A cross-functional team of 10 Zip-Pak managers took an outside-in view on innovation to identify and understand global packaging and consumer trends. The managers conducted an intensive 18-month study that involved reaching out, talking with, and gathering insights from a complete spectrum of “voices,” from industry to brand to retailer and ultimately consumers.
The approach was a clear and simple one: act the part of attentive, systematic observers of the current and changing landscape of packaging and of the global consumer, to understand the drivers behind current and evolving desires, needs and concerns.
The study involved in-depth interviews with more than 75 industry insiders, including consultants, media, research personnel, packaging school professors, equipment manufacturers, converters, consumer packaged goods executives, and retailers. The voice of the consumer also played an important part in the report.
1. Changing Demographic and an Aging Population
As many economies face aging populations, both packaging and retail stores must better accommodate an aging consumer base. For brands, this means easier-to-open packaging formats, increased readability of packaging and larger font sizes. Retailers can meet the needs of aging consumers through access-improved store layouts, better lighting, stocking popular items on mid-level shelves, and the introduction of a greater range of “healthy product” alternatives.
2. Prepared Foods
Pre-prepared, heat-and-eat, or grab-and-go food and meal choices have gained in popularity over the past decade. Supermarkets and grocers will continue to feature ready-to-eat and minimal preparation options, giving shoppers ready-made food choices that are high quality and price-competitive. This trend is expected to grow as retailers introduce a broader range of options and healthier selections. Store environments will be reconfigured to enable faster checkout transactions for prepared food purchases.
Packaging supply chain partners will support this shift as well, through the advancement of packaging solutions that deliver enhanced product protection and preservation, tamper indication, added convenience, and data to provide nutritional information and traceability.
In-kitchen consumer behavior indicates that a growing number of meals are being cooked by combining additional ingredients to pre-prepared foods. This presents an opportunity for brands to develop packaging in portion-specific sizes and formats that further extend product life and offer ease of use.
3. Liquids in Flexible Packaging
A growing number of liquid-based brands are adopting flexible packaging formats. From soups to coffee, wine, baby food and energy drinks, consumers appreciate the convenience and portability of a flexible pouch. The packaging supply chain will continue to contribute through advances in film construction, pouch-forming equipment, and new dispensing technologies. While still a relatively new phenomenon in North America, liquid brands in flexible packaging have been available for some time in Europe and Asia.
As one member of the Innovation Team commented, “If you really want to see innovative liquid packaging, just go to Japan.”
The progression from rigid to flexible packaging is expected to continue, with sustainability being the leading driver. The trend to flexible not only represents a clear opportunity for source reduction, but also cost, as flexible packaging formats are typically lower in cost than their rigid counterparts and are more space efficient for both packing and shipping.
Supported by a comprehensive consumer lifestyle analysis research study, this trend is seen as a “win-win” for brands, as the shift to flexible packaging not only represents material reduction, but strongly appeals to a growing base of more environmentally informed consumers.
Beyond aligning with traditional consumer attitudes of recyclability and energy savings, flexible packaging was also viewed as an effective way to protect contents and extend shelf life, enabling more complete product usage. These performance characteristics provided additional reasons as to why flexible packaging formats continue to stand out as consumer preferred.
5. Theft and Shrinkage
Theft and shrinkage – whether due to shoplifting, employee fraud, or organized retail crime – remain a key concern for retailers, and they continue to spend billions globally on crime and loss prevention. Packaging companies are being called upon to provide new security measures that safeguard the product from theft through the entire supply chain, without compromising the consumer’s experience at point-of-sale or during check-out.
The response has been a broad array of packaging technologies being introduced that both enhance the appearance of the products and at the same time protect from theft. Retailer demand for new and innovative approaches to theft prevention is clear; and for inventive packaging suppliers, anti-theft solutions represent an abundance of opportunity.
6. Over-Protective Packaging
Sometimes, in the interest of theft protection or tamper-resistance, packaging can err on the side of “over-engineering.” This is evidenced by the hundreds of reported annual emergency room visits for injuries to hands and fingers, the result of unsuccessful consumer attempts to access products “protected” by virtually impenetrable packaging. Packaging solutions that strike a smart, reasonable balance between content and theft protection, and easier-to-open functionality post-purchase, are expected to grow in demand.
7. Compliance Packaging
Lack of medication adherence, or non-compliance, is the fourth leading cause of death in the US, with associated costs to the healthcare system of over $150 billion annually. Estimates are that only 50 percent of patients properly follow doctors’ orders when taking prescription drugs, and this non-compliance is the reason for many hospital and nursing home admissions.
Advances in compliance packaging are having a positive impact on medication adherence. Unit dose packaging, an array of blister card packs, and other means of helping patients remember and follow drug regimens, are some of the packaging solutions being introduced or in development, to further assist patients with proper medication usage.
8. QR Codes and Mobile Technology
QR Codes have the capacity to provide a wealth of information for consumer brands, including expanded product information, cross selling, multimedia, and costs savings in packaging, as products require less in the way of inserts or printed information.
With emerging “apps” to help guide consumer purchases and decision-making, the proverbial “first moment of truth” at point of sale is rapidly being replaced with a “zero moment of truth” as consumers have completed their fact-finding and decision-making process before even entering the store. This will represent major shifts for retailers and brands with respect to how to best engage a far more informed, information-equipped consumer that has a pre-determined shopping agenda.
9. Flexibility vs. Speed
Flexibility in the supply chain has become a key driver as large companies have been transitioning into groups of smaller, de-centralized “brand” companies. Equipment makers and manufacturers are faced with demand for shorter runs, rapid changeovers, and the ability to accommodate variety in size, shapes and graphics. Prior to this focus on flexibility, packaging machinery and processing companies were primarily concerned with speed. This made sense when brands largely approached products with a “one size fits all” mentality. Today, with consumers demanding individual attention and customized solutions, speed’s reign is on the wane.
10. Increasing Influence of Store Brands
The growth of retail brands represents a most noteworthy trend in the study. Significantly, 20% of all products sold by retail stores today are store brands. Increased product quality and the appearance of more sophisticated packaging are contributing to this growth pattern. Once confined to bottom shelf, store brands now slot side-by-side – and sometimes above – their brand-name counterparts. Retailers are also trending “up-market” with their own best-in-class brands to satisfy a growing segment of premium-quality shoppers.
Retailers are forecast to maintain the drive to gain share for their house brands, and they are willing to invest in opportunities that represent a differentiated package option from those presented by national brands. In accomplishing this goal, they will be turning to the packaging supply chain for innovation and solutions.
Notable among the broad range of store brands is the salty snack category. With market penetration considerably lower than other food sectors, it is ripe for growth through the use of packaging innovation. A number of store brands have been addressing this opportunity by introducing their own snack varieties with packaging that features eye-catching graphics and improved user functionality through a resealable solution.
A CLEAR & SIMPLE CASE FOR RESEALABLE
When it comes to marketing products in flexible packaging, consumers prefer a resealable option; one that delivers convenience, freshness and performance through the entire product lifecycle. In addition, resealable flexible packaging solutions are regarded by consumers as an enhancement to a brand’s perceived and realized value.
Taking advantage of this consumer preference has been made increasingly faster and simpler by innovations in both technology and equipment compatibility. As a result, companies can potentially integrate a resealable solution into their operations in as few as five-to-six weeks, with no additional capital expenditures to their supply chain. As part of the conversion, some technical guidance may be required to properly modify existing package graphics. Once modified, the zipper can be applied to the printed film prior to completion of the packaging process. So when a customer says, “Prior to the next shipment, I want a resealable closure on my film,” the request can be easily achieved.
READY FOR SUCCESS?
In the dynamic and ever-changing realm of consumer packaged goods, opportunities will always abound. One simply has to be an attentive student of consumers, and the drivers that influence them, to convert ideas into packaging success stories.