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Image Management & Effective Packaging:

How Trade & Consumer Behavior Mesh

BY SUSAN FRIEDMAN

Rather than trying to think outside the box or even inside the box - specialty food and beverage R&D and marketing stewards may want to just think about the box. In today’s competitive marketplace, talented packaging design teams vie for opportunities to intertwine aesthetics, form and function while making sure packages are equally production sensible and visually unique. Products must deliver on concept promises. Good design is a powerful marketing tool, and numerous trends in the marketplace are working to make packaging more effective. Individuality, uniqueness, visibility and shelf dominance are important words when it comes to package design. Packaging is a key factor in a product’s marketing plan and is one of the main elements that influences strong brand recognition and consumer loyalty.

Emotional Responses = Likely Purchases
Retail buyers say there is no magic formula for what will be selected. Sometimes a package, flavor or product catches a buyer’s eye; it’s not necessarily the sales pitch. New product success in some cases may mean concepts that appeal at least as much to the trade as they do to consumers.

Manufacturers are moving away from decorative packaging approaches toward ones that express each product’s distinctive personality, according to Portland, Oregon-based Anstey Healy Design. People connect with packages based on messages, not decoration, notes partner Catherine Healy. The message, told through words, images and colors, tells the consumer about the core values behind the product and allows the purchaser to make an emotional connection, she notes. For retailers seeking advice on how to make decisions about what to stock, Healy suggests carefully considering the emotional appeal of the packaging.

Chris Rosica, president & c.o.o. of Rosica Mulhern Inc., Strategic Public Relations of Paramus, New Jersey, concurs. He counsels his firm’s clients regarding their packaging to help them maximize and trigger the senses that spark brand recognition and memory recall.

Rosica believes we are a graphic society due to the way the brain works and to years of television viewing. “Pictures literally burn a hole into our memory and icons speak a thousand words,” says Rosica. Television has wittingly or unwittingly utilized this capacity of the brain to give us powerful pictures. Branding firms have, over the years, designed packaging that not only looks good, but is memorable on the shelf (as well as being photogenic for print and television commercials), according to Rosica. Consumer expectations regarding packaging is “what you see is what you get” - the tone/image of the package should reflect what’s inside, he claims.

Many brands now tell their story on the package, a tactic originated by Rosica Mulhern’s long-time client, gourmet cookie mogul, Famous Amos. Rosica encouraged Amos to tell his story in order to emotionalize and personalize his company and cookies. Many companies throughout various industries have followed suit.

In the book Label Designs by Lisa Walker and Steve Blount, Primo Angeli, one of the world’s premier package designers, describes his philosophy. “For me, the visual representation that the designer creates for a product is the product. What the consumer sees on the shelf - the material, the label, and the graphics - is the final skin of the product. It’s what people buy.”

‘Primo’s right,” note Deborah Kaufman and Greg Correll of New Paltz, New York based Small Packages Inc., a packaging design and consulting firm. “We buy with our hunger, from nostalgic yearnings, with irritation, or depression, or to impress someone. We want joy and fulfillment from our food purchases and seek ritual comfort that may have little to do with nutrition or even well-being, but rather to provide a consistent feeling of nested safety in a hectic life. In other words, logic does not rule, appetites do.”

Over the last hundred years, packaging has developed from the plain paper-wrapped goods of the butcher and baker to the brightly colored and expressive boxes, jars and cans that fill our supermarkets today. “Walk up and down the aisles of any modern supermarket and you’ll quickly understand just how enormous - and changeable - the business of packaging has become,” say Kaufman and Correll.

What Drives Success
“Significant innovation and meaningful differentiation are keys to any new product’s ultimate success,” says Christopher Miller, founder and president of Innovation Focus, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania new product development and screening firm.

Industry and new products watchers still see some of the same keys driving success: strong concepts with clear differences and appeal to consumers, products that deliver on their promises, and sufficient distribution and marketing support to get consumers to notice.

Retailers value product presentation innovations because they lead to incremental rather than cannibalized sales, according to A.C. Nielsen. As a result, innovative products tend to enjoy better retailer acceptance, achieving higher levels of distribution and in-store support.

Brand identity is more than your product’s name or logo. It is an integrated mix of visual and verbal information, psychology and beauty that represents the product. This identity must have enough in common with the tastes, values and lifestyles of your target audiences to gain loyalty. The goal is to build consumer trust and credibility, a task that requires an understanding of what’s special about the product and relevant to consumers.

Once established, your brand identity will carry over to any line extensions or new products you may introduce down the line. Everything a company does that affects the consumer affects the value of the brand.

Many of America’s most successful known brands have become synonymous with the product category. Consumers often ask for a Coke, not cola; Kleenex instead of tissues. Not many food companies operate on the global scale of Coca-Cola, but in the retail environment, new products stand next to mature ones.

Companies with limited resources are vying for the same space and consumer attention as the category leaders.

Packaging puts a face or personality on the brand. When the product’s personality clicks with the consumer’s, it can leave a lasting impression. Seattle’s Best Coffee Co., founded in 1970 by Jim Stewart, developed a sophisticated package design system that creates a bold personality for each blend. Each blend is original and distinctive, and over the years, Seattle’s Best has communicated that by using distinctive illustration styles and typography to describe the flavor. The line is made uniform by the consistent use of a saturated red brown background to communicate the richness of the beans. The logo is a seal placed in the same place on each bag.

Grand Central Blend is written in an art-deco style with images of a train, tracks, and that morning cup of coffee front and center. Saturday’s Blend’s personality is more laid back. A couple is drawn sitting at a table talking while the sun streams in from the window. Clearly a more relaxed atmosphere than Grand Central Blend. Portside Blend uses classic typography and displays a beautiful sunrise or sunset orange sky. There are eight blends, each so enticing and compelling that consumers would want to try them all. The catalog reads, “We deliver an uncommon coffee experience on a regular basis,” and the packaging delivers that message.

Marketers of specialty coffees were striving for sophisticated packaging, and Loblaw Supermarkets Ltd. of North York, Ontario, with its hot package, a 240-g oval plastic jar for its President’s Choice Flavored Coffee Mix. It illustrates a clever design project that ultimately received a gold award in the food category in the National Association of Container Distributors competition (NACD) for 2002. The black jar has a 360° recess that accepts a pressure-sensitive wraparound label printed with the red President’s Choice logo at the top and swirled pattern of a freshly brewed cup of coffee, color-coded to the four flavors in the line. Enabling private-label products into national brands with help from flashy packaging, Loblaw’s wanted to enter this flavored coffee mix category with a high-end product under the President’s Choice banner, according to Richards Packaging, which supplied the cap and the jar. The faceted-oval shape of the lined cap adds to the package’s confident, upscale shelf presence, according to the renowned packaging firm.

The explosion of choice marks the decline of “one size fits all” marketing and rise of “just my size” marketing. “Just my size” means the introduction of products tailored to match precise needs. So it comes as no surprise that for coffee, it means choosing among 600 flavor, package and size choices offered by San Diego-based Stella Bella Coffee, according to Marketing Intelligence Service in Naples, New York.

So Many Choices, So Little Time
Marketing Intelligence Service reports that the average wage earner today spends the equivalent of an extra month on the job each year compared with their counterparts of just two decades ago. Working mothers routinely juggle up to seven tasks at once. Combine these increased time demands with the explosion of choice and it’s easy to see why the average American is in a state of physical and mental overload. It’s causing some consumers to say enough is enough. In the past five years, the American Institute of Stress reports that 28% of Americans have voluntarily made changes that led to less income, but a more balanced life. This may signal a trend toward lifestyle simplification that could eventually slow new product proliferation.

More than 32,000 new products, from food and beverages to health and beauty aids to household items and pet supplies, were introduced nationally last year, according to Productscan Online, a database of Marketing Intelligence Service. That’s up 1.9% from the 31,432 products introduced in 2000 and more than double those launched 10 years ago.

Last year, Tom Vierhile, general manager for Marketing Intelligence, tracked 263 new products launched in the coffee category, down from 492 in 2000 and 386 in 1999. He sees the ready-to-drink varieties continuing to provide some competition. Tea saw 515 new products introduced last year, vs. 812 in 2000 and 572 in 1999, according to Vierhile.

Although product entries are up, supermarkets aren’t exactly doubling in size to accommodate all of the new entries. Something has to give, and that something is the new product failure rate, which is likely to creep higher. Today’s new products must produce immediate results or else. Slow sellers are routinely culled in a matter of weeks, not months as in the past, reports Marketing Intelligence Service.

Parameters to Consider
With all the new trends coming and going, retailers need to be aware of what to watch out for. “Shy away from formula-based packaging concepts,” says Anstey Healy Design’s Healy. Marketing departments might insist that a particular package be yellow, for example, because statistical surveys show that yellow packages outdraw non-yellow packages by 10%. But formula based designs tend to fizzle out after the first purchase, perhaps because the formula can’t take into account how to make the more important but less easily defined emotional connection with the buyer. “Consumers look to the package for clues about what’s inside. If the package doesn’t use every means available to tell the product’s story properly, the consumer may never get to sample what really matters.”

Susan Friedman is a specialty food journalist and trend analyst with a diversified background in specialty food, beverages, kitchenware and food marketing. Friedman departed from her role as editorial director of FDM, an award-winning specialty food trade magazine, in December 2001. She has contributed to a range of publications for 17 years - writing cover features, corporate profiles, investigative reports, opinion columns and trend/forecasting articles.



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