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Outside the box: why “disruptive” product development matters

Encirc Beverages’ product development team is focused on continually finding new, better and greener ways of doing things.

The only constant in life is change, so the saying goes. It’s a philosophy wholly embraced by the team at Encirc Beverages, which is constantly on the hunt for ways to improve its processes.

“We’re looking to go out and disrupt,” managing director Richard Lloyd tells the drinks business.

Responsible for more than half of the UK’s glass filling, with clients straddling the worlds of wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks, Encirc Beverages is a pivotal cog in the UK supply chain, and as such any changes it instigates at its facilities have the potential to make a considerable impact on the country’s carbon footprint.

Encirc’s ZE30 (zero emission 2030) mission puts sustainability at the heart of everything that the company does. One tangible way in which the company is rewriting greener rules is by interrogating traditional plastic stretch wrap on pallets. For the last three years, Encirc Beverages has been trialling alternatives to hold products firmly in place while they are being moved from point A to point B, with a new paper wrap approach expected to be rolled out commercially in 2024.

“Since there has been a cultural step change in terms of plastic awareness, being mindful of how we live and eat has become increasingly important in shopper decisions and continues to be a priority for consumers,” says Lloyd. “Taking a holistic approach to the plastic used for the packaging of wine is a key part of our strategy. Rather than focusing on only the most conspicuous plastic usage, we are addressing all areas of plastic usage, including stretch wrap, to provide the shopper with a truly plastic-free alternative.”

To do so, Encirc Beverages has partnered with paper-based packaging company Smurfit Kappa (also a key player in making containers for bag-in-box wines) and Italian manufacturer Acmi, which has been developing machine systems over a number of years, to create a paper stretch wrap to stabilise pallets.

“Ultimately, it’s about changing the way that the sector transports its products, for a more sustainable future,” explains Lloyd.

Like all successful projects, it has not been without its challenges.

“The tension required to apply the paper wrap differs from the more elastic LLDPE product currently used for stretch wrap,” says Lloyd. “The new wrap has a gluing unit to ensure that it does not unwind in transit.”

Encirc Beverages plans to install the paper wrap on one of its nine bottling lines to prove the viability of the concept, with a large-scale commercial trial to take place, during which the company will “partner with drinks brand owners and their customers to ensure that the trials are comprehensive, and with their consent”, says Lloyd.

Online printing

One further way in which Encirc Beverages is challenging the status quo is by changing its approach to the printing of wine cases.

“Historically, every combination of brand and wine style has required a bespoke case carrying the product-specific information,” says Lloyd.

“We are now looking at using late-stage customisation of generic wine cases to reduce inventory and cost. By using a pre-printed semi-generic case, and printing the barcode and specific varietal information online, we are able to maintain the ease of recognition that plays a key role in identifying the stock in the back of a retail store. This approach dramatically reduces the number of print plates required, eliminating three tonnes of non-recyclable polymer per year.”

Through this process a wine brand might, for example, have one generic box design, which can then be tailored by Encirc Beverages to include SKU-specific information for multiple products by the same brand.

At the heart of all these conversations around innovation is Encirc Beverages’ dynamic product development team, which draws on the expertise of the company’s supply network through the well-established and constantly evolving Supplier Development Programme.

“Product optimisation is achieved by working collaboratively with customers and key suppliers to ensure that all material specifications are reviewed by our in-house technical experts,” explains Lloyd.

This service provides detailed feedback addressing all areas of product performance, including sustainability and cost, helping to inform economies of scale and buying power to maximise value for the customer.

With Encirc Beverages aiming to grow its business by 28% over the next five years, its product development team will be an important part of that journey, as will the company’s focus on data, analytics and an “extremely high level” of automation on the factory floor.

And, according to Lloyd, artificial intelligence (AI) will be used increasingly throughout the company’s sites in the coming years in order to bring the product designs to life.

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