'530,000 people work for Tesco...it's like selling into Luxembourg': Paul Earnshaw

‘Packaging is a Cinderella discipline’: Tesco packaging manager

By Ben BOUCKLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

“What we’re after is technology push,” (Paul Earnshaw, Tesco packaging manager)
“What we’re after is technology push,” (Paul Earnshaw, Tesco packaging manager)

Related tags: Technology

Tesco packaging manager Paul Earnshaw insists the retailer is keen to banish the perception that packaging is a Cinderella discipline given its importance in the overall consumer ‘brand experience’.

Addressing delegates at this month’s PPMA Show in Birmingham, UK, Earnshaw said: “Typically, among retailers and among brands as we develop stuff, we tend to think ‘What’s the recipe?’, ‘What’s the stuff we’re going to put into this? Let’s source some beautiful Tuscan tomatoes, let’s have this finest meat!’

We run through – develop the recipe and get star chefs in who work out the nutrition and things like that. We get something beautiful, and then say: ‘Quick we need to put it in something… Right, bung it in a can, stick it in a box – on the shelf!’”​ he added.

“That’s just silly, because if you look at how a consumer interacts with what our products are. They go into store, they see the pack – see the on-shelf packaging, see the primary pack and pick that up,” ​Earnshaw said.

Taking the brakes off innovation

“They’ve touched it numerous times before they’ve even thought of cooking it. Once they’ve done that they’ve got to throw it away – so they touch it again,”​ he added.

“The number of packaging touch points is huge – yet we treat it as a Cinderella thing. But the brand experience is huge, and central to what we’re doing,”​ Earnshaw said.

He noted that – depending on who you speak to in the development process – packaging needs to contain and protect food and drink, promote it, offer decoration and graphics, preserve it and provide barrier properties.

“The special thing about packaging is that all those things have to be considered at the same time – quite a tricky job but packaging has to fulfill multiple roles,” ​he said.

Tesco…the Luxembourg connection

Tesco Extra superstore in Hull, England

Historically, one brake on innovation at Tesco has been packaging and machinery development (which might take 1-2 years), he said, whereas new products tend to appear on the retailer’s shelves every 20 weeks when range reviews are conducted.

“Also, 530,000 people work for Tesco. You’ve got to think – you’re not actually selling into a company. You’re selling into Luxembourg or something like that,” ​Earnshaw said of the world’s second-largest grocery retailer.

“The politics, getting lucky and getting to the right person plays a huge part. You have to be persistent, understand that you’ve got to get to the right people,”​ he added.

To accelerate innovation, Tesco has launched a ‘food academy’ to help suppliers understand what consumers want, and whether something’s going to sell or not.

‘Packaging technologists? Give them a pay rise!’

Earnshaw said the grocer is increasingly talking to suppliers of primary packaging, packaging materials and machines, not just direct suppliers, to harness new technologies.

“What we’re after is technology push,” ​he said. “A lot of you guys are sitting on interesting ideas, technologies and so on and saying ‘why can’t we bring this to market – are the customers interested or not?’ We can quickly establish if something’s a good idea or not and will work with you on that.”

Consumer trends such as personalization, nomadic usage, portionability are bringing new demands to bear on packaging technology, he said, noting that the price of active and intelligent packaging is coming down, legislation is shifting (sustainability is crucial, fears of chemical migration and waste are rising, some materials are being banned) while technologies such as 3D printing are coming through – all these factors are driving change.

“It’s a really exciting time to be a packaging technologist. If you’ve got a good one within your company give them a pay rise – they’re going to become like gold dust, because it is the future of everything,” ​Earnshaw said.

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Posted by Bill McKay,

Why aren't retailers first to market with packaging that is better than national brand equivalent?
Take for example a squeezable, pocket size bottle that dispenses preservative free functional drink powders vs liquid.
Consumer insights demonstrate the perceived value of this package vs stick packs, sachets liquid preserved enhancers and effervescent fizz tablets.
Why aren't retailers rolling out this form in many categories? Is it the patents that slow you down?
Which private label companies do you look at for innovation? Are they blocking the way protecting investments in capital equipment ?

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