Trend Watch: Packaging Perspectives

May 20, 2008
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Get Creative!




It’s no secret that private label hit a bit of a rough patch several years ago, thanks to low-quality items offered in less-than-appealing packages. But over the years, manufacturers and retailers have worked together in an effort to reclaim lost ground - er, shelf space - and they’re doing it by way of improved product quality and stellar product packaging.

Because product packaging is responsible for making the first impression on the shelf, creativity in design is extremely important. This is especially true for private label, where products often are guilty of looking strikingly similar to the national brands. 

According to Tim Cox, director of creative services for Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., creative packaging helps enhance the value of store brands significantly.

“When consumers see a unique or clever packaging execution on a private label product, they’re more likely to realize it’s not just a national brand knockoff,” he adds.

And in today’s marketplace where consumers are flooded with so many choices, it’s important for retailers to identify themselves with packaging that “sets them apart from the pack,” says Christine White-Stanton, owner and founder of Scandle Body Massage Candle LLC, Little Elm, Texas. A store brand product that’s easy to identify ultimately persuades the consumer to purchase private label over other products on the shelf.


Exhibit A

As fun as it might seem, creative packaging is subjective - what’s considered creative to some might be run of the mill to others. However, some indisputable instances of creative packaging design in private label over the past several years serve as an example for the industry.

For instance, Publix began a major re-launch of its private label packaging in 2003, rolling out a design that was clean, fresh, cohesive and creative, and that also featured underlining humor. The line was (and is) a success with consumers. 

“What’s most creative about our private label packaging is the design system,” Cox explains. “It’s one that makes our products very recognizable throughout all categories. It doesn’t follow or depend on national brand direction, and it allows for a bit of humor when appropriate.”

Some product packaging also can be downright beautiful. And store brand graphics don’t get much more attractive than the Compliments line from Sobeys, Stellarton, Nova Scotia. A 2006 PL Buyer Packaging Awards* winner, the line wowed judges with its clean design, beautiful photography and unique functionality - yet another aspect of clever packaging design.

According to Carolyn Takata, director of marketing for Silgan Containers, Downers Grove, Ill., the functional aspect of product design is just as important as the color or shape of an item in creating a point of differentiation. 

“Improved functionality, while not as instantly identifiable as adding visual appeal, has nonetheless added another element of creativity in recent years,” Takata says.   


Keep Consumers in Mind

In private label, where product differentiation is critical, it often is imperative that retailers offer packaging that is uniquely fun or functional. In fact, according to White-Stanton, product packaging MUST be creatively packaged to attract consumers and to keep them coming back.

“We are all in the business of keeping consumers happy, and providing quality products is just half of the picture,” she says. “Providing customers with ‘fun in functionality’ is key.”

But a creative packaging design doesn’t mean a golden ticket to success. Plenty of product launches over the years have been creative and unique to the market, but didn’t fly with consumers. Mike Hackbarth, director of private label sales for The Fremont Co., Fremont, Ohio, makes note of H.J. Heinz’s Silly Squirts Ketchup. The product launched in 2005, but is no longer on the market.

“The cap had three openings, creating an opportunity for kids to draw pictures on their food. Heinz also claimed that the special bottle shape was easier to grasp and squeeze,” Hackbarth explains. “This example proves that a truly fun and functional package may not correlate into sales.”

However, if designed with the needs or preferences of consumers in mind, creative packaging generates incremental impulse sales and creates an upscale image for private label, Hackbarth says.

Sandy Kelly, director of marketing for Shamrock Farms, a dairy processor based in Phoenix, agrees.

“All of our product innovations are in response to consumer research revealing an opportunity for enhancement,” she explains.

Shamrock Farms recently unveiled its Smart Fit Bottle, a 96-ounce container designed to be ergonomic. It includes a no-slip handle, making it convenient to carry and easy to pour, according to Kelly.
 

“It’s completely new to the dairy aisle, and it challenges the industry to start thinking beyond the gallon and half-gallon options available today,” she adds.


The practice of going against the norm is something private label has become quite accustomed to in its effort to rebound from the days of black-and-white “generics.” As trends come and go and consumers voice their various wants and needs, what better way to differentiate store brands than by getting creative? PLB

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