Cutting-edge packaging technologies prove a major driver in retail sales

Sal Pellingra

March 11, 2015

9 Min Read
Cutting-edge packaging technologies prove a major driver in retail sales
Electric bottle

Packaging has become such an integral part of the product and the brand, and often is the differentiator in the consumer purchase decision. Because of this, brands and retailers are focusing more effort and dollars into developing innovative packaging solutions. They aren't alone. Packaging companies, material suppliers, converters and even industries outside of packaging are developing an arsenal of new technologies aimed at providing packaging benefits to win consumers over.298561-Ballantines.jpg


One of the primary goals is to convey the brand message with graphics or shape to grab the consumer's attention. Whether this is through shelf "pop" with an entirely new shape or format in a category, or through the packaging graphics, package appearance can influence the purchase decision.

Research has shown it takes less than five seconds once a consumer is in the section of a retail aisle to make a purchase decision. How can your product influence a consumer during those critical few seconds?

Conveying familiar branding with color or shape; popping with metallic or shiny effects; using clear packaging to highlight the product; materials or finishes to convey feeling, all make products more distinct on the retail shelf.

The Ecologic ( bottle is a good example. The materials and look stand out from others in the detergent category, and the recycled board shell highlights an organic theme that creates a natural draw. This is a good fit for the Seventh Generation brand. Word is that sales increased in the high double digits since that company moved to the new format.

There are so many distractions on the retail shelf that another key is to minimize the graphic content to eliminate the clutter. Eye tracking research has shown that consumers can't focus on a package if the graphics are too cluttered. Research has also shown an increase in sales when consumers can better identify the product and brand with improved, clean graphics.

Imagine a wedding party where all the groomsmen are wearing the same black tuxes and all the bridesmaids are wearing white wedding dresses. Your focus would scan the wedding party to find the real bride and groom.

The same thing happens with busy graphics. Additional scanning to find the required information leads to frustration-or the next product on the shelf.

Help Remedies has introduced a new line of healthcare products that provides an uncluttered message. It offers a simple product message that is as easy to recognize in the store as it is in the home.



Other unexpected and innovative graphics use the product in the graphics. Blk. Spring water incorporates fulvic trace minerals, alkaline water and electrolytes in a black, sugar-free beverage. The graphics use the black product to reveal branding messages as the product is consumed. This provides a clever, fun and unexpected interaction.

Convenience = repeat sales

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me" applies to consumers who may purchase a package once or twice. However, if the packaging is frustrating, repeat purchases can be lost.

Building in unexpected benefits can reverse that. Easy opening features such as linear tear technology or improved recloseable zippers on flexible packaging can help with that. One-handed dispensing is sought after. Ergonomic designs that are easy to carry and dispense are key as well. The Febreeze trigger sprayer is a great example. It combines excellent design with ergonomics and, most importantly, using it is intuitive to the consumer.

Other packaging designs for convenience include quick preparation time, microwavability or to eat directly out of the packaging. The award winning Orville Redenbacher Pop-Up bowl package is a great example. Why dirty another dish when you can eat directly out of the package?

Baby food in spouted pouches has seen tremendous growth because of the benefits of convenience. They are easy to carry, Nestle Gerber calls this "diaper baggable." The pouches are also easier to dispose of than rigid containers. The spouted pouch has proven a category changer in the baby food aisle by providing improved graphics, convenience and less packaging than the current rigid formats.

Smart packaging

In the U.K,. Asda stores recently introduced smart packaging to help consumers visually determine the ripeness of avocados. Avocados have a thick skin that makes it difficult to determine ripeness. The new packages offer simple visual clues from pink to green showing ripeness so it can be purchased "just right." Other similar technologies can make a UPC code unreadable or disappear as the product becomes out of date.

In another fruit package development, individually packaged bananas, have come under a lot of public fire for over-packaging. Why repackage one of nature's more efficient containers?

What most consumers don't understand is that the packaging slows the ripening process and minimizes waste from over-ripened fruit. Not many people buy over-ripe brown bananas. In the U.K., it's reported that 1.2 million bananas are thrown away every day. Minimizing this not only eliminates food waste and trash, but also the energy to process and deliver new bananas.

Smart packaging used to refer to indicators built into the packaging. Today, the packaging is moving rapidly into new areas. ScentSational Technologies ( has developed a coating that can deliver a scent when a consumer handles a package. Imagine picking up a spaghetti sauce jar and rubbing the label so that it emits the scent of tomatoes and garlic cooking on the stove. What better way to influence a buyer!

Thermochromic inks got a boost when Coors began using them to help consumers know when the beer is cold. A recent introduction for energy drinks have also gained attention by adding color to the cold cans.

Truly interactive packaging

Quick response (QR) codes were one of the initial means of interacting with packaging. They seem to be catching on but still have a way to go in terms of effectiveness on packaging.

Why don't they link to a recipe that leads consumers to other purchases in the store? What about a coupon, an offer to buy another item and get a discount, calorie info or even a sustainable message from the company? There are many ways QR codes could be better used in packaging.

Designers have become creative in using the QR code to communicate branding or messages to differentiate the brand or product. Color and unique design liven up the package but keep the code recognizable so consumers know to use their smart device.

Interactive packaging is breaking ground beyond QR codes into visually exciting technology and even turning the packaging into its own interactive product.

Ballantine's recent "Listen to Your Beat" campaign includes an electroluminescent label with a graphic equalizer display similar to the battery-powered T-shirts found in tourist destinations.

This technology seems to be growing in the liquor category as J&B, Smirnoff, Bailey's and others have also introduced electroluminescence to their products.

The newest entry is Holland vodka brand Medea. These limited-edition bottles are embedded with a programmable scrolling LED for personal messages of up to 255 characters. This is the first package that allows consumers to customize their own unique message on the bottle! See how it works by visiting

The most exciting new interactive technology that transforms how packaging is being used is augmented reality. Advances in mobile internet technology use smart devices as the initiator to a new "reality" and allow users to have control over the interaction of this virtual world through the packaging.

Pringles was an early adopter with a tie-in to the 2010 World Cup. Using augmented reality, the Pringles can could be used to control a soccer play shooting on goal.

Legos has built augmented reality into their packaging and made it even more interactive in their Legoland stores. Packages of Legos can be held up to a camera connected to an interactive screen in the store to show a 3D model of what can be built with the product in the package, in addition to animations that bring the 3D image to life!

The consumer is now truly interacting with the packaging in a completely new way. Augmented reality can be used to provide assembly instructions, as a game controller or piece of sports equipment, or an unexpected user-controlled, promotional interaction.

The future

Consumer packaged goods companies and retailers are finding new ways to interact with consumers. Smart and interactive packaging can provide unexpected benefits, quality and information-and can broaden product attraction to a larger audience. Color, features and more cutting edge technology in an ever-changing retail space are almost required to win new customers.

So what's next? Apple has acquired a patent on wirelessly charging electronics through the packaging. This could also be used to update the software of a product while still on the shelf. It links a wireless society to products on the shelf and ties in well with the potential for future electronic displays on packaging.

Tesco Homeplus in South Korea has opened the world's first virtual store in a Seoul subway to help busy commuters shop "on-the-go" using their smartphones. They're targeting busy commuters who are able to scan their groceries on the way to work in the morning. Items would then be delivered at home that same evening, providing time-saving convenience and a completely new shopping experience.

The displays, which range from milk and apples to pet food and stationery, are placed on pillars and doors at the subway station. Commuters scan the QR code of the desired item and the item is delivered to the customer's home at a designated time chosen by the customer.

This could further change the packaging landscape. Graphics and marketing would be poured into the scannable displays instead of into the packaging. Packaging might have to meet different distribution requirements and have different graphics than normal retail packaging.

Just as portable media and communications are changing rapidly, packagers must also be aware of and react to cutting-edge technologies to remain current and attract the technology-savvy consumer.

The battle for sales is won around product differentiation, branding and convenience. Packaging's role is moving from just protecting the product and conveying information to differentiating the product by interacting directly with the consumer. Personal interaction with the product packaging can be a game changer in the battle for consumer market share.

Sal Pellingra is the director of innovation for flexible packaging supplier Ampac and he holds 11 U.S. patents. He also is an adjunct professor of packaging at the University of Cincinnati. You can email him at [email protected].

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