Stop for a second. Look at your kids, your grandkids, your neighbors, your parents, your co-workers, the young adults who serve you at McDonald’s, the greeters at Walmart. These are the consumers of tomorrow, and they have their own ideas about what they want and need from products and their packages.
Here’s how technology, high-mobility lifestyles, multimedia communications, ethnic diversity, economic and environmental issues, a more-female labor force and aging baby boomers will reshape packaging in the next 10 years.
The ramifications of their technology practices are extensive. Using more technology for package design or store operation (such as your operation) isn’t the same as incorporating their technology into the way they experience stores and packages. They are accustomed to using touch terminals and scanning cell phones to get information and place orders. Vending machines are as much a part of their lives as ATMs, and many think the products they get in vending machines are fresher than what they get in stores.
A recently announced Costco recall system (in which Costco will call customers who have purchased any product that gets recalled) is too important to stand alone for long. Packages will have to be trackable and cell phones will have to be able to communicate with them. The current Universal Product Code (UPC) is almost certainly inadequate and will have to be expanded to provide information links for consumers, as well as tracking data for retailers and manufacturers. In short, packages will have to take their place in a world that has been redefined by Google, Amazon and iPhones.
• High-mobility lifestyleshave imprinted motion as well as technology on younger consumers who expect products and packages to be mobile and environmentally responsible. Their lives are filled with streaming radio and TV, multiple and often simultaneous information streams, constant interactivity, eating as well as talking on the go, fluid social networks and multitasking as well as sourcing. You can already see them talking on their cell phones while shopping. Growing up on digital and interactive media, they don’t compartmentalize the way their parents and grandparents did.
At the same time, advertising, packaging and design are coming closer together in a communications confluence. The next step is packages with moving elements and interactive elements. The moving parts will be in the form of information and entertainment graphics as well as structure-think of the moving parts of children’s toys-or in repurposing the packaging, which is a step beyond reuse as a storage container. The moving parts and images will appeal to the increasing number of men who shop, as more women stay in the labor force.
Packaging materials will be increasingly reused and repurposed as shopping bags and toys. The Y-water bottle turns into a Lego-like game.
• Multimedia communicationswill add a lot of power to packages’ ability to communicate. Kellogg’s is expected to introduce moving graphics on one of more of its cereal boxes. Although it sounds gimmicky and promotional, there are practical reasons for having moving graphics on packages. Demonstrating the best ways of using or disposing of a package is one way they would be helpful. A new cereal package being used by Target’s Archer Farms brand features a back-of-the-box illustration to show how the lid opens to pour out cereal from an opening that is just large enough to allow for controlled pouring. The package is great, but the illustration is confusing-seeing the cereal pour in motion would make the advantages of the package a lot clearer and more appealing.
• Ethnic diversityis making America multilingual, and packagers who want a piece of the second-language markets are going to have to offer more instructions and ingredient lists in multiple languages. There’s no question that adding new languages increases clutter and annoys many shoppers who feel that all immigrants should learn English, period. But it’s going to happen.
As long as English is increasingly read and spoken as a second language, immigrants and first-generation Americans are going to be more comfortable and sure of what they are buying and how they are using it when the packaging is in their own language. If you know some Spanish or French from taking a high-school class, try pressing Spanish or French on your ATM the next time you want to make a deposit or get some cash and see how (un)comfortable you are.
Since hearing abilities usually decline with age, shaking a package to find out how much product is left is not going to work for a growing number of people. Packages that aren’t see-though will have to incorporate see-though strips or “almost empty” indicators to meet these consumer needs. Aging consumers have more food issues and restrictions than younger ones, and demands for front-panel nutrition information capsules like those now appearing on cereal boxes are going to push packagers of other kinds of foods to follow suit. Aging baby boomers on sodium-restricted diets aren’t willing to read the fine print to determine whether or not something is suitable for them to eat.
Finally, if the economy continues to force more men than women out of the workforce, packages will have to be more responsive to the increase in male shoppers who tear packages apart and crush them while dispensing.
AFood & Beverage Packagingcolumnist since May 2002, Mona Doyle is chief executive officer of The Consumer Network Inc., a firm that regularly takes the pulse of consumers on packaging issues. She also publishes The Shopper Report newsletter. Contact her at 215-235-2400 or Mona@ConsumerNetwork.org.