Packaging for the future
The IKEA flat packs have been made of cardboard for decades. But what will future flat packs be made of? Erik Olsen and his team are searching for innovative solutions and are now looking for start-ups to help IKEA find the packaging solutions for the future.
Packaging is important to protect products. A lightbulb needs protection from the second it leaves the factory until the customers unpack the light source in their homes. The packaging helps the lightbulb stay protected when transported and handled in a warehouse, a store, or the blue FRAKTA bag on the way home to the customer. But that's not all.
"A packaging is also a carrier of important information and the IKEA brand. If you shop online, the only meeting point you as a customer have is IKEA.com and the box that arrives at your front door", says Erik Olsen, Packaging and & Identification manager at IKEA.
What a good packaging looks like
Erik and his team are working to make the packaging surrounding IKEA products as sustainable and affordable as possible. He says that a good packaging solution protects the product, but to be mindful of resources, it protects just as much as needed – no more, no less. It should also be easy for the customer to open the packaging.
"Today, our packaging solutions mainly consist of cardboard. It's one of the few materials recycled on a global scale, and there's an infrastructure in place to gather and transport the recycled material to a paper mill. We still have some plastics in there, but it's harder to recycle on a global scale", says Erik.
Erik Olsen, Packaging and & Identification manager at IKEA.
When it comes to packaging, IKEA is looking for innovative solutions for the future for these two key aspects:
- What are the new sustainable materials of the future that will protect products and make sure they reach customers safely?
- What are the innovative solutions for safely transporting goods from suppliers to customers that we haven't seen before?
Looking for start-ups
IKEA is now scouting for potential start-ups to join a Packaging Innovation Accelerator Program to tackle these challenges. Through this program, IKEA aims to collaborate with start-ups to find sustainable and innovative solutions and accelerate packaging development.
"I would argue that we are experts on cardboard, but what alternatives are there in five to ten years? We are searching for future materials and early-stage companies with solutions for new materials or ways to use less material giving the same protection. Here we would like to help drive a more sustainable industry standard", says Erik.
For the second challenge, Erik and his team are looking to find a solution for customers choosing click & deliver. In other words, when you buy online and choose to get the products delivered to your home.
"Today, we take products from a store or a central fulfilment unit, wrap them in cardboard and put it in a box. Or we take a product that's already in a box and put it in another box. E-commerce challenges our existing packaging solutions, but I think there are smarter and more sustainable solutions for this sales channel that has emerged during the pandemic. Here we would like to co-create and get challenged by start-ups".
By collaborating with start-ups, Erik and his team hope to find new potential solutions for IKEA packaging.
"It can be solutions that are on a patent level today, and then we can embark on the journey together. It could be a long journey, but we are not afraid of testing and trying", Erik says.
The accelerator program is about learning and exploring solutions and materials that are not commercially available today.
"If we sit down and start a dialogue with start-ups, I think it will trigger new ideas for both parties. I'm excited to hear their view on our work – maybe we are not ambitious enough?"
IKEA uses significant volumes of packaging. How does the scale influence the work to find new packaging solutions?
"It's both an advantage and a challenge. We have the scale to help move the industry in a more sustainable direction. At the same time, with the volumes we use at IKEA, it's hard to replace a material like cardboard over a night. We need big volumes of raw material, but we can start small scale".
The Packaging Innovation Accelerator Program will launch during the fall, and IKEA will meet with start-ups globally to find companies that want to work with future packaging. If you are interested and have solutions that match the challenges, then please apply through this link.