Elk running in the forest

We saw what we wanted to see

​1 billion products sold daily. That’s why we asked Nestlé what makes for high performance in paperboard.
​The issue of high-performing paperboard is important for Nestlé because of the company’s principle of packaging material neutrality. “This means that we choose the best material for each specific purpose,” says Alison Coudene, Nestlé’s European procurement group manager for fibre-based packaging.

“As a food manufacturer, Nestlé needs to take into account several factors when choosing the best material for each purpose, including technical performance, food safety criteria, sustainability, availability, cost and so forth,” adds Martin Luh, Nestlé’s European procurement manager for packaging base materials. “If we use recycled fibre in packaging, its mechanical properties need to be as good as if we were using virgin fibre materials with a lower basis weight. Any board needs to be efficient along the whole value chain.”

Luh emphasises the importance of source optimisation. “According to our experience, when a certain cereal box is made from recycled board, for example, it requires 75 grammes of board, whereas the same sized box made with fresh fibre would require only 58.5 grammes of board.”

Planting a tree

Since Nestlé is truly a global giant, it’s clear that the company’s logistics chains can be complex. Key issues include material efficiency and lightweighting.

“We must consider the effects of each packaging item along the whole value chain,” says Luh. “A high-performing lightweight board often has a yield advantage of more than 30 per cent over standard grades. Given our annual demand, this means we can save more than 20,000 tonnes compared to the previously used standard materials. And that translates into a thousand trucks per year! In the big picture, the effects are also big.”

Let’s throw in some more figures to support Nestlé’s views on high-performing boards: When Nestlé switched some of their packaging production from recycled board to Metsä Board’s Simcote, packaging line performance was reported by the factory to have increased by up to five per cent.

Nestlé also uses materials from other board producers, enabling them to compare Metsä Board’s folding boxboards to similar competing boards. The differences in packing line performance are naturally smaller. “But we keep hearing from converters and from our factories that for some reason Simcote just works the best. That’s why we prefer it,” explains Luh.
See also
Read the whole issue

​Optimum design for consumers

High performance is also about much more than numbers. In the value chain it starts with the converter, where runnability is the key performance factor. The same goes for filling lines. The story then continues with deliveries to retailers and consumers. Here Nestlé takes a pragmatic approach by eliminating all costs that consumers are not prepared to pay for.

“For this reason, we need fit-for-purpose specifications,” says Luh. “The performance of the board needs to be good, product safety must be guaranteed, and the recyclability of the packaging is also important and should be convenient for the consumer. According to our Responsible Sourcing Guidelines, the traceability of the board raw materials must be ensured, and the fibre supply chain transparent.”

Looking at food packaging on a global scale, it’s safe to say that safe packaging can improve environmental performance. “Better packaging doesn’t always mean higher environmental impact, as it protects the products and prevents food from being wasted,” explains Luh.

In some markets Nestlé have actively reduced the amounts of empty space in their packaging – again leading to positive effects on resource use. “But when the packaging is smaller, consumers may think that there is less product in the carton. This has increased the need for efficient packaging communication. We need to work on new packaging technologies and engage with consumers in order to find the optimum design,” adds Luh.

Planting trees

Safe and sustainable

Digging deeper into sustainability issues, Alison Coudene explains that Nestlé have no worries when it comes to Metsä Board’s know-how. She recently visited Finland with 18 of her colleagues to see exactly where Metsä Board’s wood raw materials come from.

“The things we saw during our trip were what we had wanted to see. The forests were natural, the fauna was rich, and trees are left at felling sites to seed. We also planted our own trees, which was a wonderful way to demonstrate how for every tree that is harvested you really plant four new ones for the coming generations. It’s clear that you have sustainability in your DNA.”

Traceability is also important with regard to safety issues – which are an important topic for Nestlé, as Martin Luh emphasised. Three product safety experts were among the Nestlé delegation who visited Finland, including the company’s global head of product quality and safety, Stephen Klump.

"It's clear that you have sustainability in your DNA."

“If there is a product safety issue, we require every supplier to trace back all their raw materials to find where the problem originated,” explains Klump. “For example, mineral oils in food: where have they come from? From the plastic bag or wrapping, from the food itself, from the primary packaging material, or from the secondary packaging material used in transport? It’s key to understand all possible sources.”

Klump emphasises that his job is to minimise the risk of potential issues. “In fibre-based packaging, fresh fibre boards are not a problem, but offset printing inks are – and that poses a risk.”

New legislation for mineral oil migration is still under preparation, and all parties need to work together to find fit-for-purpose solutions. “To learn more about food safety related to cartonboards, we are doing research together with Metsä Board’s experts,” says Klump.

Martin Luh explains that close cooperation between Nestlé and Metsä Board is natural, since Nestlé’s core competence is in foods, while Metsä Board’s is in board-making. “The reason we do business with Metsä Board is quite simple: we have trust, confidence and good relationships. The reasons are not only the high-performing boards, but – more importantly – the people. Metsä Board is just the best overall fit for us.”

The happy campers of Nestlé and Metsä Board in the forests of Lohja, Finland.

Related articles