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Packaging, Labels and Scales 2023

| Ivana | Editorial Feature

Sustainability, technology, and legislation drive change in Packaging, Labels and Scales

By Ann Baker-Keulemans

When it comes to packaging and labels, there are multiple factors involved. Aesthetics, durability, legislative compliance, food safety and environmental concerns are components of all in-store and FMCG products – from packaging and labelling in the butchery, bakery, and deli, HMR and fresh produce, the fish counter and salad bar, to all departments in the store that carry packaged brands.

Added to this - which is a very good thing - every FMCG retailer, supplier and manufacturer is in a race to enable consumers to reduce, re-use and recycle, and to decrease the environmental impact of their products.

Meanwhile technological advancements are driving packaging, labelling and associated printing innovations, with retailers, suppliers, and manufacturers experimenting with different options in their bid to find better and more sustainable solutions.

The environmental impact of packaging

The environmental impact of packaging is a massive concern amongst consumers, retailers, suppliers, manufacturers, and producers. The entire packaging supply chain must be involved in order to make a difference. Many companies have pledged to reach Net Zero, while others are being held to increasingly strict national and international standards. According to Tetrapak (, “food packaging can become carbon-neutral by shifting to renewable energy” by reducing its carbon footprint and “creating an end-to-end solution that ensures that the final carbon emissions from packaging is zero.” ( At the same time, it cannot compromise   the longevity, shelf-life, hygiene, and display quality of brands and product contents.

Sustainability and a circular economy in the South African context

 “Simply put, sustainability is about having enough, for all, forever. We cannot effectively meet the needs of our growing population if we continue to deplete our resources faster than we can replenish them.” So says Michelle Penlington, who is the National Executive for Marketing and Sustainability at Polyoak Packaging (, as well as   Chairperson of the South African Plastics Pact.

“Circular economy is about regenerative system design, where materials constantly flow in a loop, rather than being used once, then discarded,” says Penlington. “Our landfill space is also not infinite, so we need to divert waste by recycling whatever we can. For packaging, circularity means building systems and infrastructure that enable us to reuse, refill and recycle our packaging, wherever possible.” Polyoak Packaging believes in using cutting-edge packaging design to meet their sustainability and circular economy beliefs. Their specialist packaging divisions use advanced energy-efficient injection, blow, and compression moulding technologies to provide quality packaging solutions that are also environmentally sound.

For Penlington, retailers and FMCG brands need to take note of sustainability and environmental concerns for one very simple reason. She says, “Receiving consumer complaints about one’s branded packaging wreaking havoc in the environment is every brand owner’s nightmare.” And, she adds, “Of course, not only is moving to more reusable and recyclable packaging the right thing to do, but it is also now mandated in SA’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation. It is in the interest of all packaging industry stakeholders to collaborate to achieve packaging collection, recycling and, where relevant, recycled content targets as obligated by EPR regulations.”

Why use recycled plastic?

 Penlington explains, “The ability to include recycled plastic in packaging is especially powerful from a climate change perspective, as recycled polyolefins generally have 70% lower global warming potential than virgin plastic. There is huge potential to increase the use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic in large packaging formats such as drums and buckets. “Innovative multi-layer technology now makes it possible to include PCR in the middle layer, whilst retaining virgin plastic on the inside and outer layers, which helps to retain critical technical functionality of the packaging.” Recycled plastic, she explains, has some diminished technical functionality, which is critical for packaging meant to contain material such as hazardous chemicals.  This is very much a give-and-take relationship. As Penlington points out, the inclusion of PCR in packaging not only helps to reduce carbon emissions, but it also creates a demand for recycled plastic, which helps to drive up the value to waste reclaimers. This motivates the reclaimers to collect more packaging to sell to recyclers.

The role of design in sustainable packaging

It is imperative that brand owners and retailers recognise the impact they can have, as Penlington notes. “Brand owners and retailers are arguably the most important role-players, with significant influence on packaging circularity, through their choice of packaging materials, formats, and design.

“We need more brand managers and marketers to engage with recyclers and waste reclaimers, to help brand owners develop a practical appreciation for how their packaging choices help or hinder recycling in South Africa. What brands choose for their packaging has a profound impact on the lives of many consumers directly affected by the waste crisis. Now more than ever, the industry needs talented packaging designers capable of developing packaging that is differentiated and fit for purpose, but also optimised for circularity, being widely recycled, reusable, or refillable.”

Penlington hastens to add that we don’t need radical packaging shifts or huge technological advancements to take place in order to achieve these changes. The technology and materials necessary for a circular economy already exist. “Recycling of PET packaging can be significantly improved by avoiding opaque coloured PET and not using PVC or PET labels, or direct print to decorate PET bottles and jars.” For those looking for guidance, she suggests taking note of the recycling best practice guidelines that are readily available from organisations such as Polyco, Petco, and Packaging SA.

The latest packaging trends

Connected packaging – Embedded technology enables consumers to access digital content from digital devices using triggers within the packaging. This extends the product experience and enhances experiential shopping, allowing brands to engage with consumers on new and exciting levels (

Flexible packaging – Packaging that is convenient and efficient, lightweight, and which has often reached reduced carbon emissions during production. Sustainable plant-based solutions are expected to gain ground, while e-commerce expands the market for easy-to-pack and easy-to-transport flexible packaging options. Digital printing and next-gen NC (nitrocellulose) inks offer flexibility, customisable design, quick turnaround times, and increased sustainability (

Closures – Intriguing designs can help capture consumer attention, but the rise in e-commerce demands increased investment in ensuring food safety and hygiene, too. Light-weighting in order to reduce environmental impacts, as well as costs, but without compromising safety and efficiency, is a key trend in this category (

Captivating the consumer – Immersive storytelling, brand engagement, experiences, and sharing new, interesting, or useful information all forms part of this trend. Packaging and labels, from creative design to cutting-edge technology, are key to achieving this.

Legislation and the environment shift the label landscape

Labelling saw material shortages, delivery delays, and increased costs over the past two years, thanks to Covid-19. However, developments within the industry have led to faster, more convenient custom printing and integrated systems, while consumer demand and a heightened focus on food safety has permanently changed the way products are labelled. Labels are an intrinsic part of customer satisfaction, trust, and confidence. They must contain the information that customers are required to be given by legislation, and also the information they demand as educated and knowledgeable consumers.

Eye-catching and appealing label design is critical for brand awareness and attracting consumers. Behind the scenes, however, there is a lot more to consider than just “does it look good?” and “does it convey all the right information?” Globally, FMCG producers, brand owners, and retailers are recognising the need for increased sustainability and environmental responsibility. The pressure is on, not just from governments and legislators, but from consumers who are increasingly concerned with their own environmental impact and carbon footprint.

A growing demand for sustainable labelling solutions

Leal Wright, Marketing Manager at Polyflex ( )says, “Flexo printing is the dominant form of packaging printing for the consumer-packaged goods and FMCG market. At seminars in Gauteng, KZN and Western Cape earlier this year, customers and suppliers agreed that sustainability is the predominant trend in consumer goods packaging and, to meet this need, suppliers have to develop innovative options.” Wright goes on to explain that the industry is well aware of the fact that the South African economy is in a low growth cycle and consumers are under increasing financial pressure, and yet consumer demand for sustainable packaging continues to grow.

Over 120 delegates attended the 2023 Flexo Frontier Trend Events, which were organised by Polyflex Africa, Fujifilm and Sabre Engineering. It was here that Brett Pollock of Polyflex Africa detailed how recent refinements to a printing process known as limited colour gamut or ECG (Extended Colour Gamut) have resulted in a more sustainable process that also meets the need for cost containment.

Polyflex Operations Manager Stuart Baylis shared the positive results that printers are achieving with ECG. At a recent printing of a wide range of confectionary packaging, savings included 21% on ink and 62% on material. While these savings contribute to offsetting cost increases, a major benefit is improved productivity in terms of 72% reduced set-up time and 91% reduced washing solvent, all resulting in a 51% reduction in carbon emission.

Don Mac Farlane, Senior Technologist: Technical, Sustainability and Compliance of Foods Division at Woolworths SA, also shared his thoughts on sustainability. Wright says, “In a thought-provoking presentation, Don Mac Farlane outlined the move away from non-recyclable packaging. Over the year, the requirement for improved shelf-life for packaged goods, and the need to transport these goods over long distances, was met with many complicated laminations. As these constructions were made up of different polymers and additives, they are not easily recyclable. Due to the need for sustainable manufacturing, they are now being successfully replaced with single layer substrates. Non-functional packaging has been removed, and the preferred specification is polypropylene, which is easily recyclable. Boards and paper grades should be FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified, and according to Don, Woolworths aims to source 90% of packaging from local suppliers by 2023.”

Design: where aesthetics and functionality meet

Sign & Seal Labels MD, Henk Crous, knows that even for a small family-owned business, sustainability and innovation go hand-in-hand. While being interviewed about an award-winning label for the Gold Pack Awards Magazine, Sign & Seal Labels Production Manager Enver Pillay said, “Sign & Seal also takes a collaborative approach to label artwork by reviewing what we receive, advising the designer and customer about best practices,  how we can improve on the label’s functionality and aesthetics with enhancements and customisations, while at the same time advising them on sustainability principles.” Accreditation and certification are also important in the label printing sector, for both suppliers and retailers. Henk Crous says the global sustainability drive and growing brand-owner demand for FSC-certified paper-based products encouraged the business to apply for FSC accreditation at the same time as their ISO 9001 certification. “It wasn’t difficult to achieve because of the procedural and process frameworks that we already had in place for the ISO quality management system.”

Latest trends and innovations in labelling

Flexographic (Flexo) printing – Versatile, fast-drying, and can be used with a variety of ink types. It also uses less ink than traditional printing methods, which means reduced printing costs and the need for fewer resources. Recent technological innovations have led to improved quality, and the ability to make use of water-based inks instead of solvent-based inks ensures sustainability targets can be met as well (

Digital labels – Much like connected packaging, digital labels enable brands to connect with consumers. This also increases transparency and traceability and can be used to integrate with and improve automation and stock management processes. The incorporations of RFID technology, as well as machine-readable labels - which can be identified by augmented reality (AR) and internet of things (IoT) technology - are also a growing trend within this space (

Linerless labels – Label liners are responsible for a large portion of the non-recyclable waste from the labelling process that is destined for landfill. Linerless labels are a growing trend and advances in technology and design move forward to meet this need and incorporate it into both the design and automation processes.

Automated scales and smart labelling solutions

Scales are ubiquitous within a store, from receiving to packaging, in-store at delis and fresh produce counters, right through to till points. With this pervasiveness comes the demand for accuracy, integrated automated systems, and smart labelling solutions, as well as an easy-to-use set-up. An agile, integrated scale solution needs to be reliable and accessible. Multi-purpose scales are also coming through as next-generation technology.

Technological advancements increase efficiency and usher in the all-rounder scale solution

Technology is driving innovation in scales, with multi-purpose equipment giving retailers a host of benefits and optimal value. Some of these innovations include integrated CCTV camera systems for an additional layer of security, waterproof casings, and full reporting capabilities. These next-gen scales are fully integrated into the automated stock management system, and feature Bluetooth, ethernet, and wi-fi functionality. Able to weigh, pack, and label produce, these scales combine functionality with design quality and proficiency. The addition of batteries negates the potential pitfalls of load shedding, and full-colour HD touchscreens improve accessibility. Today’s scales are also able to connect to smart phones, electronic shelf labels (ESL), and InfoTags, for a seamless all-in-one solution.

As the technology develops to meet changing needs, label and scales companies like Teraoka SA are making sure they remain agile and able to tailor their offerings to the market by taking into consideration South Africa’s specific retail landscape, diverse consumer and customer needs, and unique challenges.

With the addition of AI software, self-serve contactless weighing and check out, integrated stock management software, and HD screens, consumers are able to have an efficient and fully automated experience. All in all, scales are getting faster, more agile, and more user-friendly.

Big changes are coming to SA’s labelling and advertising regulations

The Department of Health has released a draft of the R2986 Regulations Relating to the Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs for comment. These will significantly impact the labelling and packaging of many products. According to an article in The Daily Maverick (Adele Sulcas, 02 February 2023), these changes include:

  • Mandatory black-and-white warning-label system for pre-packaged foods that are high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats - more than 10g of total sugar per 100g or more than 5g per 100ml, more than 4g of saturated fatty acids per 100g or 3g per 100ml, and more than 400mg of sodium per 100g or 100mg per 100ml.
  • Mandatory warning labels for foods and drinks containing any amount of artificial (non-nutritive) sweeteners.
  • New marketing restrictions for any product carrying a warning label under the new system, including restrictions on depictions of or referrals to “celebrities, sports stars, cartoon-type characters (or similar). Products may not contain any type of token or gift that appeals to children, and not “abuse positive family values such as portraying any happy, caring family scenario” in order to encourage children to buy or consume them.
  • Claims relating to reduction of disease risk, health claims related to “wholegrain” foods, as well as for oral health, weight reduction and detoxification are also addressed.
  • There is a series of prohibited statements – this includes assertions, whether depicted in words, images, or logos, which create the impression that the food has been endorsed, supported, or manufactured in accordance with recommendations by a health practitioner or any professional advisory organisation (certain religious bodies are excluded).
  • Endorsements and the use of logos are strictly curtailed, along with words including “health” or “healthy”, “wholesome”, “nutritious”, “nutraceutical”, “super-food”, “smart” or “intelligent”.
  • Ingredients must be listed on labels “in descending order of mass present in the end product”, i.e. ingredients must be listed from highest to lowest relative weights. In the case of “mechanically recovered”, separated or deboned meat (typically used in processed meats), if the percentage of meat included in a product is less than 25%, the name and description of the end product may not contain the word “meat”.
  • Nutritional tables will be mandatory, unless the product falls under a short list of items such as baking powder, beer, coffee, honey, teas and infusions without added ingredients, vinegars, and “spray and cook type products”.

The new regulations are in line with World Health Organization and the South African Department of Health has invited public comment until 30 April 2023.  The draft regulations on Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs were published in the Government Gazette on 31 January 2023. Comments can also be submitted by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or in writing to Director-General of Health, Private Bag X828, Pretoria 0001 for the attention of the Director: Food Control.

Source: The Daily Maverick

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