A cross-functional team of 10 managers from resealable-closure company Zip-Pak recently completed an intensive 18-month global packaging study.
Zip-Pak's goal in conducting the study was to openly observe the packaging landscape and the global consumer to better understand and identify prevailing trends, and the drivers behind them. 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 played an equally important part in the report.
1. Changing Demographics and an Aging Population
As many economies face aging populations, packaging and retail stores must accommodate an aging consumer base with more easier-to-open packaging formats, increased readability of packaging and larger font sizes. Retailers will achieve this through access-improved store layouts, improved lighting, stocking popular items on mid-level shelves, and the introduction of a greater range of "healthy product."
2. Prepared Foods
Although highly mobile, consumers have demonstrated an increased involvement in meal preparation at home. As a key indicator, the study pointed to the growing number of meals that are being cooked in the kitchen by combining additional ingredients to pre-prepared foods. This interest has been supported over the past decade by the considerable growth of pre-prepared, heat-and-eat, or grab-and-go food and meal choices. This trend is expected to continue with increased variety, high quality offerings and more competitive pricing.
Supporting this consumer behavior presents an opportunity for packaging development of portion-specific sizes and formats that further extend product life and offer ease of use. Packaging supply chain partners are anticipated to contribute to this shift as well, through the advancement of solutions that deliver enhanced product protection and preservation, tamper indication, and added convenience.
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 advancements in film construction, pouch-forming equipment, and new dispensing technologies. Globally, the trend is growing in the breadth and width of product offerings with some of the greatest inroads made along the Pacific Rim. As one member of the Zip-Pak study team commented, "If you really want to see innovative liquid packaging, just go to Japan."
Environmental responsibility and stewardship have been, and will continue to be, areas of global focus and innovation. A prime example of this is the progression from rigid to flexible packaging, with sustainability being cited in the study as the leading driver. The shift to flexible has also resulted in packaging material reduction for many brands as well as cost reduction when compared to their rigid counterparts. A recent consumer lifestyle research study points to this trend as a "win-win" for brands, as the shift strongly appeals to a growing community of environmentally informed consumers who seek out brands and products that share their concern for the environment.
5. Theft and Shrinkage
Theft and shrinkage remain key concerns for retailers. Packaging companies are being called upon to provide new security measures that safeguard products from theft throughout the entire supply chain, without compromising the consumer's experience at point-of-sale or during check-out. The industry response has been the introduction of packaging technologies that both enhance the appearance of the products and protect from theft at the same time. 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
In the interest of theft protection or tamper-resistance, packaging can often be "over-engineered." 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
Driving the advances in compliance packaging has been the universal desire to significantly reduce the number of deaths in the U.S. associated with lack of medication adherence by patients. This fourth leading cause of death in America has associated costs to the healthcare system estimated to be as much as $150 billion annually.
Innovative materials and advancements in technology are having a significant impact. Among the many solutions to the issue are enhanced unit dose packaging that offers medication protection and a growing array of blister card packs that improve ease of use and provide more robust patient information. A highly progressive approach to this national concern for patient safety is resulting in the introduction and development of leading-edge packaging solutions designed to help patients remember and follow drug regimens.
8. QR Codes and Mobile Technology
QR codes are continuing to provide a wealth of information for consumer brands, including expanded product information and costs savings in packaging, as products require less in the way of inserts or printed information. Complementary to this are the growing numbers of smartphones and tablets used by consumers to access and share information about products and brands. This behavior shift has resulted in the emergence of "apps" that help guide consumer purchases and decision-making.
Thanks to these "apps" the well-known "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. As a result, packaging with interactive, scan-able links to information resources will continue to grow as brands seek more "screen time" with consumers on their mobile devices. This trend represents a further shift in the ways that retailers and brands effectively engage more knowledgeable, information-equipped consumers.
9. Flexibility vs Speed
Flexibility in the supply chain has become a key driver as large companies have been transitioning into smaller, de-centralized groups of "brand" companies. Equipment makers and manufacturers are facing the demand for shorter runs, more 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 as brands largely approached products with a "one size fits all" mentality. Today, with consumers demanding individual attention and more customized solutions, speed's reign appears to be on the wane.
10. Increasing Influence of Store Brands
The growth of retail brands represented a noteworthy trend in the study. Nearly 20 percent of all products currently sold by retail stores are store brands. Increased product quality and the appearance of more sophisticated packaging are just two factors contributing to this growth pattern. Retailers are trending "up-market" with best-in-class brands to satisfy a growing segment of premium-quality shoppers. They indicate a willingness to invest in opportunities that represent a differentiated package option from those presented by national brands.
A product's physical packaging continues to be a key factor in establishing differentiation and preference with consumers. In many product categories, today's shoppers base their opinions on the quality and value of a product by the physical characteristics of the packaging itself, which include materials and shape, applied graphics and package closure.
This is particularly relevant for store brands marketed in flexible packaging. Here, findings revealed an increased percentage of consumers indicating a preference for resealable closure options that could deliver convenience, maintain freshness, and perform reliably throughout the entire product lifecycle. They also viewed resealable flexible packaging as an enhancement to a brand's perceived and realized value.
Thanks to a growing list of innovations in both technology and equipment compatibility it is becoming increasingly faster and simpler for companies to capitalize on these preferences and perceptions. In many instances, a resealable solution can be integrated into an existing flexible package in as little as five-to-six weeks, often with no additional capital expenditures required in the product's supply chain.
Summing it all up
In the dynamic and ever-changing world of packaged goods, opportunities will always abound. One simply needs to be an attentive student of consumers, and the drivers that influence them, to convert forward-thinking and innovative ideas into the packaging success stories of tomorrow.