Cartons are important secondary packages, providing both protection to primary packaging and serving as a vital marketing tool at retail. At a time when a company’s environmental footprint is almost as closely scrutinized as its bottom line, carton and set-up box manufacturers continue to harness sustainability measures while innovating on the production and deco fronts to produce stunning results.

“A well-designed package that surprises or delights consumers can add distinction, reinforce the positioning of an upscale or luxury brand, and build awareness of the company’s sustainability efforts,” says Dennis Bacchetta, director of marketing, Diamond Packaging, Rochester, NY. “It is an ideal opportunity to engage and connect with consumers in a meaningful way that builds brand loyalty.”

A balanced commitment to eco-minded practices helps, especially among Millennials, who Bacchetta points to as the largest U.S. demographic, and avid seekers of brands “rooted in purpose.”

“Millennials represent 38% of the ‘Aspirational’ generation, the subject of a recent global study by BBMG and Globe-Scan,” Bacchetta remarks. “The study found that Aspirationals combine ‘a love of style, social status and sustainability values to shape new cultural norms and rewrite the rules of marketing.’ As 40% of the global public, Aspirationals are creating new opportunities for brands to win by connecting with them through a higher sense of purpose—as long as it’s done authentically and with rigorous attention to any social or environmental claims,” he says.

“Furthermore,” Bacchetta continues, “the study reveals that 90% of Aspirationals are ‘willing to pay more for products produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way’ compared to 65% of all consumers.”

E-commerce is also impacting the value of cartons in terms of their aesthetics and performance as secondary packaging that gets unboxed at home. “When consumers receive shipments at home, they are pleased when the brands they’ve selected look pristine and high quality—as if they were the ones who selected the brand packaged neatly in a top-tier carton and placed it in the shipping container,” comments Inger Heinke, business development director, North America, BillerudKorsnäs Cartonboard, Chicago, IL.

Amazon certainly recognizes this phenomenon, she adds. “In January 2018, Amazon Services blogged that “the hidden secret to winning that five-star rating after every sale you make is by delighting your customers with the perfect packaging. It protects your product from damage and adds up to the overall customer experience. Apart from product quality and quick delivery, packaging is your only other alternative to make sure your customer returns to you or recommends you in the future.”

Sustainability-minded carton producers continue to implement initiatives to shrink their collective carbon footprints in response to consumer demands, but it isn’t as easy as simply using recyclable or post-consumer content materials. 

“The EPA reports that 80 percent of paperboard packaging is recycled,” Heinke says. “However, adding waste to prime materials compromises quality, and comes with a high carbon footprint. Recycled material is better optimized in the production of newsprint, tissue and brown boxes.” 

BillerudKorsnäs’ sustainability efforts have earned recognition from the Dow Jones Global Sustainability Index, WWF, CDP Climate, EcoVadis, and the UN Global Compact. Last year, the company achieved a remarkable benchmark: Its production of packaging paper materials is more than 97% free of reliance on fossil-fuel energy—one of the lowest in the industry.

BillerudKorsnas recently launched what Heinke calls a “lightweighting kit,” which she defines as a tool that enables brand owners to understand and experience the ability to shift to lighter weights by using stronger and stiffer materials. “For instance, our U.S. cartonboard professionals use this training tool to demonstrate how our lower weight 16.5-point BillerudKorsnäs White can effectively replace a higher weight 18-point SBS board.”

The company put the technology to work for the carton used by L’Occitane for its Almond Body Butter. Crafted using 320gsm BillerudKorsnäs Artisan cartonboard, the package is decorated with four-color offset printing to deliver a distinctly organic feel.

“This packaging was originally produced by printing on the reverse side of standard SBS board,” Heinke says. “Switching to BillerudKorsnäs Artisan, a lightly coated board, enabled the brand to use a stronger material that was lighter weight and offered better protection for the heavy jar of body cream.”

Carli Windsor, director of business development, Cadence Packaging, Edina, MN, reports that the use of alternative sustainable material choices, such as hemp and flax, are also growing in the marketplace. “The current demand for packaging with improved environmental friendliness drives Cadence to push the needle and find better packaging solutions,” she says, adding that Cadence actively travels the globe in search of new materials that are environmentally friendly and do not add an extensive up-charge.  “Additionally, we find ways to reduce the total amount of required material through improved structural designs. The cost-efficiencies realized from reduced material can be used to fund more sustainable material options or improve the packaging in other ways.”

Cadence’s recent work in this vein is embodied in Rosebud, a new “radical feminine” self-care gift set launching in August. The luxury set contains everyday balm, stimulating serum, calming cream and cleansing spray contained in a 1600gsm, two-piece box covered with embossed 157gsm 40% post-recycled paper. The box is accented by a 400gsm embossed paper sleeve wrapped around the box, as well as a custom die-cut rigid foam and paper insert inside the box to showcase the product. The box lid features the Rosebud logo on the lid. Windsor says the brand’s vision was to “create elevated packaging while keeping in mind environmental factors,” hence the use of paper and post-recycled content for both the cover and sleeve.

Diamond Packaging introduced its Greenbox initiative in 2017 with the goal of researching, designing, and implementing packaging solutions that are innovative and sustainable. “The core of the initiative—designs, materials, and methods—represents a comprehensive approach to packaging that minimizes environmental impact throughout the supply chain,” explains Bacchetta.

A component of the initiative is Green Chic, a packaging model that delivers “Beauty without Compromise” by capturing the essence of luxury or upscale brands through more sustainable converting methods.

Bacchetta says Diamond’s paperboard folding cartons are manufactured with recyclable or recycled paperboard (many FSC-certified), using 100% clean, renewable wind energy, and produced in a Zero Manufacturing Waste to Landfill (ZMWL) facility.

Another big trend in beauty and personal care cartons is the use of metallics. Whether they’re applied all over or as spot accents, multi-colored metallic foils can add an uncommon touch of luxury to any carton.

“Foil is being used more and more to draw attention to a brand’s product,” says Mike King, president, Eagle Systems, Ocean, NJ.

“In the past it was only hot foil, but now cold foil has become the new go-to product for cost savings, flexibility and speed to market.

“With the abilities of cold foil today, gradient effects and very fine type, lines etcetera—you’re able to do things that were not possible before; large coverage is not a problem and [it’s] more cost effective, allowing folks to do more for less. Because this process is done inline on offset it allows for infinite colors, gradient effects and much more. It’s also green friendly.”

King adds that Eagle’s cold foil folding carton applications are environmentally conscientious, too. “Our cold foil product was reported on in the Pira Report Testing Group for Foil Decorated Paper and was found to have no problems in re-pulping,” he says.

One of Eagle Systems’ latest cold foil advancements is cold foiling on uncoated stock, an achievement that earned the company an award from the Foil Stamping and Embossing Association.

Niles, IL-based JohnsByrne recently added an Eagle Cold Foiler to its carton production system. “With our 15 unit press it enables us to really provide our customers with endless decorative solutions, including cold foil and hot foil,” says Ceida Elizarraraz, the company’s marketing representative.

JohnsByrne recently used foil to accent a presentation it produced for doTerra’s Mother’s Day Harmony Perfume kit. “The client was looking to create a ‘tray and sleeve’ structure that was interactive with the consumer,” explains Elizarraraz.

The gist of the product is that consumers mix their own signature scents using the 5ml bottles of essential oil, which are displayed in a frame view tray that includes a center pedestal to hold and highlight the bottles. Side panels hold larger, empty vessels that are used in the blending process. “The pedestal was dual purpose and designed to serve as a mini carton to hold a pipette and supplies to make roller bottle perfumes,” Elizarraraz explains.

The client supplied images of vibrant colored Pink Pepper, Green Mandarin and Star Anise plants. “The art for the tray and sleeve were matched and played off the vibrant colors of the decorative bottles,” she says. “We used rainbow clear foil to play off the vibrant colors and soft touch coating to give a naturally elegant touch and feel.”

JohnsByrne also executed the paperboard packaging for Too Faced Cosmetics’ eye shadow palettes. Using 18pt silver foil board for the carton and 18pt Candesce C1S cover for the sleeve, the company embellished the design by adding embossing, hot foil stamping and soft touch texture to create an upscale yet natural look. “The attention to detail in this entry can be spotted immediately through the multi-level embossing lace on the packaging, showcasing a softness of color,” says Elizarraraz. “Our structural design team created this dimensional, two-piece telescopic carton with a gold reveal and the effect of lace.”

Akey Group, Irvine, CA, offers Micro Engraving Printing as a one-step process for metallic material to be textured and embossed at the same time to achieve more sophisticated decoration without exorbitantly increasing costs. According to Akey’s production coordinator, in addition to creating upscale designs, it can also be used as an affordable anti-counterfeiting solution.

The company used the technology to create signature cartons for Jeffree Star Cosmetics, combining metallized foil film laminated with paper stock, then micro engraving finishing with offset UV printing (two Pantone colors plus white). The cartons are vibrant red and feature a heart-shaped texture that reflects in the background, which dovetailed perfectly with the company’s Valentine’s Day promotion.

Greg Maze, senior brand and sales manager, Neenah Packaging & Retail, Neenah, WI, says understated elegance is also en vogue in beauty and personal care cartoning right now. “Stepping away from ’80s glam, the packaging on the shelves today looks and feels authentic to a brand’s messaging,” he says. “This is particularly vital in this movement toward natural beauty products. Whether it’s a high-end or drugstore brand, customers want to feel like the products they’re buying are premium.”

Neenah’s primary focus is on custom solutions for global brands in search of sustainable and one-of-a-kind solutions for premium beauty, cosmetics and fragrance packaging needs.

The company recently worked with natural beauty purveyor Josie Maran and her team to convert her CCNB (clay coated news back) packaging to a more sustainable solution, because they believed it would better align with the brand’s vision and values.

“The team conducted extensive production testing before selecting Neenah Packaging’s PC 100 folding board for its entire line of products,” says Maze, adding that the gift set boxes were printed four-color with gold foil.

Josie Maran is more than a natural brand, it’s also a premium brand and the packaging reflected just that. “The PC 100 board was the perfect fit because it performed to their every expectation and offered a sustainable solution while maintaining the high-end luxury appeal that customers expect from this brand,” he says.

Beyond foils, techniques that deliver visual and tactile cues—such as textured paperboards, flocked velvet, cork, and other specialty finish coatings—beckon consumers to take a closer look. Brands are also combining techniques for stunning, one-of-a-kind effects.

Diamond utilized a variety of decorative techniques to create custom cartons for Laura Mercier’s Exotique Face Illuminator. The carton was converted using metallized polyester board, and offset printed with four PMS colors and opaque white inks, with UV gloss and UV matte coating. It features a multi-level, embossed tiger print that’s tightly registered to the dark brown ink, in contrast to the copper finish surrounding it. A debossed front panel provides a classic frame for the embossed Laura Mercier brand logo and product name.

Diamond also partnered with Elizabeth Arden to create folding cartons for the new Jennifer Aniston fragrance, Chapter One. The folding cartons were converted utilizing FSC-certified Iggesund Invercote G .017 paperboard, cold foiled, and offset printed with four-color process and two special color inks, in-line with UV matte and UV gloss coating.

Cream colored side panels are complemented by soft matte gold front and top panels that feature transparent ink printed over cold foil to create a shimmering, metallic effect. UV gloss spot coating was also applied on the logo, and overall gloss coating was applied to the rear panel. Registered embossed and blind embossed logos, combined with an overall embossed herringbone pattern on the side panels, add dimension and tactility.

“The result,” concludes Diamond’s Bacchetta, “is a distinctive presentation that stands out in the retail environment and exudes the elegance and tranquility of the brand.” 



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