In the first instalment of this series I gave an account about autonomization, in other words delegating extra functions to packaging. I argued that the contemporary consumer expects that packaging incorporates applications for heating, cooling, steaming, cooking, brewing, micro-waving, as well as mixing, dispensing, and dosing. Furthermore the packaging has to meet the consumer preferences in terms of dual-offerings, sharing options and the necessary utensils to consume peacefully, sustainably and with convenience.
A part of this delegation can be characterised as Transformational, in other words the packaging that transforms itself into a useful tool for on-the-go and outdoor activities, with which the serving of the food and drinks becomes more practical to consume and where the packaging itself is adapted to the daily life-style of the modern user.
It’s time to give some striking examples to illustrate this trend in packaging. One of the first packaging designs that I recognised as an ingenious form of autonomization, was the popcorn pack, designed by Anni Nykänen in 2009.
Designed in 2009 by Anni Nykänen, a student at the Lahti Institute of Design in Finland the popcorn tray has visual impact which is heightened by the transformation of the shape of the packaging and with it its function as the contents are heated and expand in the microwave.
Popcorn is typically packaged in a pouch, which is partially folded to enable it to inflate, as a result of steam pressure from the heated kernels, when placed in a microwave.
Anni Nykänen recognised the problem with “pouched popcorn” where the consumer still has to transfer the heated all buttery, salty snacks into a separate bowl for consumption.
Her concept utilises the paperboard (Korsnäs White) characteristics of strength and formability, plus the ability to have direct contact with the food contents because of the purity of the board. The Pop-Up Popcorn Bowl transforms itself automatically into a nice four-legged bowl, when, after the flat pack with kernels is placed in the microwave, the popcorn is ready to be served.
A beautiful sculptural concept whereby the designer has something so mundane and lacking innovation reinvented into an object of beauty that one could even serve straight out of the package.
A beautiful and early example of autonomization.
The Expanding Bowl
Another example, a bit in the same style, was designed in 2013 when Swedish research firm Innventia teamed up with designers Anna Glansén and Hanna Billqvist from design agency Tomorrow Machine based in Stockholm to develop, what they called, the expanding bowl, a sustainable packaging customised for freeze-dried food.
The expanding bowl is made out of a 100% bio-based and biodegradable special paperboard, invented by Innventia.
When pouring hot water into the flat-folded packaging the mechano-active material will react to the heat and transform from a compressed packaging to a serving bowl.
The designers claimed that this is the new generation of sustainable packaging design, using materials that are both smart and environmentally friendly. At that time Innventia stated that the purpose of the collaboration was to show what the combination of the knowledge of scientists and the creativity of designers could achieve in order to create today the packaging design of tomorrow.
Fres-Cook Stand-Up Pouch
So called ready-to-eat meals packaged in stand-up pouches are crowding the supermarket shelves. The problem with these ready-to-eat meals is that the ingredients (solids and sauce) are pre-mix and the consumer is after heating in the microwave confronted with (what I want to call) a “heap of vomit” when emptying the contents of the pouch into a bowl (sorry for the characterisation, but nobody can deny reality). The pre-mix of food solids (meat, pasta, rice etc) and sauce is debit to that impression. The pre-mix kills the texture of the presented ready-meal and often the taste as well.
That’s why we see two compartment stand-up pouches in the market, which could hold the solids and the sauce (liquids in general) separated. This is an improvement, except that it isn’t always a pleasure to finger-force the second compartment to get the required mix after the pouch has been heated in the microwave.
Italian packaging system manufacturer Goglio did a step into the direction of autonomization, when it introduced the Fres-Cook stand-up pouch, a patented microwaveable packaging for ready-to-eat meals with the twist that the contents automatically are mixed during microwaving.
The packaging is a stand-up pouch with two compartments, of which the bottom one contains the pasta or similar solids and the top one the pasta-sauce. During heating in the microwave the steam will open the V-shaped seal between the two compartments, allowing the sauce to flow over the pasta. If the steam pressure increases further, the upper seal of the stand-up pouch opens on two sides so that the overpressure can disappear in a controlled way.
The microwaveable stand-up pouch stands in a paperboard tray, allowing consumers to pick it up from the microwave with their hands without burning them. The stand-up pouch has a pre-cut laser notch, so that the packaging can be opened easily and the content can be eaten with the included cutlery.
Goglio provides a complete system for the Fres-Cook packaging, which consists of a GNova filling and sealing machine, a cartoning machine for the trays and various multilayer films for the pre-formed stand-up pouches.
The three previous examples all needed some sort of energy source (microwave, boiling water) to get the extra function of the packaging engaged. That, of course, isn’t full-fledged autonomization. The next two examples will show us the full scope of autonomization. First the Mogol Egg from Russia.
Kian Gogol Mogol egg carton
We have seen quite some new developments in self-heating and/or self-cooling technology for packaging. Some time ago I gave a full overview of packaging innovations in self-heating technology. It is a market very much on the move and the same can be said from egg packaging. We have seen a wide variety of egg packaging, from just storage to pre-boiled eggs.
Let’s have a look at a full-fledged autonomous egg packaging ready for breakfast.
The Russian design firm Kian came up with an egg packaging, called Gogol Mogol, which is more than just an egg carton. It “boils” the egg in the packaging.
This unique egg carton concept is made out of recycled paperboard, while the packaging also holds a means to “boil” the eggs stored inside, as Gogol Mogol egg carton comes with a not-specified substance under the first paperboard layer, separated by a membrane which can be removed when a small label is pulled off. This causes the substance to mix and followed by a chemical reaction, which is enough to heat up the egg stored inside.
Within a few minutes, when the consumer opens the cover of the egg packaging, the egg is readily boiled. It is quite a unique concept that combines an egg package and a way to cook it as well. The design fulfils all the requirements for an autonomous, stand-alone, ready-to-use packaged product.
Baby Food On-The-Go
When we take a closer look at the process to feed a baby or toddler with a milk powder baby formula when on-the-go, we might have seen interesting innovations in packaging for this type of product over the last few years, but whatever the improvements all of them maintained the “wrestling” of the parents with a box of powder, a measurement spoon, the need of mineral water, a baby bottle and a nipple, after which (sometimes painful) wrestling the parents have to look for a heating facility, before finally the baby can enjoy its “meal”.
The above “analyses” of the baby feeding process uncovers a range of autonomization challenges. Well, the answer came from the Dutch company Aestech in the form of a full-fledged autonomous packaging, including self-heating, a milk powder dispenser, the necessary spring water and a baby nipple.
Contrary to existing self-heating packaging, mainly metal beverage cans with pre-mixed coffee or tea, this self-heater has a separate chamber in which the milk powder is stored, while the heating-element is located at the bottom of the largest chamber, which holds the spring water.
In other words it isn’t a pre-mixed product as the ingredients, as vitamins and milk powder, are stored separately from the spring water, staying dry till the moment of consumption, maintaining the “power” of the supplements.
By pushing the activation button at the top of the packaging the foil which seals the dispensing chamber will rupture and the dry matter (milk powder) will drop into the compartment below, which holds the drinking water.
By pushing the above said activation button a second action will occur simultaneously as the pressure will push the water in the tube into the heating element. Consequently an exothermal reaction with the calcium oxide will take place. The heating element heats up and the heat is transferred to the milk powder/water mix around the heating element.
After approx. 2 minutes and a bit shaking of the packaging the baby formula has reached the appropriate temperature of 37°C (100°F), the nipple can be put in place and the baby or toddler can enjoy his/her meal.
I wrote about this development some time ago in detail, see my article “Self-heating Packaging For Baby Formula”
At the end of this overview of examples I want to make two remarks.
The first is about the origin of these developments to autonomous packaging or its tentative steps to autonomy. All examples I could find originate from a European country. Finland, Sweden, Russia, the Netherlands, Italy, etc. I couldn’t find one single example from the USA. Obviously autonomization (more or less equal to perfectness) isn’t yet in the books of American packaged goods companies. Apparently the US marketing boys and girls have other goodies for their consumers on their mind.
The second remark is as significant. When you screen the packaging field you will find examples of autonomization in all segment of the market and packaged products, except in fresh produce. And that’s not surprising as fresh produce is a very difficult product to bring under the regime of autonomization. We only know the product by its pre-cut and pre-packaged status. But there is a whole range of problems to be solved before you can come up with an autonomous packaging.
It took Israeli Michael Gershman, Ph.D. some years to come up with an exceptional answer to this packaging problem in a multi-billion consumer market.
About this design, in detail, in my last part of this series. It’s a unique example of autonomization.