Paper Packaging Material Thrives in Luxury and Premium Markets
Paper and paperboard have maintained a strong position in luxury and premium packaging with their ability to serve as a canvas for pristine graphics and eye-catching embellishments.
Though consumers’ on-the-go lifestyles have led brands to explore multiple packaging materials and formats that offer convenience and portability, paper-based substrates can offer a surprising level of strength, versatility and sensory appeal. And with only a few precious seconds to attract a consumer, an advantage of paper-based packaging is the variety of ways it can be enhanced to stand out to shoppers.
“Something that is really pushing paper-based packaging to the front is the technology and the ability to create amazing designs, shapes, finishes and effects,” says Inger Heinke, business development director, cartonboard, for paper packaging material manufacturer BillerudKorsnäs. “That is being driven by papermaking technology as well as developments in printing and finishing technology. A key consideration in paperboard is one of superior strength, smoothness, stiffness and flexibility to support unique structural designs and print effects. Things like laminations, unique coatings, super embossing or debossing effects make paper something that can be much more attractive in the luxury space.”
Extending the Packaging Experience
While there’s little question surrounding the importance of packaging’s visual appeal, part of what makes paper and paperboard so prominent in luxury and premium markets is how it invites consumers to reach out and touch the product.
Burt Rigid Box, Inc., based in Oneonta, N.Y., manufactures rigid boxes for a variety of luxury markets including cosmetics, fragrance, confectionery, jewelry, liquor and media. Laura Brodie, VP of Burt Rigid Box, explains that in addition to the thickness and strength of the paperboard used in rigid boxes, added textures and coatings can further connect the concept of luxury to a brand.
“The textures available on a rigid box, and paperboard packaging in general, are so much more varied than you can get from most other materials,” Brodie says. “On a paperboard package, you can have a soft touch finish. You can have it feel furry or metallic. You can have it feel like fabric or wood, glossy and high shine, or matte. You can get a lot of very different looks that are well-suited to each individual brand in a way most other materials don’t allow.”
Alex Kidd, creative design manager at Avery Dennison, explains that part of paper’s advantage in premium markets is how it lends itself to embellishments more so than some other substrates. For example, he says that particularly in the wine and spirits segment, it’s rare to come across a label that does not feature at least one special effect such as embossed type or a metallic foil.
Kidd explains that these packaging attributes help connote an element of luxury to the consumer because they demonstrate that the brand made an extra effort to emphasize the details in its product packaging. When those details extend beyond visual and into tactile attributes Kidd says it can extend the brand’s message even further.
“A really great thing about having these materials and paper being a bit thicker than some of the films out there is it holds embossing really well when you lay down different foil applications for different varnishing techniques,” he says. “All of those things really add the attention to detail that set the packaging apart, and are some of the top executions in the luxury space. To stand out on the shelf visually is often the No. 1 thing, but once the consumer is able to engage with it and touch and feel it, it adds the second dimension and attention to detail to set it apart from its neighbors on the shelf.”
Brodie explains another way brands can be highly successful in luxury markets is by extending the consumer’s experience with the packaging beyond traditional bounds. For example, she says it’s not uncommon for consumers to keep a rigid box even after the product inside has been removed.
“Rigid boxes are durable and beautiful enough that people end up putting them on their desk or bureau to hold paper clips or accessories, or just to serve as decoration,” Brodie says. “I think that’s great for brands because they expand their visibility into a secondary marketplace. The boxes take on another function and keep the brand name in the consumer’s line of sight for months or years.”
Additionally, Brodie says that particularly in the cosmetic and high-end consumer electronics markets, brands are placing an emphasis on making opening a carton or box a fun part of the consumer experience. She says packaging has even become the star of online videos in recent years, with consumers filming themselves opening a package and posting the videos online.
These “unboxing” videos have become such a popular trend, she says that when designing a package for a premium product, brands are taking their three-dimensional online appearance into consideration and are even incorporating additional compartments within a box to attractively house accessories.
“I was talking to a customer the other day who said they actually design their rigid packaging so the layers can be unveiled with one hand, while the consumer is holding their phone to take a video with the other,” Brodie says. “It struck me that that’s absolutely a consideration when designing a package these days — not only does the box have to be exciting and full of multi-tiered ‘wow’ moments to prolong the experience for video, but it also has to be physically convenient for internet fame.”
Embellishments Bring Paper to the Next Level
While the appearance and tactility of paper substrates can connote a feeling of luxury to consumers, it typically requires more than just printing on a substrate to take a package or label to the desired premium level. Part of what makes paper and paperboard stand out in these luxury or premium markets is the myriad of ways it can be embellished through processes like embossing, debossing, foiling, stamping and more.
Beyer Graphics, a Commack, N.Y.-based printer and converter of a variety of packaging solutions, including folding cartons for high-end cosmetic brands, has placed an emphasis on mastering a variety of embellishment techniques. In addition to traditional special effects like foiling and embossing, Dan Beyer, president of Beyer Graphics, explains that the company has mastered a specialty coating process called contrast coating that can both emphasize a certain aspect of a package, and make use of in-store lighting to attract consumers.
“Not only when you look at the package does it make certain things stand out and give you something to accentuate, when you’re walking down the aisle it gives a shimmer or a shine,” Beyer says. “You’re able to put down an overall matte with a gloss sparkle. That sort of movement when someone moves down the aisle is very important because it’s eye-catching.”
While luxury brands often utilize embellishments to add a flashy visual element to a package, Heinke explains some brands are seeking to connect with a growing consumer demand for a more natural product. The beauty and cosmetics markets, for example, provide an array of paperboard packaging that demonstrates the different directions brands can go in.
“These organic or natural brands, like L’Occitane for example, don’t necessarily want to have a very shiny package. They want to have this muted, more natural look,” Heinke says. “Way on the other side, you have these super foiled, super embossed, very fancy packages. Jimmy Choo for example, their signature fragrance has a snakeskin finish that is embossed on the package and feels like snakeskin. It’s pretty amazing.”
However, as more brands continue to make use of embellishments and special effects, it can become harder to stand out as these types of effects become less of a differentiator. One strategy Kidd says brands can use to reclaim some of their uniqueness is through creative diecutting.
In the wine segment in particular, Kidd explains that embellishments are the expectation. But brands that can make the shape of their label part of their brand image can find it easier to stand out against the competition.
“Having a unique shape — and maybe it’s more of a subtle diecut — that really integrates that label, that paper material into the product even more, builds that connectivity from the paper to the product,” Kidd says.
A Material for Many Applications
As brands continue to seek ways to meet the needs of consumers’ on-the-go lifestyles, many products have transitioned from traditionally rigid packaging formats to flexible packaging, which often utilizes films and foils as its main materials. However, Ben Markens, president of the Paperboard Packaging Council, explains that folding cartons and rigid boxes have remained a mainstay of the luxury and premium markets.
For example, products in luxury markets like consumer electronics and jewelry are rarely impacted by the on-the-go needs of the other markets. Brands like Apple and Tiffany & Co., primarily sell high-cost items that are typically opened at home and have traditionally been sold in folding cartons and rigid boxes. And, as these brands expand their product lines, Markens explains that folding cartons offer a scalability that allows any number of different sized boxes to maintain the consistent brand attributes they rely on.
“That’s a key thing for these brands — a consistent look and feel,” he says. “With Apple, the brand looks very similar when you see the boxes side by side. It’s the same thing with Tiffany. They have the little [package] for earrings, then the watch, then the platter you can put a turkey on. It’s all the same look and feel.”
While these luxury products may not be making the transition to flexible packaging anytime soon, premium items, particularly in the food and beverage markets, have made the move to flexible and have shown an affinity for paper to promote their desirable qualities.
For example, Cory Boettcher, brand manager, specialty paper, for paper manufacturer Verso Corp., explains that as consumers continue to seek out handcrafted, natural or organic items, many brands are looking to paper to express those qualities. Boettcher says brands producing everyday items like tortilla chips and bread have implemented paper packaging to differentiate themselves as premium.
“I think a lot of that stems less from luxury, but more of a handcrafted, wholesome type of product that is free of dyes, artificial flavors or additives,” Boettcher says. “It’s kind of a natural wholesomeness. That’s something we’ve seen a lot of growth in. In particular, natural kraft packaging creates that.”
Boettcher explains it may seem out of place at first, that a paper material using unbleached fibers would be considered premium packaging. But, he says the visual imperfections are a great way to accentuate a product’s handcrafted attributes.
“So many brands have driven toward perfect packaging and that was a trend to have these well put together packages,” Boettcher says. “Now we’re seeing this trend of introducing a little more variability into the look of the package because we want to send the message to consumers that this is a crafted product.”
In the high-end wine and spirits segments, paper has always been and remains a popular label material. But as Kidd explains, craft beer continues to take share in the beer segment, and brands in that space have sought out paper labels to express the product’s premium or handcrafted attributes.
In many cases, Kidd says, small batch beer releases from microbreweries borrow their packaging strategies from the wine segment, utilizing larger bottles with paper labels that share similarities to wine labels. And as the craft movement extends beyond beer, Kidd says other beverages have utilized similar strategies.
“There are people who pay a lot of money for a small amount of beer and they want the packaging that it’s going to be delivered in to be just as luxe as their wine nowadays,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot more cold-brewed coffee in single-serve bottles, and seeing different paper applications there too.”
But whether a brand is seeking to differentiate itself through a natural, handcrafted look or through a selection of flashy embellishments, Kidd says part of what makes paper so appealing to luxury brands is its versatility in telling that brand’s story.
“One of the great things with paper and the use of it in the luxury space is that it has a lot of options up front,” he says. “Whether it is textured or has a special tactile feel to it when you’re using these different paper materials, you have a lot of different options that would appeal to the luxury audience.”
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