With almost 47,000 products on the shelves of the average supermarket, the competition for shelf space and market share has never been greater. Success in this highly competitive environment hinges on whether the packaging attracts the consumer’s attention and provides an experience that is positive enough to drive repeat sales. Sonoco’s Flexibles division is known for innovative and award-winning packaging that meets these needs, such as its SmartSeal easy-open/reclose feature, SealTab integrated reclose and MicroVent integrated steam release.

How do they continue to provide market-changing unique packaging?


Harnessing the Power of Process to Drive Innovation

Sonoco believes in harnessing the power of process to drive innovation. The company’s culture of innovation is supported by three key systems that ensure successful product launches:


The Power of Production: Sonoco Performance System (SPS)

In today’s competitive environment, quality and speed-to-market are key factors for success. No customer wants to sacrifice either component. With a 115-year history focused on quality and customer satisfaction, Sonoco realizes the value of establishing a standardized system that would ensure production and manufacturing continuity, consistency, productivity and quality. This led to the creation of the Sonoco Performance System. SPS is designed to yield continuous improvement in all aspects of operations by focusing on the fundamentals of manufacturing through education, employee engagement and data that, together, achieve results. The Sonoco Performance System:

  • Improves product quality
  • Allows operators/leaders to focus on productivity and improvement projects
  • Makes it easier to move resources around as business demands change
  • Creates a culture of clearly aligned metrics, accountability and process discipline
  • Supports growth and relationships with customers

When applied to Sonoco’s Waco, Texas, flexible packaging production facility in 2012, the plant completed over 100 new projects, significantly reducing throughput times and reworked material (56 percent reduction), and provided the same throughput year over year from 2012 to 2013, with 1,000 fewer press hours and 2,300 fewer slitter hours.

The foundation for Sonoco to achieve and sustain performance, SPS translates to increased production flexibility, loss reduction and improved customer responsiveness, providing customers with the competitive advantage of production efficiency.


The Power of Innovation: i6 Innovation Process

Sonoco has developed the proprietary i6 Innovation Process, leveraging marketing insights and technical expertise to fully imagine, test, produce and implement a solution that solves a customer's particular challenge. The process produces what Sonoco calls a 360-degree Customized Solution – solutions that include not just multiple types of packaging, but also services such as graphics management, recycling or packing assistance.

“Innovation is not an event,” says Sonoco President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Sanders. “It is the result of a disciplined process. Yes, innovation is about free-thinking, creativity and imagination, but it has to have direction and purpose. For us, the process is what gives innovation its power. We have purpose-driven innovation, not innovation for innovation’s sake. We use it to solve problems for our customers.”

This repeatable, scalable approach involves six key steps: Insights, Ideation, Invention, Integration, Interaction and Iteration. The i6 Process incorporates market and consumer research to identify opportunities, idea generation involving the customer and internal cross-functional teams, various technical capabilities to evaluate proof-of-principle, a range of testing methodologies to gauge real-world application and life-cycle analysis to evaluate performance and look at the next stage in the product evolution.

By following this disciplined, step-by-step approach, Sonoco is able to connect insights with market opportunities. The company then works with its customers to construct a 360-degree customized solution that exceeds their needs and expectations. One example is the innovative Twistoff stick package for Halls cough drops that allows one cough drop to be dispensed without spilling other drops out of the package, or the SmartSeal closure used on Oreo cookies. Both demonstrate the power of combining consumer insights to uncover marketing opportunities for customers, with innovative package design, that delivers differentiated value to consumers.

Two other examples really showcase Sonoco’s i6 process – Lego Hero Factory toys and Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals cracker chips. Lego Group has traditionally leaned toward paperboard cartons and reusable plastic tubs for its brick packaging; Pepperidge Farms has a standard bag-in-a-box format. Both wanted consumers to use their packaging throughout the life of the product and to increase shelf appeal.

Using the i6 process, Sonoco developed a 360-degree customized solution that met the needs of each company. For Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals cracker chips line, the process led to the invention of SealTab, an innovative reseal technology integrated with the packaging film. With the SealTab reclose feature, the consumer pulls a tab near the top of the package that reveals a resealable adhesive flap and then folds the top section of the bag forward, adhering the flap to the bag. The top of the bag can be folded down, retaining freshness and maintaining the Baked Naturals brand on the bag.

For Lego Hero Factory toys, the process led to a flexible standup pouch with recloseable zipper opening with high-impact graphics. “Using our formalized i6 Innovation Process, our team took a holistic look at Lego's needs, the needs of their consumers and the demands of their retail environment, and created an innovative packaging solution to a marketing challenge,” says Bob Puechl, vice president of Global Flexibles. Today Sonoco not only provides the flexible packing, they also provide packing services for Lego toys that are sold worldwide.

Both solutions provided the customer what they were looking for – optimized performance, functional innovation, flexibility and marketing impact. In both instances the new packaging formats won awards, gave consumers a new way to interact with the products and, most importantly, solved problems for the customer. And that is the goal of the i6 Innovation Process – connecting insights with marketing opportunities for customers.


The Power of Continual Customer Feedback

The solution is not the end of the story. Sonoco also uses an ongoing feedback process to improve the customer’s product and service experience and identify unmet needs. Every month, Sonoco sends out surveys to its key customer contacts, soliciting feedback on various aspects of the customer’s experience using the Net Promoter Score process. Through this continual feedback, coupled with quality feedback data and ongoing customer face-to-face interactions, Sonoco is able to get a full picture of its opportunities and challenges. This real-time, dynamic process allows Sonoco to quickly respond to customer needs and requirements, identify gaps in service and product expectations and then develop action steps to make improvements, better meeting the needs of customers.


Best Practices, the Power of Sonoco

Listening, learning, being curious about consumers, markets and trends, all contribute to delivering customer value. But quality, service and innovation are still critical. Sonoco has found that harnessing the power of innovation with all of these best practices and processes allows the company to bring more to packaging than just the package.


Sonoco Products Co.

(989) 729-2780; www.sonoco.com