Packaging journalist Joanne Hunter on Tokyo Pack 2014

Pelican commissioned a special report from Joanne Hunter, a talented packaging journalist, who was attending Tokyo Pack – one of the largest packaging shows in the world!

Whilst there she discovered a variety of packaging innovations and design. In the blog post below Joanne highlights her ten most memorable products from the show.

I visited Tokyo Pack for the first time this year with a terrific gang of fellow members of the International Packaging Press Organisation. I went with high expectations that I’d learn from Japan’s packaging design and technology about modern Japanese lifestyles and how ancient traditions and culture are being kept alive. I wasn’t disappointed. The tail-end of two typhoons and a showstopper of a moon eclipse made the trip extra-memorable, and so did the warmth of the welcome for international visitors inside the show-ground and everywhere you went in the city.

Here, I’ve selected my top 10 highlights of Tokyo Pack 2014. Each one has elements that stand out for me in different ways and all of them have an identifiable appeal to the Japanese market – a market with a unique set of values.

Accessible; hygienic; resource efficient

This flexible pack uses air in a bubble as a lever that opens the product with a popping sound. We are already familiar with ‘bubble in the seal’ technology in bubble-wrap, which now boasts a popping-crazy following.

But more than just a fun, pop-tastic novelty, PopPack claims benefits including reduced food waste and packaging waste and less chance of spillage. Good for lunchbox cheese sticks, single portions of dried snacks and confectionery, the handy sachet makes dispensing ketchup or mayo into a burger a one-handed operation that’s cleaner and more hygienic says PopPack’s American inventor.

Exhibiting his showman skills, Bill Perell was at Tokyo Pack 2014 to offer licensing opportunities. Issued patents are estimated to cover 70% of the world’s population.

Bill showed me how PopPack’s ‘double bubble’ system makes the sachet pouch resealable without a cap, which would add extra expense to the overall product. The result is that PopPack can make hair shampoo affordable for low-income families in the developing world, with each pack able to hold enough to wash four heads of hair.

The PopPack development team in Japan include Oji Package Innovation Center, Tokyo Foods Machinery Company/Multivac, J-Film Corporation, Kawashima Packaging Machinery and Mitsubishi Plastics.

Crown Packaging
Resource efficient; natural beauty

These packs are an elegant of an alternative to cartonboard with naturally beautiful, very subtle hues and textures. Crown Packaging Company produces the material by taking selected byproducts from agricultural crops processed on an industrial scale and blending it with recycled wood pulp. Attractive flecking in the paper is a reminder of its origins. It could be bamboo, safflower petals (discarded from the manufacture of food dye), cacao bean husks, or palm husks (known as Empty Fruit Bunch of Palm or EFB). In the case of used tea leaves from the production of green tea beverages, there may also be natural antibacterial and deodorising effects. This resource-saving approach to high-quality packaging production has been developed in Japan under the brand name Smartpapier since 2008.

Kyoshin Pharm Retractable Handle
Inventive use of paper; end-user benefits

In Japan it’s typical for packaging converter/manufacturers to run large R&D departments and develop designs for winning business from brand owner customers. Tokyo Pack is an important shop window for them. Kyoshin Printing Co has produced an especially clever range for the pharma market and each has a specific marketing feature: child-resistant, easily accessible, shock-absorbent for transport, extra space for promotional information, and so on. The pictured example has a retractable hanger for easy retail display and it’s already been commercialised.

The ingenious design work for this and every mini masterpiece in paper was done by the firm’s executive director Yasuo Hirose. He unfolds the hanger-pack to reveal its intricate construction. How does he get that level of strength? “I really understand paper character,” he tells me.

Buy Me Stickers
Share of eye

What’s important to brands is so-called ‘share of eye’ – ability to grab attention. And with so much shine and glitz on the shelf it’s easy to see why. Attention stickers, as they are known, on a package are all the rage in Japan. They hijack extra shelf space for flagging up additional information to sell a product. It may look messy to Western eyes, but Japanese marketing companies have done the research and found it is the way a consumer finds reason to buy (RTB, in marketing speak). Shoppers even say that without a sticker the pack can look old-fashioned. Attention stickers are also used by a brand to make news announcements.

Evacuation Pack
Health & safety; accessible

Among the exhibits I spied this: the Evacuate from radioactive contamination compression pack. It lists the items to put in for personal safety and how to act in an emergency. In recent years the country has gone through a major earthquake and a tsunami, and typhoons are a fact of life. Tokyo experienced the tail-end of two typhoons in the 10 days I was there.

Long-dated packaged food is valued as part of a comprehensive life-saver kit. To keep up a citizen’s strength and morale with hot food, the Japanese packaging industry has produced a self-heating pack for warming up ’emergency provisions’. You just add water, heat and eat. In emergencies the zippered retort pouches and cans come into their own.

Oxygen-scavenging technology is held in high esteem by Japanese consumers, so food manufacturers make the sachet component easy to spot in transparent plastic packs. It can give some products up to a five-year shelf life.

Irodre Trio
Attention tag; accessible

The sauce brand creates a strong visual presence through its labelling and carries this through with user information clearly stated in graphic form and then with a positive user experience.

A Good Packaging 2014 accessible design category award-winner, the Irodre ‘squeeze and turn’ bottle was judged ‘highly functional and usable’, developed by Tokan Kogyo Co.
The pack consists of a cap with a small diameter nozzle that dispenses with a controllable flow without dripping. The bottle is designed to be easy to squeeze and to withstand hot-filling.

Toiletcleaner Mirror

Japanese take their toilet technology seriously. In my travels round Tokyo I saw the state-of-the-art reach a point where, as I entered the cubicle the lid rose as if to greet me and I had to suppress an urge to bow. (I’d been in the city for 10 days by this time and bowing had become practically second nature.) So it isn’t such a surprise to find the Japan Packaging Contest honouring a toilet cleaner with a place on the Good Packaging 2014 winners’ list. The unusual feature of the fragrant deodorant agent Bluelet is a mirror-effect surface on the shoulder of the container, designed to reflect any stains lurking on hidden areas of the toilet bowl. This added-value pack is a ‘first’ for the category claim the co-developers Dai Nippon Printing Co. and Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. Also note the attention sticker shouting out to shoppers why they should buy the product

Akihabara Station
Supports Japan’s circular economy; convenience

Machine vending is a sales channel that’s appealing for food and drink products, and a lot more besides. There are an estimated 5.5 million vending machines in Japan – one for every 23 people. I came across a number of them using state of the art, LED touchscreen technology and which accept payment by smart card and mobile phone as well as good old-fashioned cards and cash.

An integral smaller screen runs product ads on a loop, explains how to use the machine and gives weather details. It acts as a complete system, doubling up as a collection point for empties – you just chuck back the empty can or bottle into one of three different-sized holes.

Mold Refill
Resource-saving refill; positive user benefit

I like the explicit design of this refill standup pouch for a mould remover developed by Johnson and Dai Nippon Printing; especially the image of the ‘mother-pack’ and the metallic shine to give a sense of cleanliness. Aluminium layers and special adhesives function to protect the highly concentrated alcohol product.

By replacing the bottle, the pouch has reduced packaging waste weight by 70%. Added features aim to ensure stability when dispensing a large amount of content. These elements respond to two of the key trends that are shaping the world of Japanese packaging design; resource-saving and ease of use.

Pair of wrappers
Respect for traditional craftwork; packaging reuse

All-day demonstrations of traditional gift-wrapping went on in the main thoroughfare of the exhibition halls and rarely did I see the tables empty of visitors. It was a charming feature of Tokyo Pack and what helped make it my new favourite packaging industry show. The small team of, let’s call them, ‘ladies experienced in their craft’ enthused as they showed you step by step how to produce an impressive end result.

Finally, this bonus choice is my number one favourite of the hundreds of products I saw on the shelves when I swapped the exhibition aisles for the supermarket aisles of Tokyo city.

Power of Aloe – Pelican Soap Company
Respect for age-old wisdom

Here’s a product from the Pelican Soap Company, of Japan, with a stand-out marketing message that hit me between the eyes. It’s not a product I found at Tokyo Pack but on a visit to a top-ranked department store called Takashimaya. It’s a rare thing to find any product, let alone a beauty product, using the face of a woman of a grand old age to sell its virtues. This handmade face soap endorses the ‘wisdom of our grandmothers’ and Nature’s gift of aloe, to achieve ‘beautiful soft skin’. Inside the pouch pack is a foam dispenser delivering aloe’s active ingredients for moisturising the skin without chemicals.

With my non-existent Japanese, at first it struck me as a product aimed at the older woman. But then the light went on and I twigged that the lightbulb symbolised ‘our grandmother’s wisdom’.

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