Lisa Säfwenberg goes trendspotting in the field of sustainability and packaging design

Lisa Säfwenberg, Packaging Developer at Axfood, shares four observations on the theme of sustainability and packaging. She also describes the challenges of her profession and predicts what we can expect of future packaging.

Axfood is a food company working towards ambitious targets. The goal for 2020 is to become climate neutral, which means that they will have to reduce their climate impact by 75% in three years. A crucial part of this effort is about packaging, to develop climate-smart, sustainable packaging concepts. Thus, the Axfood packaging developers place high demands on their suppliers and scrutinize all packaging in terms of shapes, design, size, and materials from health, environmental, user-friendly and aesthetic points of view.

In addition, they have launched several innovation projects aiming at minimizing the environmental footprint. For example, ecological root vegetables are packed in plasticbags with the renewable raw material sugar cane. The Axfood packaging developers also work at replacing tins with cartonboard tetra packs, because tetras use more renewable material, are less energy-demanding in production, and offer a better fill rate.

A big challenge is the reduction of empty space in transports. Less air means more articles per pallet and more efficient transport solutions.

Food waste is a major problem. To reduce food waste, Axfood is involved in a long-term project “Packaging system for reduced food waste” initiated by Rise, with the aim to map up reasons for waste along the whole value chain. Based on the new knowledge derived from the project, the objective is to develop new packaging concepts that result in less food waste and make the food and packaging industries more resource efficient.

Hi Lisa, what does a Packaging Developer do at Axfood?

–I develop new packaging solutions for our own brands. Since we ourselves normally produce neither the contents nor the packaging, our job is often about defining requests, demands and specifications for the supplier. But also to assess and compare options, challenge proposals and suggest changes.

As a Packaging Developer I do both consumer and retail packaging – mostly for our own brands Garant, Garant Eko, Såklart, Minstingen and Fixa. It means that you have to handle all kinds of material and categories. Paper, glass, plastics, metal and mixes. Bottles, boxes, bags, tins and jars. All of these of course have to meet the high demands of Axfood, to work all the way from production and warehousing through to the store, and finally, into the hands of the consumers.

My job also involves adaptation of wholesalers’ packaging to the size and shape of the consumer packs, making sure they are shelf-ready and, for example, steady enough for stacking and transport.

A packaging designer has to stay updated and never stop learning.

Another part of my job is visiting production plants and attending trade shows and various packaging seminars. Besides this we initiate and drive innovation projects together with external partners.

What trends have you identified in packaging and sustainability?

  1. A growing demand for material based on renewable sources.
  2. A general aim to reduce food waste on various levels. It’s an issue that keeps us busy as well.
  3. Interactive packaging – but the question is how to recycle in a smart way.
  4. Transparency, meaning an ambition to be honest to the consumer.

What type of packaging are today’s consumers looking for?

– Environmentally friendly packaging that adds no extra cost but, at the same time, has functional features such as re-closing - which is sometimes hard to combine. 

In the future what if consumers may be able to order customized packaging and print it out themselves?

What about tomorrow’s packaging? What will packaging be like in five or ten years?

– I think we will have a lot more interactive packaging. But also more well-adapted packaging without unnecessary excess material and unnecessary transport of air – empty space – in the packs.