Stuart Wilkinson, Sales & Marketing Director at P. Wilkinson Containers, talks about the challenges of meeting packaging demands during the pandemic.
Year on year the packaging industry sees a shift in trends and demands, from both manufacturers and consumers. After 2019’s extensive coverage of climate change protests, we expected an upsurge in ‘green’ focus on packaging and sustainability, however the rather more unexpected COVID pandemic has brought with it a different, additional set of requirements from the industry – plastic hand sanitizer bottles are just one such example.
One of the main things we are seeing in 2020 is the predicted ongoing thirst for environmental information. It isn’t enough to label something ‘recyclable’ or ‘compostable’ – consumers want to know how products are packaged at a more detailed level, and manufacturers are having to supply that information. At P. Wilkinson Containers, we’re very aware of our environmental responsibilities and happily, this links nicely to a lot of what we’re doing in sourcing materials locally. We’re definitely seeing an evolving focus on environmental credentials, in a genuine way that avoids ‘greenwashing’.
Alongside the environmental focus, we’ve also recently received more requests for packaging that will transport products via different avenues. We are seeing more clients with measurements all geared around sending products in the post, which we haven’t seen much of previously – not with the products we usually handle. But the clients are being quite specific on things like needing very shallow tins or jars for products that might include face creams, or even individually portioned mini cakes. It’s a reflection of the times – moving in and out of lockdown and quarantine periods.
One of the products that has really taken off during the lockdown period was our mini-keg for beer and cider. We’ve seen unprecedented demand from breweries, gaining over fifty new customers across the sector including ale, beer and cider producers – and now have an inhouse sector expert, Scott Wilkins, with encyclopedic knowledge of brewers’ packaging needs.
We’ve been able to supply brewers quickly and efficiently within just five working days with 5L mini-kegs which feature a superior design to other versions on the market. Our metal mini-keg, exclusive to us, features an easy-to-use ‘pull handle and tilt’ tap rather than a button or twist tap so that consumers can easily access their favourite beer at home.
The Wilkinson’s mini-keg offers several advantages to breweries – mainly that this packaging format can be easily filled on site. Beer or cider can be piped direct into the mini-keg’s top opening, a re-closable top plug valve, without the need to invest in extra and often costly machinery. Brewers don’t need sealing equipment as the top plugs are ‘push-fit.’
In ‘pre-pandemic’ circumstances, smaller brewers will often send their product to be bottled or kegged at larger production facilities. By using a mini-keg, smaller breweries have avoided delays caused by the pandemic at the filling stage which meant an inability to fulfil orders or high demand.
Certainly, at the beginning of lockdown we felt the impact on our industry as we weren’t able to mobilise our supply chain as normal. People’s confidence has been knocked with the supply chain in a lot of areas. Companies are unsure of the quantities of product they will sell, and forecasting is impossible at the moment.
As a result, confidence has gone and we’re finding that people aren’t able to pre-order their materials. When it is needed, ordering then becomes a kneejerk reaction and they need packaging quickly. We’ve been trying to iron that out by forward ordering ourselves, making sure we’re covering everyone for when they panic and need us – and we are seeing a lot more of that. It’s linked to business cash flow and so many companies are struggling with that in the aftermath of the pandemic and lockdown. Companies aren’t confident enough to pre-order and buy packaging they potentially won’t need to use, whether its perishable or not. Our clients are being more reactive than proactive now, which is a reversal of normal working patterns.
Another trend we’ve seen is a more obvious direct result of the health crisis – and that’s a shift in the PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) market. The manufacturing capacity has been switched heavily onto bottles for hand sanitizer. The knock-on effect is that all the other things people use PET for has all been impacted. Lead times for those products can now be two or three times longer than normal.
P. Wilkinson Containers Ltd. Company No. 594284
Registered address & trading address: 20 Verney Road, London. SE16 3DY.
VAT No. GB 243 5343 77
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