Business and Operations
What Does Your Packaging Say to Your Customer?
November 5, 2007 By Cliona Reeves
How you wrap it up – functionally, beautifully or environmentally – tells your customer a lot about how you operate and if you’re in trend.
Packaging doesn’t just protect the product within, or facilitate transport and storage. Today’s innovations in packaging address functional, marketing and environmental issues like never before.
Packaging may be transparent, but never invisible. “Up to 80 per cent of purchasing decisions are made in the store, and the average viewing time for any product is seven seconds,” says Carol Zweep, Manager of Packaging Services at the Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC) in Guelph, Ont. “Packages tell you instantly whether the product targets children or adults, value-seekers or indulgence hunters. Even when consumers don’t consciously focus on packaging, it still affects their decision.”
Form Follows Function – Convenience
Hectic days mean more cupholders and more on-the-go packaging. “Consider the Sour Patch Kids candy cup, or the General Mills’ sealed, single-serving cereal bowl,” says Zweep. “In France, there are fresh-cut mangoes in a ‘snack bowl’ with FreshSAFE Max micro-perforated film for freshness and re-sealability. Nestlé’s Good Start infant formula, in ready-to-go, pre-filled disposable bottles — you just add the nipple. An English company produces a clever ‘lunch box’ made of four, wedge-shaped sections rolled up. Each individually opened section contains something different, and can be separated by perforations.”
Packaging can be literally “hot” or “cool.” Wolfgang Puck’s self-heating coffee stays warm for up to 20 minutes. “A similar product in Germany is the Freddo Freddo Lemon Tea iced tea in a self-cooling cup,” says Zweep. “Consumers press a button on the base of the container, then shake it for 40 seconds to activate the cooling mechanism. Going further is the Heater Meals concept: a pre-cooked, non-refrigerated entrée is heated by inverting the tray, causing a chemical reaction which heats the product to 100 F in about 12 minutes.”
Simplifying Home Cooking
No time to cook? Campbell Soup’s “Soup at Hand” and microwavable gravy, in small-portion heat-and-serve cups, are suitable for lunches and for small meals, in both empty nests and full nests whose fledglings have conflicting schedules. Ease of access has led to Heinz’s fridge-door-fit ketchup bottle. Smuckers’ Squeeze fruit spreads are in upside-down bottles whose twist-off cap has a moulded rectangular opening for knifeless spreading. Betty Crocker Drizzlers’ icings are in microwavable, squeezable pouches, allowing the unused portion to be refrigerated. Bird’s Eye Steamfresh™ Vegetables’ microwavable bag puffs up with steam that is released through a special vent, preserving the veggies’ vitamins and minerals. New, Great Value Golden Whole Kernel Corn, available in Wal-Mart in the U.S., is microwavable popcorn in four single-serve bowls. Maxwell House’s instant coffee in the U.S., comes with an E-Z Grip Lid to preserve flavour without challenging aging hands. “A truly strange biodegradable package is ‘Season Shot’, a shotgun shell filled with spices,” says Zweep. “You literally fire a seasoning shell at your prey, and the biodegradable casing dissolves during cooking, while the seasonings permeate the bird.”
‘Baking’ in the Microwave
A big drawback of microwaving has been that you could not brown pastry or grill panini. Now susceptor technology makes both possible. “The system is based on light deposition of microwave-active material on a thermally stable substrate, such as PET, and laminated to a back stock,” explains Zweep. “This makes the browning and crisping action of conventional baking available in the microwave. Ore-Ida in the U.S. uses it for their Extra Crispy Easy Breakfast Potatoes and Extra Crispy Easy Fries. Pie-Oh-My frozen fruit pies can be browned in the microwave. Lean Cuisine’s frozen sandwich line includes panini on a susceptor-based grilling tray for grill lines on the sandwich.”
Talking to Consumers
All packages “talk”, but some say more than others. Apart from novelty applications, such as talking Miller Beer cans for promotions, packages say a lot to consumers. “In the U.K., the Innocent Smoothie for Kids is in a one-litre gable carton with a clear window to show the product inside,” says Zweep. “New Zealand’s RipeSense™ packaging has a colour-coded freshness indicator. It’s being tested as a clamshell for four pears, with the freshness indicator showing whether the fruit is crisp, firm or juicy.”
Health and Wellness
Consumers’ interest in health is growing, and packaging designers are taking note. Some focus on extending shelf life. “FreshSAFE packaging, for example, combines tailoring a micro-perforated film, protective gas mixture, and storage temperatures for each fruit or vegetable,” says Zweep. “Strawberries usually have a shelf life of about six days, but in this system can last 12 days. In the U.S., Chiquita Fresh and Ready bananas are available in their patented FreshPak™. Their package text says that FreshPak keeps the bananas fresh up to four days longer.”
Other packages go beyond shelf life and add nutrients. “Defense Effervescent Vitamin and Mineral Drink uses the ‘FreshCan’ wedge to store delicate nutrients until the moment the can is opened,” explains Zweep. “The pressure drop releases the nutrients into the beverage. Lacto Tab Q10, a new performance drink soon to be available in Europe, protects light- and oxygen-sensitive micronutrients in a blister in the cap until just before the drink is consumed. Other products appeal to health through aesthetic means, such as New Protica Profect Protein beverages sold in vial-shaped plastic containers in the U.S. Others turn the familiar into the new, such as Morinaga Aloe Yoghurt Handy Style, in a portable beverage pouch with a built-in straw. In Japan, soft pouch packs are everywhere for ice cream, frozen cocktails, desserts, and salad dressings.”
For many, the aesthetic experience of food is as important as convenience and healthfulness. Aroma bottled water uses the ScentSational cap to release aroma and flavour – but not calories, sweeteners or preservatives – at the moment of opening. Seriously Twisted bottled water stores flavouring in the cap, which the consumer twists to release the flavouring, then tightens, and shakes the bottle.
Upscale products demand upscale packaging. “Folgers’ premium coffees are in the same polyethylene AromaSeal canister as their “everyday” coffees, but in rich, pearlescent colours and a gold lid,” says Zweep. “Coca-Cola’s M5 Soft Drink is in limited edition packages, decorated with artistic impressions of aluminium Coke bottles, and look different under normal and black light. Refresh sparkling flavoured water is presented in a semi-transparent PET can with an aluminum top.” Other products focus on the physical “feel” of the package, such as Bawls Guarana Soda (in the U.S.) in a can with raised bumps, to emulate the signature Bawls Guarana glass bottle. Labatt’s new “cold one”, based on Dupont’s Cool2Go wrap, keeps the beer cold, but the can comfortable to the touch.
This huge issue has, at last, become a genuine trend. There are many definitions, but broadly, sustainability is continuation without depleting that which makes the activity possible. The package itself is the focus of NatureWorks’ biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA) “corn-tainers.” Others use additives to biodegrade conventional plastics. Still others reduce packaging material per container, or develop more efficient processing, packing and shipping methods to increase efficiency and decrease energy use. Pressure from large retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Tesco, gives many suppliers a strong financial incentive to reduce their environmental impact.
Packaging is always in flux. The details may change, but the general trends of function, appeal, health and sustainability are here to stay, however they are “packaged.”
Clíona Reeves is Communications Manager with the Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC), independent food R&D, food safety and quality, and training consultants based in Guelph, Ont.
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