A new packaging concept for fresh apples developed by NAVI Co Global is being trialled in Coles premium stores in Victoria.
Imagine walking into your local retail store, when a stack of brightly coloured apple punnets captures your attention. Instead of being hidden behind a sea of plastic, the visible apples are partially seen through the punnet’s creative cut outs and holes and turn into interesting pieces of art.
Imagine, too, that the punnet, which contains a grab handle for carrying, is not only an eco-friendly container for the apples, but also acts as a marketing storyboard, depicting the apple’s journey from harvest to retail.
No longer an intangible concept, the apple punnets have become a reality: The Jeftomson’s Orchard-branded punnets are currently available on trial at 16 premium Coles stores in Victoria.
The consumer acceptance trial for the punnet format has been running in the select stores since August to help gauge consumer sentiment towards the new packaging format. If successful, they will be rolled out to other Coles stores around the country and may also be adapted for use with other produce.
The punnets were produced collaboratively by Goulburn Valley grower Jeftomson; pulp, paper packaging company, Oji Fibre Solutions; and ‘The Packaging Hippie’ – NAVI Co Global’s Gilad Sadan.
The journey began when Sadan, who flippantly claims to speak fluent ‘packaguese and sustainese,’ was approached by Oji’s general manager Wolf Lorenz to work on the project.
Together with Jeftomson, they came up with a brief to devise a creative and engaging piece of sustainable packaging that would take consumers on a visual ‘ride’ of Jeftomson Orchard’s apples from harvest to retail.
Importantly, the packaging had to contain a grab handle that was safe for consumers to carry without falling apart.
“Today’s shoppers are very transactional,” explains Lorenz, pointing out that to grab consumers’ attention, the packaging had to “disrupt and create theatre on the shelf”.
Enter the concept to use the cardboard substrate as marketing real-estate to visually tell a story to the consumer, for immediate attention at store level.
Original design is Sadan’s forté, and this was an exciting project for him to undertake. He had also worked extensively with fruit growers and retailers in his previous role as a plastic packing manufacturer, so this is a sector he is comfortable with.
“From the ideation session we created design options to engage with the retail partners to gain early buy-in and feedback,” says Lorenz, explaining that he and Sadan worked closely and collaboratively with all the stakeholders to create the apple punnets.
The process took around six months from start to finish and entailed many design revisions and R&D, with all meetings done via Zoom due to the extended lockdowns.
Before starting the design process, Sadan says he analysed the packaging’s structure to work out the measurement and weights necessary for the product to fit into the pack, and on a larger scale, to work out how the packs would fit into a crate.
“From there I worked with the graphic designers to overlay the design and cascade other creative elements,” he explained.
Lorenz and Sadan met with some challenges when working with the structural components related to the packaging measurements and internal dimensions of the punnets.
“It was challenging to work within the restriction of current packaging measurements and to ensure that the punnet design incorporated both hand and machine glue closures,” says Lorenz, noting that it was also tricky to work with the weight and sizing of the punnets – internal dimensions had to accommodate 1kg of graded apples and external dimensions needed to accommodate eight punnets in a tray, using a punnet assembler.
In addition, using cut-outs on the punnets to showcase as much fruit as possible was an intricate process, as care had to be taken to ensure that the punnet’s structural strength would not be compromised.
The cut-outs themselves are a key feature of the punnets and a hallmark of Sadan’s designs, which he describes as “the use of negative space to allow the product to interact with its packaging and design”.
In terms of the substrate, Sadan says that it provided a perfect canvas for marketing real-estate – which is exactly what the apple punnets have done.
“Every part of the substrate can be used as a canvas and widely injected with a blaze of colour,” he says, which he has achieved not just with the cut-outs but also with clever graphics that depict the orchard theme: tractors and carvings on trees.
Importantly, since the punnets are sustainable and recyclable, this message was also to be conveyed within the packaging.
Sadan has noticed a growing trend in product and brand owners using packaging to exhibit the sustainability of their offerings, in line with the 2025 sustainability targets.
“Suddenly there is a greater emphasis to communicate a product’s sustainability profile and its recyclable materials. Information is becoming more prominently placed on packaging, where previously it was hidden in a small triangle on the packaging and pallet,” he says.
“Brown is the new green, and the modern consumer is looking for grass roots design and packaging that is made from natural fibre board.”
This was achieved with the punnets – PEFC certified kraft paper was used because of its tactile and sustainable properties.
In addition, the punnets were printed on a KBA litho press using soy-based inks and finished with water-based food contact coating.
Reflecting on the collaborative teamwork involved in getting the project off the ground, Sadan believes that it has achieved a successful outcome.
“There’s a strong emphasis on working closely together in the process,” he says. “In this way, everything is open, everything is transparent, everyone knows everyone and talks to everyone, so there's no hiding anything. There's no keeping anything behind the scenes – we are all working together to put something interesting on the shelf, which is ultimately what we have done with these apple punnets.”
Not only can the punnets provide consumers with a good example of the benefits and visual appeal of plastic-free packaging, but the concept itself may help to promote, more broadly, the idea of a fully sustainable shopping experience in the fresh produce aisles of the future.
So, how do you like those apples?
This article was first published in the November-December 2021 print issue of PKN Packaging News, p38.