Private Label Buyer

The package is the message

March 29, 2012
PLBuyer this year assembled an all-star panel of private label designers to judge its Design Excellence Awards for private label packaging. While judging, our panelists spent some time discussing significant developments in private label packaging.

Read about the most significant developments in private label packaging this year, and what's to come in 2012

PLBuyer this year assembled an all-star panel of private label designers to judge its Design Excellence Awards for private label packaging. Finalists in the awards program will be on display at the PLBuyer booth at PLMA’s annual trade show Nov. 13-15. Winners will be announced at a special PLBuyer event the evening of Nov. 14. Stop by our booth to get a free ticket for the event.
While judging, our panelists spent some time discussing significant developments in private label packaging. Here’s an edited version of their roundtable, visit to read a full transcript.
PLBuyer: What do you consider the most significant development in private label packaging this year? What has been the big news in private label packaging?
Patrick Rodmell: The continuing growth of systematic designs [one look for an entire private label line].
Lindsey Hurr: What we’ve been suggesting to our clients who are taking that systematic approach is the idea of integrating more of the hybrid design approach, taking key elements from the category approach and then integrating that into the systematic or umbrella approach. So you might see an overall look for the line, but then you’ll take descriptors and hues or even photography or illustrations from the national brand.
Jonathan Asher: All of the drug channels are definitely getting into more categories [with their private labels] and trying to change what their business model is, which is impacting their need for better packaging and certain key products in different categories.
Denis Ring: The shift from the store brand name being the brand [i.e. naming a store brand line after its store banner]. Now, you create a [private] brand that can expand to different stores [owned by one holding company], different geographies. There are all kinds of efficiencies to that, but there’s also a different image that I think the shopper gets from that, a different impression that they get.
PLBuyer: What else is changing in private label package design and development?
Asher: You’re seeing a lot more high-end design firms working with retailers [on private label].
Ring: And I think the retailers that would never have thought about going to high-priced design firms are now [because many have taken on executives from CGP companies who are accustomed to dealing with such firms] and, from return on investment standpoint, those executives say ‘what a great bang to your buck.’ You go to a good design firm so it really delivers high quality work.
Todd Maute: I think retailers are becoming smarter too. They’re starting to leverage the insight they have about who their customer is. They’re seeing [private label] as a way to help them differentiate in categories or compete in categories or say something different. 
PLBuyer: What makes private label packaging effective?
Asher: There are a few fundamental things that a package has to give. One is be visible. We have a phrase; unseen is unsold. Once they see it, there has to be a certain kind of connection, an appeal, whether it’s emotional or intellectual. Then there’s the functionality, do I understand what it is? So, be seen, create appeal and, in a sense, be understood or communicate what it’s all about.
Jim Forward: I’d raise the bar a little bit on that. I’d say it has to compete in the category. If you’re not competing in the category, you’re not winning. It’s not working.
Hurr: But when we talk effective private label package design for a value tier, it’s completely different, it’s not about selling the brand, it’s about selling the product. Its screaming the descriptor at you and the logo’s very small; so [defining effective private label packaging] depends on what tier we’re talking about too.
Ring: I think you have to have an emotional connection. Something that makes customers say, ‘Oh I feel good about being associated with that.’
PLBuyer: Is it also that you’re not ashamed to have it on the table?
Rodmell: That’s when it achieves the status of a brand, when you leave it on the table, when people come over and you’re not ashamed to have it out.
PLBuyer: What is the consumer thinking when they see a package on the shelf and how do you connect with them?
Asher: What shoppers say and what they really do are two very different things. If you ask, nine times out of 10, they’ll say the package makes no difference and also they are all too smart to be fooled by the packaging. So they’ll say it doesn’t matter but it matters. To get visibility, it’s all about contrast and contrast can be achieved through a number of means; structure is a fabulous way to get contrast relative to your surroundings. The second thing is color and that’s probably the one that get’s used the most. And then, there’s graphic elements but you’ve got to then layer on top of it very quickly appropriateness and is it meaningful, does it send the right message, do people understand what it's all about?
PLBuyer: Are retailers investing more in private label packaging today?
Hurr: I would say from a conceptual stand point yes, [but] what I’ve seen on a production side of it, no. They expect to be able to push the money a lot further from the production aspect but they are willing to pay for the conceptual and for the research to support the conceptual.
Ring: What I find is that the [package design] decision-making processes among retailers is pretty seriously broke.
Maute: We work with probably eight or 10 different retailers. At [one], the decision-making process went all the way up to the very top. In other organizations, I’m talking to category managers and merchants that are all about dynamics of the category and managing buckets of money and really don’t think about it from the brand perspective. Then I’ve got clients where [design] is driven by procurement. The procurement department doesn’t even know what they’re buying.
Ring: It's retailer specific. I have found that Trader Joe’s, Costco, Wegmans, sometimes, and H-E-B are really good decision-making organizations, most of the other ones labor between one group versus another, as to who is going to ultimately make the decision.
PLBuyer: You have mentioned some retailers that do it well, what do you think is the common denominator that lets that happen?
Ring: The organizations vest a smaller number of people with the authority to make a decision. When you have too many parties involved in the decision, you can’t make it. I’ll refer now again to Trader Joe’s because I have so much respect for them and I don’t have any product with them. If you go into a Trader Joe’s, it’s very common to see a whole end cap with new products. They rotate new products through with such rapidity that it’s astonishing to think that a retailer can throw this many products in.
PLBuyer: Are there lessons in other countries that U.S. retailers can learn from, where should they be looking to learn about private label packaging?
Ring: Everybody knows you should be looking at the U.K., Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose…
Maute: Waitrose has done some phenomenal, hugely phenomenal, work in packaging.
Ring: They are not afraid to do something different, to be creative, to be minimalist, to use bold colors, they are not derivative. They tend to be much more original in their design.
Maute: It’s in the Asian markets too, some of the physical packaging itself, structural packaging; come in tubes and bags. I think even the relationship between the retailer and the vendor is very different in Asia; they have annual meetings to talk about what could be different and they will collectively drive structural changes or innovative changes in the category.
Rodmell: The fundamental difference though between looking at the U.K. and thinking that we can do what they do here in North America, is that, consumers in the U.K. have a lot higher regard for a product that has the store name on it. The majority of retailers in North America don’t have that kind of license. I love looking at U.K. design; but let’s just be clear, what’s funny in London is not funny in the U.S., right? I think there is just some brilliant stuff that they do in the U.K. Would that work in America? It has already proven that it basically doesn’t. You can’t just take a U.K. design, and language sensibility, and drop it in North America. It doesn’t work.
PLBuyer: What is going to be the hot private label packaging trend and/or topics for 2012?
Asher: One is this notion that I refer to as channel crossing. Its people going and buying groceries in channels other than groceries, it feels like it is the tip of the iceberg. I think we are going to see more of it.
Rodmell: I’d say marketing of private brands; the investment in the marketing of private brands is going to be significantly enhanced in the next year and the year after. There’s going to be more investment in TV ads for private label, and more sophisticated approaches to the marketing of private label. We advocate to our clients that suppliers shouldn’t just be paying for the packaging of private label; they should be investing in the brand because they are the ones who benefit if it is promoted well. If you are the chip manufacturer for the H-E-B potato chip category and they promote it well, your sales are going to go up. So, getting money from vendors to support marketing of private brands is going to be the catalyst of more marketing and more effective marketing through things like location-based marketing
Maute: We do have a lot of customers that are asking about sustainable packaging. Some are aligning it more with dynamics of what category it is they’re trying to create. Green products should have green packaging, for example.
Forward: I can see private label moving stronger into other channels.
Dennis Whalen: I think private label packaging is just going to continue to get more sophisticated.
Ring: More emphasis on value-oriented brands in private label.
Rodmell: I would say market your value tier but make shoppers trade up when they walk in your store. Use value tier to drive traffic but when customers get to the store, you convert them up to that other stuff.

PLBuyer's Design Excellence Awards all-star judging panel

Jonathan Asher
senior vice president
Perception Research Services
During his 20 year career in consumer goods marketing, Jonathan has managed multiple design firms and been engaged in brand building programs in every consumer goods category for every demographic group At PRS, a leading packaging research company, Jonathan manages client relationships for both qualitative and quantitative studies. PRS pioneered the use of eye-tracking for consumer research nearly four decades ago.
Jim Forward
Forward Branding
Forward Branding delivers comprehensive packaging and branding solutions for Fortune 500 companies like Bausch & Lomb, Honeywell and others.
Lindsey Hurr

vice president
Immotion Studios
Lindsey Hurr began managing Immotion Studios in 2006 and is responsible for the firm’s overall planning and strategy. She is intimately familiar with the overarching brand strategies, architecture, brand mapping and understands how to translate those ideas into a design concept. Some of her retail experience includes working with: Delhaize, AWG, Petco, Tractor Supply Co., Nash Finch, FRED’s, Wakefern, W. Lee Flowers, Duane Reade, Raley’s, and Bi-Lo.
Todd Maute
A retail and private label branding specialist, Todd brought his expertise to CBX in 2007. He currently heads the retail design division of CBX as well its private label branding efforts. Clients include Duane Reade, Walgreens, Wawa, Sears, Giant Eagle, Best Buy, Home
Depot and Mapco convenience stores.
In the 14 years prior to joining CBX, Todd was vice president of marketing and consumer research for Daymon Worldwide. He also ran Daymon Worldwide Design its package design firm, specializing in retail branding, design,and execution.
Denis Ring
Bode International
Denis Ring combined both product development and label design to be a co-creator of the Whole Foods 365 program.  The program, launched in 1997, introduced the 365 identity to Whole Foods. Once the 365 brand was well established, Ring created his own company and now runs Bode International. In recent years, Bode has worked on product and brand development for Safeway, H-E-B, Target, A&P, Costco and Wakefern, as well as several branded companies. Bode has also developed products for retailers in South Africa, Italy and Australia.

Patrick Rodmell
president, CEO
Watt International
Patrick Rodmell is president and CEO of Watt, a Toronto-based integrated retail agency with more than 40 years experience in more than 40 countries.  The company is known for creating such private brands as President’s Choice, Great Value and Safeway Select, and more than 100 others worldwide.
Dennis Whalen
vice president, business development
Michael Osborne Design
Dennis Whalen has spent nearly 20 years developing new business in branding and packaging design, starting with Primo Angeli. Since joining Michael Osborne, he has worked with a wide range of retailers, including Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target, Safeway, Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma, Nordstrom, BevMo, Bath & Body Works and Gymboree.
Dan Bensur, founder of Bensur Creative Marketing Group, an Erie, Pa. creative branding firm, also participated remotely, voting on finalists selected by the other judges.