In recognition of the huge role packaging plays in the grocery industry, The Grocer has launched the Best Packaging Innovation Award. The award makes its debut in this issue, and aims to highlight and reward the best packaging designs ­ both new product launches and major makeovers of existing brands ­ introduced in the past 18 months. Rather than throwing the award open to the industry in its first year, we asked the UK's top 20 food, drink and toiletries manufacturers to scan all the product packaging developments they have made in the last 18 months (September 2000 to the end of February 2002) and to nominate the one they considered to be the best. The product could fall into any food, drink or toiletries category, but it had to: l demonstrate imaginative and innovative use of materials and graphics l convey brand values l be suitable for its purpose l have contributed to or benefited the product's success rating. We purposely left open the issues of environmental friendliness and ease of handling by the disabled or elderly, as we believe these aspects are covered by other packaging awards. We received 15 entries. The five companies that decided not to participate were Procter & Gamble, Müller, Britvic, Gillette and Premier International ­ a surprising list considering some have made major product launches in the last 18 months. To judge the nominations we co-opted three experts from the world of packaging: l Greg Wood, business manager of Pira International, the leading independent centre for consultancy, training and information services for the packaging industry. l Peter Shaw, director of Corporate Edge, the largest independent branding and design consultancy in the UK with a broad client list which includes fmcg, finance and leisure. l Stuart Lendrum, packaging buyer at Safeway and one of a six-strong team responsible for packaging specification of the retailer's own label range. In addition there were The Grocer's Focus features editor Sarah Hardcastle, helped by deputy Focus features editor Sheila Eggleston, and marketing editor Simon Mowbray who chaired the judging. The panel was asked to evaluate six aspects of each product: technical innovation; innovative use of materials; innovative use of graphics; ease of use; suitability of purpose and conveyance of brand values. The judges awardedmarks out of five for each section. Voting produced three clear winners, with Lever Fabergé's Persil Capsules scoring top marks, 10 points ahead of the field. The judges felt this was the most innovative of all the submissions because of the pack's unusual curved shape ­ concave front and back and convex at the sides ­ which posed technical challenges, especially in cardboard. Not only is the shape a radical departure from the conventional rectangular box employed in laundry products, but it also evokes the form of a washing machine and the capsules. The pack's size conveys the message of convenience in that it is easier to handle than other more cumbersome packs, while the strong graphics effectively convey the message about portion control. The judges were unanimous that it was one of the best pack designs they had ever seen. "It's a classic that will go down in packaging design history," was one comment. The only reservation was the plastic bag containing the capsules, which the judges felt failed to live up to the ease of use message of the exterior. Nestlé's Quality Street Tub took second place. The judges thought the frosted-look polypropylene pack with its bold and colourful graphics and wide opening was effective in updating the brand and taking it into the sharing market. The pack's translucence was praised as the light made the foil wrapped chocolates glow like jewels. Guinness UDV's Archers Aqua made the number three slot, with the judges commending it for updating an established niche brand for a new, female audience. They particularly liked the bottle's curved shape, frosted-look shrink sleeve decorated with bubbles, and colourful neck and cap which depicted the flavour variants. Judges said the standard of graphics was high, there was great shelf stand out, and a pleasant tactile quality. Its "girly feel" concept was just right to attract a more upmarket female market. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}