The Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC) has announced the winners of its 77th annual North American Paperboard Packaging Competition. Evaluated on design, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing, these eight folding cartons and rigid boxes earned the competition’s top awards—and surely represent some of the best paperboard packaging manufactured in North America this year. 

Package & Innovation of the Year: Graphic Packaging International (GPI), Patagonia 6-Can KeelClip. A first for PPC’s competition, GPI took home both the Innovation of the Year Award and the Paperboard Package of the Year (the competition’s highest honor) for the groundbreaking KeelClip design. A plastic-free solution for beverage can multipacks that eliminates the need for rings or shrink wrap, KeelClip minimizes board usage while maximizing shelf appeal by prominently displaying the primary cans.

Despite the minimal use of paperboard, the design delivers a surprising amount of strength. The “keel” concept reinforces the top panel and optimizes clip performance with the application of a small amount of recyclable glue combined with a structure that fixes the cans to the paperboard through an aperture.

KeelClip also features an innovative “flip and pull” can-removal mechanism, allowing consumers to easily flip the top of the pack, release the clip from the cans, and grab their favorite beverage.

This package is what the PPC competition is all about: thoughtful, progressive paperboard design that solves real problems while doing its part to better our environment. 

Folding Carton of the Year: Graphic Packaging International, Stella Artois 6-Bottle Rounded Flex Handle Carton. A completely unique beer design, Graphic Packaging International’s Stella Artois carton features four rounded corners, a flex handle for comfortable carrying, and a zipper feature that runs around the body of the carton, allowing for clean and easy opening by the consumer. A conversation piece that stands out on the store shelf and at parties, this design conveys a premium image for the Stella Artois brand. It also moves the design conversation forward for beer packaging in our industry.

Digital Application of the Year: WestRock, M&M’s NFL. Teaming up with Mars Wrigley, WestRock kicked off the football season with a surefire touchdown. Using digital printing, they created an interactive, serialized M&M’s carton design that was a huge hit with Green Bay Packers fans.

In a truly remarkable use of digital printing, the sleeves for the sliding tray boxes were updated weekly with current game scores and stats. With most games on Sunday, that meant new stats had to be loaded and boxes converted in time to be shipped and arrive for retail sales on Wednesday.

If that’s not impressive enough, WestRock also implemented augmented reality technology that let fans collect stickers, take selfies with M&M’S characters, and unlock exclusive content each week. A feat only made possible with digital printing and a dedicated supply chain and retail partnership, these cartons delighted fans and quickly became collectors’ items.

Sustainability Package of the Year: Graphic Packaging International, PaperSeal. In a big leap forward for green packaging, GPI’s PaperSeal design reduces plastic use by 80-90 percent when compared to the vacuum sealed packaging or modified atmosphere packaging it is designed to replace. We could call PaperSeal “earth-shattering,” but a better term might be earth–sustaining.

Developed for food applications, PaperSeal combines the sustainability of paperboard with the leak-protection usually associated with plastic. Its structural design features a one-piece continuous sealing flange, giving the product integrity while preventing potential leakages. Another earth-friendly design element, the film liner can be easily separated from the paperboard after use, making both the tray and film fully recyclable. When people say that paperboard simply can’t be used for certain packaging applications, we say it can! PaperSeal is a testament to the versatility and sustainability of our substrate as well as the ingenuity of our industry.

Rigid Box of the Year: WestRock, Jung & Wulff Gift Pack. This excellent rigid box features a perfectly flat, 12-inch-long face-panel, a recessed pull-out handle, as well as antique map graphics, gold stamping, and engraving art that highlights the historical, global story of Jung & Wulff’s 1883 origins. 

Despite the seemingly simple assignment of designing a premium rigid box for luxury rum bottles, WestRock faced and masterfully solved a new structural challenge: achieving a perfectly flat, 12-inch-long face-panel. The problem? The panel isn’t attached at any point along its length, therefore creating the potential for bowing on the grain direction. The team ultimately succeeded in its creative challenge, designing a panel that folds up and over the face and is held in place with hidden magnets.

Dick DePaul Award for Creative Design and Converting: Frankston Packaging, 3-Pack Scrub Sampler. When PPC heard the sad news that longtime competition judge Richard “Dick” DePaul had passed away last December, we knew that a piece of our industry’s history went with him. 

Over his 50-year career in the folding carton industry, Dick had seen it all. He worked in the converting and consumer sides of the business, designed for nearly every end-use segment, authored and illustrated both editions of PPC’s Ideas and Innovation Design Handbook, and, of course, served as a judge for our North American Paperboard Packaging Competition.

Dick was integrally involved in the competition. He was the go-to, not only for industry perspective, but also for anything regarding structural design and unique construction. Indeed, Dick found much of his passion in how boxes were built. We remember how he would bring cartons he’d collected over the past year to the competitions, just to share their unique and often novel approaches. The presence of such an industry stalwart and friend was missed this year, but Dick was never far from our memory. Especially because we were searching for entries to receive our first Dick DePaul Award for Creative Design and Converting. In memory of Dick, the award recognizes one PPC member company for the use of creativity, forward-thinking construction, and unique design elements.

Judges’ Award: Zumbiel Packaging, Braxton Hard Seltzers. To beat the competition from national beer brands, craft brewer Braxton Brewing Company went where competition is the name of the game: professional sports. One of the first craft brewers to embrace affiliate marketing with sports teams, Braxton’s Vive seltzer has already become the official hard seltzer of the Indiana Pacers (NBA), the Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), and FC Cincinnati (MLS)

However, adding more team affiliations proved challenging for packaging logistics. For example, if Braxton applied a Bengals logo to its seltzers during football season, it risked losing customers who were loyal to the Colts.

The solution? Zumbiel Packaging’s adept digital printing and converting capacities. With Zumbiel’s help, Braxton was able to efficiently hyper-segment its markets while decreasing carton volume per individual SKU. No added costs, no minimum run quantities. Digital printing gives Braxton its competitive edge, just as it does for the paperboard packaging industry.

Judges’ Award: JohnsByrne, Galaxy S20 Sales Team Launch Kit. With the launch of its new Galaxy S20 phone quickly approaching, Samsung needed to excite its retail reps and get them ready to sell the flagship device. To do this, they partnered with JohnsByrne to create an interactive launch kit.

Engaging from the start, the kit has a unique trapezoid shape that mimics the slopes and ridges of the new S20. Inside, the kit opens up in multiple sections, revealing various panels of information. Also included are interactive components that teach sales reps about the phone’s new features. The JohnsByrne team developed ten unique cityscape pop-up mountable displays that highlight the phone’s zoom capabilities when viewed from far away.

Also included is a specially designed low-light box to demonstrate additional photographic features. If hands-on learning is the way to go, then look no further than versatile, tactile, beautifully printed paperboard.

In addition to these top awards, the competition recognized around 70 other entries with Gold and Excellence Awards. This year’s contest also featured a new category honoring PPC member contributions to the COVID-19 response, such as the manufacture of face shields or PPE packaging. To learn more about PPC’s carton competition and get the full story about each of the exciting top designs, visit 

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