Trends- Finding the Right Link

Innovative packaging is an effective strategy that fast-moving consumer goods companies can use to give their brands that all-important competitive edge. Products with outstanding shelf appeal have a greater chance of attracting the attention of consumers and encouraging them to make the decision to buy.

While food companies continue to review the consumer trends that affect purchasing behaviors, it is important that they also examine global packaging trends, to develop successful strategies that enhance their product offerings while reducing costs. Finding the right link between consumer trends and packaging selection could determine the success or failure of a product line.

While successful packaging helps a product reach the pantry shelf, it is the quality of the product that keeps it there. Attractive packaging may entice and secure the first-time purchase of a product, but the consumer’s experience with the product will determine if they re-purchase the brand. This is why food marketers and packaging managers today must ensure product quality and packaging strategies are aligned. Product and packaging development should not be conducted in isolation.

In recent years, the following consumer trends have forced manufacturers to re-think their packaging offerings. The companies that change and evolve with customers will succeed, while the brands that fail to change will become extinct.

Convenience


In a world starved for time, consumers crave convenience to reduce the time spent on preparing meals, and innovative packaging can deliver what they want. A classic example of this can be seen in the success of pre-cut fresh produce in the Australian retail market, where consumers are prepared to pay more than double for packaged, hygienically washed and cut vegetables.

To support this trend, packaging companies are continuing to develop specialized breathable packaging, to extend the shelf life of the food it protects as the product passes along the supply chain from the farm through to the consumer.

Microwavable meals were developed primarily for convenience, which came at the expense of product freshness and—sometimes—taste. Several attempts have been made in recent years to enhance the quality of ingredients found in these meals, yet challenges still exist. Customer feedback indicates that microwavable meals are easy to overcook, often do not cook evenly, and can dry out during the reheating process.

Packaging technologists have driven the development of better ready-to-heat-and-eat solutions. Efforts to improve the cooking process have been made using different valve technologies that manage the distribution of steam and pressure around the food. This dynamic shift is enabling brands to provide convenience, quality and consistently well-prepared food, allowing for premium positioning in the ready-to-eat market.

Variety

Consumers are demanding more variety. This has created an explosion in SKU proliferation on the shelf. Choosing the right packaging is crucial to getting a balance between meeting consumer needs (the marketers’ goal) and achieving operational flexibility. Packaging managers are therefore revisiting packaging and decoration options to deliver the necessary outcomes.

One emerging trend is the concept of “late stage differentiation”, where decoration is brought in-house and applied at the point of filling. This gives food companies much more flexibility in meeting consumer demands for more SKUs and enables marketers to run more promotions with shorter notice. There are also opportunities to reduce inventory of pre-decorated containers, reduce obsolescent inventory and improve the graphics and aesthetics of pre-printed containers. Two key technologies that have offered this breathing space to food companies are pressure-sensitive and roll-fed shrink labels.

Form and Graphics


“Just give me the facts so I can buy” is what consumers are saying these days. Simple packaging designs and graphics are popular and those companies that are heeding this trend are reaping the benefits. In the UK, innovative retailer, Waitrose, used a plain, clear pressure-sensitive label with a simple print design to deliver outstanding shelf impact for their pickle range. The packaging told consumers what they wanted to know about the contents, and the product was supplied in a convenient re-closable jar, so they could see the quality of the pickles through the glass.

In this example, a clear label assures consumers that there is nothing to hide and that what you see is what you get. Today, consumers want to see what they are purchasing, and innovative packaging and label combinations can achieve this. The choice of graphics is equally important. Less glossy packaging and softer ink tones are being used to achieve the “natural’’ message and give a unique shelf appeal.

Age-neutral packaging

It is well documented that most markets have an aging population, so it is crucial to design packaging that is age-neutral. Creators of packaging concepts need to align elements of their designs with the demands of this market segment. Graphics should be legible (this could mean using larger fonts); the packaging shape needs to be ergonomic; and functional aspects, such as easy-open and re-closure features, need to be suitable for older people to use without difficulty.

“Green” movement

Consumers today are well educated about “green” foods and are conscious of the impact of packaging on the environment. The momentum behind the “green” movement is building quickly and, being well aware of this, many food companies are already responding. Obviously, choosing “green” packaging means using recyclable or biodegradable packaging, and even reducing packaging, but it also requires a review of the whole value chain and linking to what consumers are demanding.

While the majority will focus on packaging alone to deliver sustainability, it is also important to consider how to deliver food and minimize its wastage, because the percentage of food waste in our dumps far exceeds that of packaging. Rather than being based only on environmental impact, packaging choice needs to be seen as a means of meeting consumer demand to reduce food wastage. In fact, it can play a crucial role, as innovative packaging technologists develop sustainable solutions. Hence thinner films, lighter containers, recyclable plastic and, more recently, biodegradable packaging, are all being deployed to ensure “green” is part of the overall product packaging story.

All of these elements, and the degree to which a brand meets the requirements of their consumers, will determine the success or failure of a product. While the graphics and shape of packaging play an important role in capturing the attention of consumers during the “moment of truth” at the supermarket shelf, the functional aspects of the package are crucial to giving the consumer a positive post-purchase experience. However, simply adding functionality is not enough. The packaging design needs to incorporate two key aspects: relevance to the product and delivery of consistent performance. For example, if a package is promoted as re-closable, it must re-close easily and effectively, and its performance should exceed the expectations of consumers.

A positive post-purchase experience is a critical factor in achieving brand loyalty. This is why it is so important for packaging technologists to match consumer requirements with appropriate packaging designs.