The food and beverage industry is calling out to consumers for attention.
According to FMI (the Food Marketing Institute), many grocery stores in the US carry upwards of 100,000 products, with thousands of new products coming to market every year. With the incredible proliferation of new products in the marketplace: natural, organic, gourmet, niche, specialty and new age, is it any wonder that manufacturers are demanding upscale, sophisticated graphics and cutting-edge new packaging? Is it any wonder that manufacturers are shying away from hiring basic graphic design firms, in order to collaborate with brand specialists?
Retail studies have shown that up to 85 percent of all consumer purchases are made on impulse. In view of this, food and beverage manufacturers are putting more and more emphasis on package design. That package must convey brand communication—quickly and efficiently. How do package design firms capture the essence of their clients’ brands? How do they gain coveted premium shelf space? How do they gain market share? And how do they get the consumer’s attention to attain all of these things?
Brand identity and package design are an increasingly important component of corporate branding strategies as they contribute significantly to marketing or branding successes. While marketing and advertising efforts seek to create “need” or demand for a product, only the package can tangibly deliver that product and brand to the consumer. The package must meet the consumer where he or she is, and it must deliver just the right brand message to promote a purchasing decision. All of the corporate marketing, advertising and promotional efforts in the world go for naught if the consumer standing before the retail shelf, passes over the product. When this happens, the huge cost of research and development, marketing and positioning the product in the marketplace has been a waste.
Since a brand’s packaging is its most enduring and accessible brand communication vehicle, it’s important that it conveys the brand experience through an innovative structure and package design system. The brand’s packaging must be a synergistic part of the overall brand expression continuum.
Sometimes the objective is to develop a logo and a package design system for line extensions by leveraging existing brand equities while creating distinctive imagery for a new category segment.
A great example of this is Procter & Gamble’s Pringles Snack Stacks products. Snack Stacks offer consumers the same Pringles in an eight-pack configuration of small plastic tubs that are yoked together in a paperboard sleeve. Ideal for lunchboxes and for those who wish to control portions, this structural package extends the Pringles line, and its recognizable brand attributes. The iconic Mr. Pringles character has been contemporized for new generations of potato chip fans and is now a global player in the crowded snack market in 140 countries. How important is Pringles to Procter & Gamble? Pringles is one of the corporate conglomerate’s billion dollar brands.
Sometimes, the project involves the positioning of a single new product or a complete product line. In that case, brand identity and image must be created from scratch. Logo design, product naming, and a host of research must be done prior to all of these functions. Category audits must be done to assess the competition on the shelf. The brand assets of the new product must be uncovered and its brand drivers identified. Consumer-based research into the brand experiences that impact consumer perception and decision making must be assessed. Ultimately, consumer satisfaction is paramount.
A great example of “new food and beverage line” is Unilever’s Carb Options. Unilever had already broken ground in the booming low-carbohydrate category with its Carb Smart Breyers and Klondike ice cream products. This “new” line is actually a repackaging of some of Unilever’s popular food products—with the original brands’ equities being leveraged on the new packaging, as “sub-brands.” Some of these products include Skippy Peanut Butter, Wishbone salad dressings and Ragu pasta sauces.
Whether the low-carb food craze has long-term staying power, or plateaus in the near future, 50 million current consumers of low-carb diets cannot be ignored by the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers. In fact, new umbrella brands should be created for many existing foods and beverages, with additional line extensions, much as Unilever has done.
Structural packaging has been getting more and more sophisticated, and beverage manufacturers have been especially eager to distinguish their products by collaborating with design firms who specialize in this arena. New, irregularly shaped bottles, or bottles with multiple curves or unusually textured surfaces have become increasingly popular. These are attention getters on the shelf. Take a look in a grocery store aisle that merchandises bottled water, and you will see what I mean. Poland Spring, Dasani and Aquafina are merchandised in an array of artistic, ergonomic PET (plastic recyclable) bottles that are as functional as they are beautiful.
Sam Rowse, owner and president of Veryfine, commenting recently in Packaging World on his company’s new packaging for Fruit2O, fruit-infused spring water said, "We tried to make the bottle look like flowing water, and the light refracts nicely from the pillars in the lower two-thirds of the bottle. It also has a pinch grip, so it not only feels better to hold, but we think it has the appearance of crystal" (January 2004). Veryfine’s goal was to create a package that would be instantly recognizable to consumers, without even looking for the name on the label. Even high-end liquors are getting the structural packaging treatment. The future of structural packaging is exciting, and the possibilities endless.
Pressure-sensitive film labels on such bottles really make a statement. The investment in great package design will continue as food and beverage manufacturers continue to battle for market share and shelf space. The quest for more brilliant graphics and more innovative packaging will continue as vendors seek to differentiate their products and brands in an increasingly global marketplace. Marketing and advertising funding allocations will also be addressed to build brand awareness and brand equity.
On a dollar per dollar basis, packaging that truly expresses a brand’s assets yields a far greater return on investment than advertising. This is corroborated by research from brand consultancies, corporate statistics and independent research. Experts have asserted that package design, as part of a brand identity system, can outperform up to three advertising campaigns and more than eight promotional cycles.
Elliot Young, chairman of Perception Research Services, a company that has conducted over 400 annual packaging research studies for over thirty years, concurs. His research has demonstrated that consumers find product packaging more memorable than advertising or promotions. In fact, Mr. Young has concluded that in consumer surveys, package color was the most dominant feature, followed by package shape and brand logo.
Janine Heffelfinger, director of brand design at General Mills, in an article titled “Brand Design: The persuader in the package” echoes with Young’s research findings (Package Design Magazine, March/April 2004). Explaining that her brand design group is one of six units that make up the General Mills “packaging community,” her unit’s main creative responsibility is to find ways to give General Mills packages the flair and persuasiveness they need to command attention on hyper-crowded retail shelves. For Ms. Heffelfinger, the challenge is that “in store environments, people are looking at many things at the same time, whereas when they’re looking at an ad, they’re looking at only one thing[…]. Typically people shop with their eyes when they’re buying food.” She then noted that color, shape and the structure of packaging all play a role in turning a glance into a grab.
Wal-Mart looks at packaging critically. Their benchmark? Consumers must get the brand promise behind the package within three seconds and up to fifteen feet from the shelf! The critical decision to buy—or not to buy—is made at the shelf. Recognizable, trusted brands in visually appealing, stimulating packaging have a distinct advantage in a sea of sameness. In the food business, convenience factors into the buying decision. Zip-pack packaging allows consumers to easily store unused food portions in their own storage containers. Pop-top cans for products like Campbell’s soup are convenient, quick, easy. These features are the future of food packaging.
Increasingly, package design can make or break a product—or a brand. Remember: only the package can tangibly deliver that product and brand to the consumer. Given this, can’t we say that package design is one of the most crucial factors to building brand awareness and brand equity?
Ted Mininni is President of Design Force Inc., which specializes in brand identity and package design for the food and beverage, and toy and entertainment industries. He can be contacted at: 810-856-2277, or online at Designforceinc.com.