Shoppers are shifting their packaging preferences from "more convenient" to "less wasteful."

Even during this time of rethinking and pulling back on convenience expenditures, most consumers are willing to pay more for packaging with attributes or benefits that are meaningful to them.

However, in a May 2008 survey of The Consumer Network shopper panel, two-thirds of the shoppers under 50 strongly agreed that they were “looking for ways to spend less because we are worried about today’s economy.” Even more agreed that they had “decided against purchasing one or more items because they were too expensive for me.”

As if to put aside any doubt that “green” has crept up on “convenience” as a purchase motivator and barrier, twice as many of our under-50 respondents agreed strongly that they didn’t purchase something for environmental reasons as didn’t purchase something for convenience reasons.

Wondering about the implications of those numbers for consumer-friendlier packaging, we put a question about cost-more packaging to the Harris Interactive panel and learned that, in spite of their spending pull backs, most consumers are still willing to pay more for packaging that works for them. Perhaps the additional burdens that many shoppers are carrying in our profoundly changing economy are helping them clarify their priorities. If they are driving less, eating out less and eating at home more, they need products and packages that are going to reduce waste and help them rather than hinder them in the process.

More than three-quarters of the respondents to the question we put to a June 2008 Harris Interactive panel said they would pay more for one or more packaging attributes (see Table 1 above). Women of all ages are willing to pay more for many more packaging attributes than their male counterparts. The sex differences in willingness to pay for packaging attributes are large and consistent enough to suggest that more work is needed on the packaging ergonomics and perceptions of female users throughout their life cycle. They need reusable packages that hold up and don’t spill when their kids are little, and packages that are easier to read and easier to open when they get older. They are more receptive to paying more for packages that are eco-friendly, refillable and resealable.

We had to chuckle at seeing that the packaging benefit that more men (especially older men of my generation) are willing to pay more for is microwavability–suggesting that they still haven’t learned to heat food with anything but a microwave or a grill.
“Made in the U.S.” was included on the list of packaging attributes presented to internet survey respondents because it is a proven driver of purchase decisions that provides a benchmark for other attributes. It is important to note that perceived “reusability” was deemed even more important than “made in the U.S.” by younger respondents.

The high response rates for “reusable” are attributable to at least three factors:

1. The perception that reusability justifies many packages because they aren’t just used once and thrown away.

2. The nostalgia halo that makes reusability stand for thrift, getting the last drop (think about using a teabag for multiple cups of tea) and good homemaking traditions.

3. The meaning of “reusable” as durable throughout the active life of the product. A canister of raisins that works without breaking until the last raisin is gone is considered reusable, whether or not it is used for anything beyond the initial purchase. Many more women than men are willing to pay for packages that are reusable. Saving jars connects with the idea of putting up fruits and sauces.“Even though I’ve never done it, I like to think that this is the year I might make some strawberry preserves and store them in wax-topped jars like a country store.”

Income and pay more packaging

Respondents from higher-income households were more likely to say they would pay more for eco-friendly packaging and packaging that is easier to pour and/or store (see Table 2). Willingness to pay more for eco-friendly packaging increases steadily with income, from 22% to 40%. Respondents from lower-income households are more willing to pay extra for multi-packs.

Shoppers with high and low incomes are more willing to pay more for time-saving packages than respondents with middle-level incomes. The responses suggest that “time is money” means most when they have no time to spare-at the low end because they may be working two or three jobs to make ends meet-and at the high end because of the high worth of their time.

Age and pay more packaging

Older consumers are more willing to pay more for packaging that keeps products fresh longer (see Table 3). Many older consumers care about getting their money’s worth and are frustrated by having to purchase small sizes at a higher unit price than large sizes. Staying fresh longer means that they can buy larger sizes and enjoy the savings that come with them, such as:“I buy the large size jug of Tropicana which is a good buy because it seems to stay fresh for a long time.”

Sex and pay more packaging

Women and men are different in a lot of ways, including when it comes to the packaging improvements they are willing to pay more for (see Table 4). Some of the differences are especially pronounced with age (see Table 5).

The male-female difference in willingness to pay more for easy opening is much greater with shoppers over 55 than with younger shoppers. This may be attributable to a higher incidence of arthritis among women than men, but may also be attributable to differences in attitudes about strength, sports and training. Younger women are much more likely to have learned to value upper body and hand strength than older women, who may have done more actual cooking and scrubbing but fewer push-ups, sports and free weights that build strength.

More women (12%) than men (7%) say they would pay more for packages that were made for on-the-go.

But more men (9%) than women (5%) would pay more for packages made for one-handed use.

Women are also more willing than men to pay for packages that are refillable or more eco-friendly.

Some of the male-female differences are especially pronounced among respondents 55 and over. More older women are willing to pay extra for packages that are recyclable, easier to open and less plastic. More than twice as many men to women are willing to pay more for packages that are easily microwavable (suggesting that fewer men know how to or want to be troubled to heat up products using the stove or regular oven).

The difference kids make

Refillable packages are the biggest difference between households with and without children (see Table 6). The reason is that many children get attached to packages and go through periods of wanting to eat or drink their cereal, soup, milk or cookies out of the package that’s part of their identity.

Willingness to pay for spill-roof packages differentiates the parents of children under six from the parents of older kids. But reusability and staying fresh longer are more important to more parents, who open many packages only to find that their kid(s) have lost interest in what they said they wanted or were expected to eat. Ergo, staying fresh and usable is important, and packages that don’t hold up and keep the product fresh are wasteful.

The bottom line of these research findings is that the market for packaging innovation that adds cost remains strong but may be shifting from time and convenience attributes to attributes that reduce the waste of products and of packages themselves. F&BP

SIDEBAR: Growing the green trust

Sustainable packaging attitudes of consumers in the bellwether city of Portland, Oregan, show a clear need for more education. Should it really be from Oprah?

by Lisa McTigue Pierce

“I want to be green. I want to do the right thing.”

Problem is, most consumers don’t know what the right thing is when it comes to sustainability.

“If [consumers are] confused in Portland, they’re going to be confused in Peoria and Punxsutawney and Poughkeepsie and anywhere else in America,” says Craig Ostbo, principal of Koopman Ostbo, a marketing communications firm in Portland.

In April 2008, Ostbo conducted one-on-one interviews with several female shoppers at the Market of Choice store in West Linn, Oregon. This is a typical grocery store for the “transitional” consumer-that is, someone who is more environmentally aware than mainstream consumers but not as gung-ho as the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) population. As Ostbo explains, “In a Market of Choice, [shoppers] think it’s perfectly fine if you want to put locally grown organic strawberries on your Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.”

Based on these interviews, Ostbo presented consumer insights into sustainability attitudes and knowledge in May at the 2008 Global Pouch Forum. “Her response to environmental and sustainable issues are far more EQ related-her emotional quotient-than IQ,” says Ostbo. “Of course, she thinks deeply about these issues. But watch for the emotional cues. And pay special attention to who’s taking the time to educate her and where she’s getting her knowledge on sustainability-related issues.”

Here are just a selection of answers. View all the video interviews at

Q: What does “sustainability” mean to you?
“Using products and living your life in a way that kind of keeps everything rejuvenating. Making sure that we have a sustainable environment for our future. Recycling and keeping everything available for the future. …Everyone seems to have a different take on what it means.”

“It’ll have a better impact on the environment and on our health, for the long run.”“Renewable…like we can sustain that resource by recycling or reusing. Earth friendly.”

“Basically not using more than we can reproduce so that we’re not taxing out our resources so there’s a balance or equilibrium.”

"Long lasting. Something that’s going to stay the test of time.”

“Environmentally correct or green. Something that doesn’t destroy the environment. Something that doesn’t take away from the environment or put something bad into it.”

Q: What is “sustainable packaging”?
“I have actually been thinking about this. When I buy something now, I think, what am I going to do with that package? Either it’s going to go away and I don’t have to worry and feel guilty about tossing it in a landfill, or it’s going to be able to be used again.”

“Sustainable packaging would be using packaging that’s not only recyclable, but recycled to begin with-using recycled materials.”

“Packaging that either can be used again or that breaks down in a way that’s only healthy for the environment. Or maybe that doesn’t use as many of our resources as some of the other packages do.”

“Sustainable packaging would mean that it was produced in such a way that it had minimal impact on the environment.”

Q: Is “sustainable packaging” important to you?
“I don’t know if it’s my first consideration, but if two things are equal in terms of cost and taste, I’ll go with the one that’s packaged more minimally than excessively.”

“If I had a choice between two products and one was in sustainable packaging and one was not, and they were an equal product, I would buy the one with the sustainable packaging. I want to do the good thing. I want to be green. If they make it easy for me, I will so do it. If they make it hard on me (shrug), those are tough choices then.”

Q: What is the most “environmentally friendly” packaging?
“If I were going to design it myself? Something that would biodegrade quickly. Rice paper or some paper product that would biodegrade, that we weren’t taking down a bunch of trees to be doing it.”

“Minimal. Maybe cardboard or recyclable material.”

“Something that has the least amount of packaging so it just has, like, one wrapper around the product and that wrapper is biodegradable.…So, just minimal wrapping and something like paper or cardboard. Plastics? Not.”

“I don’t know if there is one. You can use materials that are recyclable or recycled. Anything that’s biodegradable because, no matter how well you do yourself, putting things in the garbage or recycling, things always end up in the streets or the streams. Something that’s biodegradable is nice cause I’ll just put it in my compost pile at home and I know where it’s going and what it’s going to be used for. That’s my little sustainable world. So something compostable or biodegradable.”

“Anything that can be recycled or is made from recycled products.”

Q: What is the most “environmentally unfriendly” packaging?

“You know how you have the extra packaging on the extra packaging? I hate that. I hate unwrapping it and I hate throwing it away.”

“I really just avoid plastics. I guess foil, too. You get frozen products in foil. It would be better if it was all in cardboard.”

“Plastic and Styrofoam are the most unfriendly, to me. And partly because I know where they’re coming from. They’re coming from petroleum products, most of them. I don’t know for sure, but I think that’s the case. That adds to our problem of affecting the environment. So, depending on where the product is coming from, you could reuse them more to make packaging that was safe for food.”

Q: Regarding sustainable issues, where do you get your information?
“I think it takes more of your own personal initiative-“I’m going to figure this out.” -because not as many people are offering the information freely or it’s not as popular as it could be or I hope it will be.”

“Probably the leaflets that are handed out by the garbage company. Not that I always read it but, once in a while when I do, it’s ‘Oh! That’s good information.’”

“What I read in the newspaper and what I see on TV. I don’t watch a lot of TV, so it’s probably something that would be on CNN, something like that. But it’s mostly what I read.”

“I listen to NPR a lot. There’s quite a discussion there. There’s some information in the local newspaper and some of the other papers, Wall Street Journal occasionally.”

“We have a pull-out that’s monthly that’s about sustainability issues in the Metro area. So I read that. When some headline that catches my eye when I’m on the Comcast site or the MSN site. I have to admit that I don’t go searching for it so it has to come and find me.” Q: Government or the media: Which is more influential?

“That’s a good question. Probably the government standards. But even the government cuts corners so…. I might trust more a local organization that I know…or that I can see first hand what it is they’re talking about.”

“Probably Oprah.”

“Oprah. Yes. She just did a show on sustainability for Earth Day and I watched it.”

“Oprah. It would not be the government regulation. It would be somebody that I feel that I would trust, that I think wouldn’t be selling out. They would have nothing to gain by telling people ‘These are the good things you could be doing…that I pick this over this.’ I probably would listen to Rachel Ray. I would totally listen to her. But no federal government mandates would make me listen at all.”

“Oprah. Cause it’s the government. Who knows if they’ve been bought off or whatever. But if it’s endorsed by an organization, like Oprah, which does a lot of research. It’s independent. Independent research is better than government research.”

One tough question
“Maybe it shouldn’t be so startling that they trust Oprah and Martha and Rachel and their peers more than they do government,” Ostbo says. “The reason they trust Oprah so much is because they don’t think she has any skin in the game. They believe that she has their best interests at heart. There’s an immense amount of trust there.”

Now, here’s a question for you: What are you doing to educate your consumer and gain her trust? F&BP

Koopman Ostbo