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Consumers say where packaging is falling short and rising above

Lisa McTigue Pierce

March 3, 2015

5 Min Read
Consumers say where packaging is falling short and rising above

What is the approval rating of packaging these days? Much better than the President’s. Nearly 83% of global consumers say they are at least moderately satisfied with packaging.

The holy grail is to capture the one in 10 who say they are completely satisfied with packaging. Why?  Because they are more likely than their less satisfied peers to purchase and use products frequently (57% versus 47%), shop more frequently (24% versus 17%) and try new products (44% versus 36%).

How can you move consumers into the completely satisfied category? Consumers say they want packages that are innovative as they relate specifically to functionality and safety.

These and other results from the third annual Packaging Matters research from MeadWestvaco Corp. (MWV) show key gaps between how important packaging is to consumers—relative to 21 specific attributes—and how satisfied consumers are. The study measures packaging importance and satisfaction across 11 different markets: Medicine; Fragrance; Beauty Products; Personal Care; Dry Foods; Refrigerated Foods; Frozen Foods; To-Go or Carry-Out Meals or Beverages; Non-Alcoholic Beverages; Alcoholic Beverages; and Household Cleaners.

These gaps between “importance” and “satisfaction” indicate areas of opportunity for brand owners. Improve your packaging here and sales will most probably improve.

Tucker McNeil, MWV’s director, corporate communications, explains, “Packaging has a very basic functionality to it. That basic functionality has an emotional aspect to it as well. People get really frustrated when it doesn’t work. …That’s where consumers have the biggest gap in expectations, the most dissatisfaction. ”

Where are the gaps? The attached table of attribute satisfaction gaps shows satisfaction with each attribute minus the importance they place on that attribute. Specifically, they show people who say they are “very satisfied” or “completely satisfied” with an attribute minus those who say an attribute is “very important” or “extremely important.” The negative satisfaction gaps mean that current satisfaction is lower than the importance consumers are placing on an attribute—and indicate where brands have the most room to improve.

The global average scores for the 21 packaging attributes asked about in the survey are:

• Intuitive to use (-6)

• Easy to open (-14)

• Easy to get all the product out (-14)

• Easy to get the right amount of product out (-16)

• Keeps product fresh/effective (-20)

• Prevents spilling, leaking or breaking (-24)

• Has new or innovative features/functions (3)

• Allows convenient on-the-go use (-7)

• Easy to press pump/sprayer (-17)

• Easy to store (-9)

• Designed to fit my specific lifestyle (2)

• Easy to reclose or reseal (-21)

• Easy to carry or transport (-6)

• Provides useful product information (-14)

• Easy to find product on shelf (4)

• Attractive shape or appearance (11)

• New or unique shape or appearance (8)

• Communicates company's core values and purpose (2)

• Can be easily reused or repurposed (-7)

• Can be easily recycled or composted (-15)

• Designed to keep me and/or my family safe (-15)

• Keeps the product safe (-20)

These 21 attributes can be categorized into four broader themes:

1. Convenience (such as on-the-go use);

2. Safety/sustainability (such as freshness and protection);

3. Functionality (such as opening and carrying); and

4. Aesthetics (such as how well the packaging catches the eye).

Tracy Doherty, MWV senior director, marketing and innovation, notes, “The categories where consumers report packaging as having the biggest impact on their purchasing behavior also have the lowest levels of satisfaction. The question is: How can we close that gap?”

For example, it’s somewhat ironic that survey participants score “To Go” products badly when it comes to “Allows convenient on-the-go use” (-18). Worse yet are the “To Go” scores for “Prevents spilling, leading or breaking” (-31) and “Easy to reclose or reseal” (-23). But perhaps it’s not so surprising after all. Of the 21 attributes, these two had the worse scores based on the global averages at -24 and -21 respectively.

Following closely behind as attributes that consumers say need improvement are “Keeps product fresh/effective” and “Keeps the product safe,” with both scoring -20 for the global average. The importance of these attributes is not surprising considering how much health and wellness matters to consumers around the world.

Doherty points out, “The numbers that we’re seeing reflect how, when it comes to safety, packaging is not the culprit, but definitely receives some of the blame when things go wrong.”

So why is consumer satisfaction with packaging, in general, so low?

Tucker answers, “It is sobering, especially for some specific categories. But it’s always better to know and not just go on blissfully unaware. Consumers are saying how important packaging is. They’re saying we’re not doing so well. There are times when, as an industry, as brands, we get out of sync with what consumer expectations are. There’s always a layer to put there—there are expectations and there’s what consumers are willing to pay for. We know there is a gap there, too.”

The silver lining

While there is plenty of room for improvement, the survey shows a couple bright spots.

Compared to last year, global satisfaction is up 6%, with a 3% increase in the United States. “We saw a bit of an increase in the U.S. in both measures: Packaging is more important to them and they’re more satisfied,” Tucker says. “I think that just may be tracking with general consumer sentiment, consumer confidence in the U.S., post-recession.”

And when asked a new question this year—“When you think about new packaging formats and innovation, do you feel that packaging is headed in the right or wrong direction?”—more than three quarters (77%) of global consumers say they believe brands are headed in the right direction.

“That’s more people than those saying they are very or extremely satisfied with packaging today,” Tucker says. “Our satisfaction question is really a trailing indicator—that is, how have things been in the industry. This new question is more forward looking.  Consumers are obviously a lot brighter about the future than they are about the current or the past. That may be a bit of the force behind these trends. Maybe we expect to see consumer satisfaction and importance increasing as we have a little bit this year in the U.S., based on how they feel about the future. Hopefully, we’ll see that trend line go up—but that remains to be seen.”

More than 5,000 global consumers participated in the 2015 Packaging Matters study of consumer satisfaction about packaging. Countries included Brazil (with 754 participants), China (752), Germany (761), France (769) and the United States (2,039). The Packaging Matters portal features insights into the study results, and will be updated regularly with new analysis of the considerable data collected.

About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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