s also important to reuse that recycled content what consumers recycle. Especially in the premium spirit space, brands are moving away from premium or extra flint and moving towards more regular flint colours also to improve the recycled content of the packaging.

Furthermore, O-I also works on creating packaging designs that encourage reuse, whether it is refillable or giving consumers the chance to give them a second purpose after consumption.

Another big trend is locally sourced products, especially in the context of COVID-19, which is locally sourced products.

The winner of the 2021 O-I : EXPRESSIONS DESIGN AWARDS was announced at Packaging Innovations last month. What inspired O-I to set up the award?

We ran an initial award with O-I : EXPRESSIONS, focused on France and the rosé wine industry segment. By doing so we gained initial experience, but we also saw it was important to extend to the spirits segment to showcase the idea of sustainable premium, that premium and sustainable can live together. We also wanted to organise an event that allows young and upcoming designers to showcase their work and their talents, but also to help us push the boundaries of our packaging teams. We were lucky that we had the opportunity to do it in partnership with two leading organizations, PLD and Pentawards.

What was the design brief for the award?

The competition was open globally for design students and young professionals under 30. We wanted them to design innovative and appealing glass packaging for an imaginary spirit brand revolving around sustainable premium, using a stock bottle and turning it into a brand asset through O-I : EXPRESSIONS.

In conclusion, what features stood out for you in particular in the winner’s work?

A team of judges looked at many different criteria, predominantly the creative design itself and how well it fitted with the brief - premium and sustainable. We also looked at, how the designers used O-I : EXPRESSIONS to create truly unique designs that stood out on the shelf. The third criterium was the overall design attractiveness.

We had great designs submitted. The winner, Rebecca Edwards, created a great brand with a storytelling component. Her brand Ormr (Old Norse for snake), built on a Viking tale about a giant serpent that grows so big that it can encircle the world. She then smartly applied O-I : EXPRESSIONS’ capabilities, creating the skin of the snake with an embossed effect. This created not just a visually nice design, but also a tactile effect. The two colours used, black and bright red, showcase the colour capabilities of O-I : EXPRESSIONS. The story of the snake was also symbolic of sustainability because it represents the circular economy.

Elisabeth Skoda

Editor of Touchpoints magazine, writer for Packaging Europe magazine and design enthusiast!
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