Packaging the zeitgeist

Related tags Retailing Value added

Food manufacturers are aware that in a visually noisy world, their
product must be carefully packaged to appeal to the target
audience. Over 80 per cent of consumer decisions are made at the
store shelf.​ spoke to UK retailer Marks & Spencer and designer Fitch to find out what consumers look for in packaging.

"Consumers want a product to have an aspirational design, be functional and easy to use, and be easy to dispose of,"​ said Mark Caul, packaging technologist for Marks & Spencer. "A good example of this is our newly packaged turkey joint - its leak-proof, requires no handling of the raw product and is packaged in clear film so that the consumer can see the product."

Caul identifies the need for convenience as a driving influence in food packaging. People are living on their own more, eating in more, and therefore require food that is packaged conveniently.

Tim Greenhalgh, managing creative director of UK-based design firm Fitch, puts the challenges facing the food packaging industry in the context of a general change in consumer demand. He identifies a major shift in the last 20 years towards packaging as the key brand communication tool, reflecting both the uses of the product and the aspirant values of the consumer. One problem though, is that the public is both excited and saturated by brands. "Consumers think there is very little difference in the marketplace,"​ said Greenhalgh. "And people shift their view of brands every 6 months. We live in a remote control culture."

Combined with a general growth in prosperity and personal affluence, the consumer has become discerning. Greenhalgh describes what he sees as an emerging 'no brow' culture, where people look for bargains but also look for added value at the same time. The low brow the consumer, says Greenhalgh, is the person who buys an easy jet flight and then stays in a top hotel.

This attitudinal shift affects the food packaging industry. According to Caul, thousands of Marks and Spencer product lines have to be relaunched or repackaged every month.

"The key thing we have learned at Fitch is that there has been a polarisation of attitudes to value,"​ said Greenhalgh. "Consumers talk about cheap, while manufacturers tend to talk about 'added value'. But some brands are combining the two and adding value to cheap. Asda's curry in a brown bag for £2.99 is a wonderful example of this."

Greenhalgh believes that fundamentally, packaging needs to reveal the inner truth of the product. To this end, it needs to be more informative and functional. The challenge, he says, is how to build charm into this, as Asda has done.

Greenhalgh gives the example of a coffee serving being sold in an aluminium stir. The long packet is perforated at the end, and the consumer can apply as much or as little coffee as is required. "Brands like this that tell you something immediately about the product and are functional and have charm,"​ he said.

Caul is positive about the future direction of packaging. He believes that close cooperation between suppliers, manufacturers and retailers is a major factor behind the industry's ability to respond quickly to consumer trends.

"Packaging suppliers are very responsive, and I couldn't do my job without that,"​ he said. "The people I deal with directly are 100 per cent on board."

Related topics Market Trends

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