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Top takeaways from the first European shopping bag summit

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Challenges, opportunities and new ways of working were the topics of the day at Europe’s first shopping bag summit, hosted by Mondi.

The paper bag industry took an important step towards sustainable innovation when leading shopping bag converters, suppliers and customers came together in Prague on 19 April for Let’s Paper the World 2018 – the first European shopping bag summit, organised by Mondi Group’s Speciality Kraft Paper segment.

Participants included global brands Benetton, H&M and REWE Group ; bag manufacturers ; papermakers and paper associations ; ink and glue producers ; bag machine manufacturers ; and market intelligence leader Mintel.

The four top takeaways from this pivotal summit :

1. Shopping bags are now high-tech products

Gone are the days of the ‘simple’ paper bag. The technical demands of manufacturing the perfect bag for end customers’ needs are increasing continuously.

Today’s paper shopping bags are high-tech products engineered for specific applications within the food and non-food industry. Shopping bags need to meet a variety of requirements, especially when the end uses involve food, as Petr Jindra, Head of Technical Sales Services, Mondi Speciality Kraft Paper, demonstrated.

He presented a shopping bag produced by bag maker Litobal with a sophisticated, full-colour flexoprint on Mondi speciality kraft paper, proven to carry up to 25 kilos (food retail bags must carry at least 12 kilos), made of credibly certified fibre, and guaranteed safe for contact with food.

Demand for such high-tech bags is growing every day, according to the summit’s participants. Producing them is a technical feat that takes skill, innovation and the highest quality materials.

“It’s a big challenge. In the past, we focused on a few bag sizes and a small range of materials. Now we need to have open minds and find solutions to meet every need,” said Fulvio Curioni, Senior Vice President Legal for Curioni Sun, a paper bag machine manufacturer.

Alberto Bovo, Managing Director at Bovo SpA, said : “Thirty years ago we used to make bags from 120/130 gram paper. Now, if we use a good paper, we can produce bags with 70/80 grams that work just as well. But it’s very important to take care of all the details – the paper, the glue, the ink.”

From brown and white speciality kraft papers, to rough and smooth grades in a range of weights, from virgin and recycled fibres to water-based glues and inks – technical complexity is increasing continuously. Expertise and understanding of how all this technology fits together to make the perfect bag solution is more important than ever for manufacturers.

2. Sustainability is no longer an option – it’s a necessity

Shopping bags made of credibly certified fibre and designed to biodegrade, or be easily recycled or reused, are no longer a niche product for boutique brands. Today, sustainability is mainstream.

“I wouldn’t call sustainability ‘a trend’ anymore. It’s a given,” said Paulus Goess, Sales Director of Mondi Speciality Kraft Paper.

Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel, shared examples from around the world of how consumer expectations have shifted for sustainability and packaging : “Consumers expect companies to set the sustainability agenda. They expect brands to be ethical on their behalf.”

“When you have brands like Procter & Gamble making packaging from recovered ocean plastic, that becomes the norm very quickly. If you’re not doing something, your brand can start to look outdated,” Cope added.

Tanja Dietrich-Hübner, Head of Sustainability at REWE International AG, said expectations and attitudes about sustainability in the food industry had “changed dramatically” in recent years. “As retailers, we’re held responsible that food and packaging are not only safe but also sustainable,” she said.

While more brands today, including H&M, are switching from plastic to paper bags, others like REWE and Benetton made the switch years ago.

However, Dietrich-Hübner emphasised that consumer awareness of what it takes to ensure products and packaging are sustainable and ethically produced is limited : “Information is the key, but it has to be understandable. We have to give people short, reliable information.”

Cope went further, challenging brands and paper bag makers to engage consumers about environmental factors and “put a name and a face to the people behind the bags.”

3. Demand for certified fibre is outstripping supply – sustainable forestry needs more focus

While rising consumer demand for sustainable packaging is a good thing, a clear effect is that demand for sustainable fibre is growing. Both paper and bag manufacturers spoke of stark challenges in meeting the increased demand for certified fibre.

Research and investment into alternative, sustainable fibres may be one answer to safeguard supplies. Increased focus on sustainable forestry is also needed to guard against deforestation and illegal logging, as just 11% of the world’s forests are certified.

Manfred Schachenmann, Head of Wood Supply at Mondi, underscored Mondi’s commitment to sourcing credibly certified fibre, in particular that certified by the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) – the certification system preferred by small and family foresters and local wood associations in Central Europe – as well as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

“We all want to increase the share of certified fibre. To achieve that we need to promote certification systems such as PEFC in low risk countries,” he said.

Dietrich-Hübner of REWE International noted that organic and fair-trade food certifications are widely recognised, however, FSC and PEFC certifications are not well known to consumers.

“I think the market is ready to learn what the different wood certification standards mean,” she said.

4. Collaborate to meet new challenges in the paper bag industry

Another important takeaway from the summit is the need for more exchange and partnerships to innovate for what’s coming, including the growth of e-commerce and the circular economy, which will favour more re-use of materials.

More collaboration along the supply chain between product managers, technical sales and service, R&D, suppliers (including paper, inks and glues), end users, retailers – and even foresters – will be needed to develop the perfect paper bags for tomorrow’s needs.

“I’ve been working in the paper industry for 20 years. This is the first time I’ve seen such participation by customers in a specific market,” said Massimiliano Scotta, Head of Sales Region South and Americas, Mondi Speciality Kraft Paper.

“At this summit, we can see ourselves as partners in the same world, exchanging ideas about what consumers need, and technology and trends in the market, to find a common strategy,” Scotta added.

“We still have a lot of work to do on the details,” added Bovo Bags’ managing director Alberto Bovo, “but I feel confident that we can do it, if we all work together.”

The second European shopping bag summit is now being planned by Mondi.