Smart move for packaging

12 September 2013

Alfred Kubczak, corporate affairs director of Jeronimo Martins Polska, which runs the Biedronka chain of stores throughout Poland, speaks to Packaging & Converting Intelligence about the rise of smart packaging for food.

Packaging & Converting Intelligence: What makes packaging innovation in the food and consumer products industry different from other industries in terms of aesthetics, assurance of product delivery and safety?

Alfred Kubczak: Food products require particular care as regards quality and storage methods. Growing popularity in the sector has been enjoyed by so-called functional packaging, which not only protects a product against exposure to external factors and encourages purchase, but also contains necessary information about the product for the customers and meets stringent requirements related to the extension of a product's shelf life, improvement of organoleptic properties and protection. So-called active packaging helps in the maintenance of food quality, particularly perishables like vegetables, meat and fish.

The composition and design of such packaging, and the modified-atmosphere feature it uses, additionally protect the product against development of bacteria and mould, and allow the regulation of chemical processes inside the packaging. In turn, smart packaging aims to inform about the quality condition of the product. Owing to these developments, deterioration of products is increasingly rare in the distribution processes of today.

What are your customers responding to in regard to packaging innovations at Jeronimo Martins?

When making the decision to purchase a given product, customers are increasingly guided, not only by the price, but also by the product's functionality and convenience in use. They respond warmly to products with innovative packaging.

In such a competitive market, how are you differentiating yourselves to remain vital to existing customers, and how do you attract new customers?

To meet the growing expectations of customers and remain an attractive player in such a competitive market, we consistently develop our own unique offering, comprising low prices, high quality, proximity of stores and great service. Poles have less and less time for shopping, they want to do it fast and close to home.

"It is extremely important to see the changing needs of the customers and to reflect them immediately."

They are also short of time for cooking, so they increasingly reach for food partly prepared for consumption. In response to their needs, we are developing the category of ready dishes and, with assortment development in mind, we constantly enrich our offer of premium products. So we are introducing carefully selected wines, fresh fish and regional delicacies, and we permanently offer a wide selection of highest quality vegetables and fruit.

Jointly with producers, we also work on the creation of unique non-food products available only in the stores of our chain. As an example, for coffee lovers we have prepared a state-of-the-art Italico espresso coffee machine, designed in line with the most recent trends and manufactured from quality materials. Products we are very proud of - and ones greatly appreciated by customers and experts alike - include Dada Premium Nappies, the most purchased nappies in Poland. Our stable is also complemented by our mobile telephony offering - TuBiedronka.

Communication with customers is very important to us. We inspire them through publications available in Biedronka stores such as Weekly Inspirations and our customer service centre operates seven days a week.

Can you describe your role in making Jeronimo Martins a more cohesive organisation?

The development strategy of TuBiedronka assumes uniform development across the entire country, in big cities and in small towns alike. Presently, we operate approximately 2,200 points of sale across Poland. In line with our development plans, we assume that by 2015 this number will rise to 3,000. We also have 11 distribution centres, which reinforce our logistic chain and enable fast delivery of products to customers. The centres also have a cooperation platform with over 500 suppliers. Presently nine out of ten products in our stores come from Polish producers. Application of cutting-edge IT solutions in support of transport helps minimise the time it takes for products to reach the customers of TuBiedronka stores. Moreover, the centres meet the most stringent quality standards of goods storage and transport, guaranteeing that fresh, high-quality, safe products reach customers every day.

Can you give some examples of how breakthrough designs in packaging not only appeal aesthetically, but also deliver a better user experience?

We are using more innovative packaging, which facilitates preparation of dishes, while also fulfilling additional information tasks - indicating the GDA of recommended daily consumption and the GS1 data barcode system, allowing expiry date control. Products packed with the use of a modified protective atmosphere so that they are ready to consume or heat are next in our development programme. We also use modern packaging for sweets made by the Wawel company; single candies are packed using Flow Pack paper instead of traditional double-ply packaging. Innovative solutions are also used for fish - Our fresh carp is hermetically packed in protective-atmosphere Fario MAP, protecting products against harmful microorganisms, maintaining appearance, flavour and colour, and extending shelf life without the use of preservatives.

With the advent of new materials like these and the change in consumer tastes, how is sustainability a key component of your function and what kind of challenges do you face to maintain efficient supply chains?

The packaging market is characterised by dynamic development following from growth in the volume of products requiring packaging, and from emergence of cheaper and better technologies ensuring safety of products and functionality of packaging. It is a widespread trend for packaging to become increasingly user-friendly. Jeronimo Martins Polska cooperates closely with product manufacturers and suppliers in the search for new solutions and the creation of unique products, combining Polish character and quality, while simultaneously responding to present market trends, including those related to packaging - its functionality and design and the recycling potential.

How do you maintain long-term and mutually beneficial relationships with your customers?

It is extremely important to see the changing needs of the customers and to reflect them immediately in the stores' product offering and character. Presently, we are the largest retail chain operating in the Polish market. Our success is attributable to consistently implementing a strategy combining competitive image, pricing, quality, cooperation with Polish manufacturers, and activities in the field of corporate social responsibility. We constantly work differentiation of our offering, expanding it, with products supporting current nutritional trends including fresh vegetables, fruit and fish, products based on traditional recipes served in modern form and ready-to-consume products. Our stores are visited by over 3.5 million customers daily; over 76% of Poles regularly shop in our stores, and for 47% of them Biedronka is the main place to shop. For us, those figures are the most valuable expression of customers' trust and appreciation.

Active packaging has revolutionised the storage of perishables.

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