Retail-insider Ron Sasine shares successful packaging tips he learned during his career, especially while serving as the senior director of packaging for Walmart. His insights into what retailers need can help brand owners design packages that deliver delight to consumers and retail buyers alike.
Consumer packaged goods companies succeed or fail based on split-second consumer decisions made at thousands of points of sale. Retailers of every stripe and size determine placement, promotion and pricing to meet their customers’ needs for products. Yet when these two ends of the supply chain communicate, their messages can be mixed, their priorities unclear and their success metrics at odds.
Here are six steps brand owners and their packaging suppliers can take to maximize their success at retail:
1. Learn the retail business. While packaging companies correctly focus their efforts on manufacturing efficiency and package performance, they need to begin paying additional attention to the issues that drive retail success. Sell-through, planogram development, seasonality and syndicated data are all topics that retailers deal with on a regular basis but are somewhat foreign to most packaging professionals. Understanding what drives success of consumer products at retail and how that success is measured and rewarded is a critical first step to increasing your company’s value to its supply chain and retail partners.
2. Focus on the buyer. Most packaging sales teams have spent years focused on avoiding procurement teams, or at the very least, working around packaging procurement as they sought to build relationships to marketers, fulfillment houses and co-packers. While this strategy may have served them well and may be aligned to the organizational dynamics of industrial companies, retail buyers are not in the same position as industrial procurement teams.
Retail buyers occupy the central role in most retail organizations and are directly evaluated based on the sales success of the products they buy. Unfortunately, with the many competing issues that cross their desks, packaging can often get overlooked.
3. Design for the right price point. Retailers focus on delivering their customers the right items at the right prices through the right channels. When packaging companies create packaging options for retailers, they need to keep in mind that the price a consumer will pay for any retail item determines all the key costing variables in the item’s supply chain.
I have heard too many packaging companies tout the additional consumer benefits their packaging options provide and then immediately link those benefits to the price differential that consumers will supposedly be willing to pay in return. If this is the packaging company’s go-to-market strategy, they will need more than simple “consumer insights” or “gut feelings” to gain traction with a retailer. Given the role of competitive pricing in establishing consumer choice of a retailer, packaging design for retail must support the retailers’ pricing strategy, not work against it.
4. Raise the profile of your packaging. Retailers need to set themselves apart from the pack to drive repeat buying trips, and packaging can play a role. Ease of use, performance improvements, distinctive branding—all of these packaging elements can help retailers solidify their share of consumers’ short attention spans. Matching these improvements with the appropriate cost considerations—see above—can give consumers a reason to favor one retail outlet over another.
5. Innovate strategically. Retailers often have innovation priorities that are different than those of their packaging partners. Too many of the key development projects underway in packaging company labs and technical centers are focused on extremely forward-looking, high-end materials or processing steps. More often than not, retailers are looking for improvements in shelf efficiency, cube utilization and customer ease of use. Remember that their success is based on ensuring that customers can find, identify and purchase products they want and need. Helping convert consumer products from unknown options to necessary go-to items is the role of innovative packaging.
6. Help consumers use your product once they get it home. While a great deal of attention is placed—and appropriately so—on the in-store presentation of products, consumer packaged goods companies often neglect the important role that in-home selection plays in driving repeat purchases. The idea is simple: to drive additional product sales, packaging should prompt interest, findability and desire in the cupboard at home as much as it does on the shelf at the store. If a consumer buys a product and takes it home but never puts it on the table, the consumer products manufacturer loses additional purchases. As packaging companies work with retailers, they need to demonstrate that they can solve the problem of driving repeat business for the items they package.
These six steps can go a long way toward building greater adoption of your packaging solutions for retailers and their consumer products suppliers, but I want to leave you with one bonus recommendation. Get in the stores. All of them. You need to spend more time in the places where your major customers sell their products. And it’s not enough just to stop in for a gallon of milk and loaf of bread. I once led marketing for a major division of a global packaging supplier, and my team and I had a standing meeting every two weeks at the major retail stores that carried our customers’ biggest product lines.
Be curious; take pictures; get yourself kicked out by the manager. But don’t pretend you understand what is going on at the point of sale until you have spent the crucial amount of time there to see the dynamics in play. Everywhere along the supply chain, producers exchange money for a combination of raw materials and labor, but it’s only at the cash register where our collective customer hands us her money in exchange for what we as a supply chain have done on her behalf.
When you begin to live and breathe that reality up close, your creative engine will shift into a higher gear and you will find new solutions that will improve her bottom line and benefit yours.
Ron Sasine is the principal of Hudson Windsor, a boutique consultancy focused on packaging strategy and execution for consumer retail products. Prior to founding the firm, Sasine served as senior director of packaging for Walmart from 2009 to 2015, where he was responsible for packaging design, execution and sourcing for the company’s largest global brands. He created a new visual look for more than 7,000 individual retail items, bringing a national brand design standard to the Great Value, Spring Valley, Equate Beauty and Parents’ Choice brands. He also created first-of-its-kind supply chain visibility for the global packaging market, working with Walmart’s more than 5,000 packaging providers. He led Walmart’s sustainable packaging initiative, achieving a 9% global reduction in greenhouse gas impact.
Before joining Walmart, Sasine was a marketing and manufacturing executive with MeadWestvaco (now WestRock). He directed international sales integration, business development and design, and he served seven years as an expatriate leading mergers and acquisitions and marketing for MeadWestvaco’s packaging operations in Brazil and Latin America.
Sasine is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and Brigham Young University. In addition, he recently served as an adjunct professor at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is a frequent commentator on the packaging industry and has been published and quoted in The New York Times, CNBC, Forbes.com and USAToday.
See a host of new ideas in retail packaging at EastPack 2016, June 14-16, in New York City.