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Flexing into the Future

August 16, 2011
KEYWORDS wholesaler
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Flexible packaging is moving into new private label categories, offering retailers more ways to attract consumer attention on-shelf.
Sometimes it’s not about what’s inside the package that counts, it’s about what you do with the package itself. A flexible package is, by nature, a more abstract palette to work with than a cardboard box. While a box has four sides, a top and a bottom, a flexible package it is not limited to such strict dimensions.
And that design flexibility means the packaging type is expanding into new categories, giving retailers more options for attracting consumers to their private label offerings.

“Some of the greatest innovations in packaging today are happening in the flexible packaging segment, predominantly in the food segment,” says Emma Schlotthauer, global marketing, flexo plate products, at Rochester, N.Y.-based Kodak Graphic Communications Worldwide Packaging Products.

“Stand up pouches that offer maximum surface area for decoration, barrier materials and innovative closures for longer product freshness, and lightweight materials that reduce transportation costs mean that the nature of a brand’s flexible packaging is seen  as an indicator of it being forward-thinking, relevant and customer friendly,”  she says.

“We are seeing more flexible packages on the store shelves,” agrees Rick Harris, product manager, product branding business team, at FLEXcon, a Spencer, Mass.-based manufacturer of films and adhesives.

Resealable flex packages once used only for products like baby wipes and cleaners have now moved into food packaging for cookies and cheese packages. This trend will continue. Ease of use and convenience will help to drive this flex packaging usage, explains Harris.

For example, Lenexa, Kan.-based company Robbie fantastic flexibles introduced the Fresh n’ Tasty produce pouch last year. The pouch is made with a built-in handle for convenient transport, a resealable zipper and a bottom gusset to make sure the package stays upright while on the shelf. A large window in the front allows the customer to see the exact condition of the product inside. Designed for all types of produce, the pouch can be seen in a variety of supermarkets around the country.

Customization of flexible packaging will allow retailers to get more involved with the consumer, predicts Neenah, Wis.-based packaging design firm Leibold.

For example, this summer, Whole Foods introduced the Health Starts Here brand Asian Shaker. The 12-ounce package, created by Solo Europe, contains a single-serving salad with the addition of two-ounces of carrot & ginger dressing marinade. The combined package takes up the space of a single plastic cup and is meant as an on-the-go product for consumers.

“For private label brands to compete on a level footing with national brands, it is important that their product packaging convey the same up- to-date look and feel with maximum shelf impact” says Schlotthauer, “and nowhere is this more relevant than in the rapidly growing flexible packaging segment.” 

That is why Chicago-based Koch Foods created the new spin package for Batavia, Ill.-based private label retailer Aldi. Released earlier this year, the package incorporates an oriented polypropyelene label that is placed over a specially designed round-shaped paperboard container. While the container might look like a can, its paperboard construction qualifies it as a flexible package.

The label carries product photos plus nutrition facts, bar codes and other standard required product data, along with a clear section that reveals additional information on the base container when consumers spin the outer label.

By using the entire package as a communication tool with the unique spin option, the manufacturer gains 75 percent more label space. 

Aldi’s innovative use of flexible packaging does not end with spin packaging. This May, the company introduced a package that combines flexible packaging and thermal cooking materials commonly used in vegetable steamer bags, expanding it into the frozen meat and fish categories.

Private label retailers need to move beyond thinking of flexible packaging as merely a cost and start seeing it as a prime marketing tool, one analyst advises.

Says Craig Espelien, former vice president of business development at Plano, Texas-based sales and marketing services firm Crossmark,  “Private brand manufacturers, and most retailers, treat packaging as a cost, hoping their design elements overcome any packaging substrate issues to be managed, rather than a strategic weapon to be wielded.”

In order to become a leader in the world of flexible packaging, a private label retailer must use the packaging as a means of engaging the consumer, says Espelien.

“From a manufacturer perspective, a leader is someone who seeks to make the consumer’s life easier – not just mimic what the national brands are doing. From a retailer perspective, it is someone who plans to use packaging and design as a strategic differentiator, both for the chain and for the individual products or brands. Finally, it is also someone who can see the dual nature of flexible packaging – both as a ‘protector’ of the product itself but also the potential for that ‘protector’ to be the marketing piece – thereby eliminating one level of packaging,” he says.

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