Shoppers are tightening their belts and seeing things through new eyes. Those who haven’t been directly hit by the financial storm are waiting for the other shoe to drop. They are concerned about the security of their jobs.

In this financially stressed environment, and as part of a year-end survey, we asked 300 members of our shopper panel an open-ended question about packaging: “What kind of packaging would you like to see more of?” The responses suggest an emerging consensus around the relationship of packaging to environmental harm, wastefulness and spending. More than 60% responded with something about the environment, such as more recyclable, recycled or eco-friendly; less plastic, less materials that pollute air or water, or less waste altogether.

The broad focus on environmentally friendly packaging in this cost-focused market suggests that many consumers are merging their concern about saving the environment with their need to save money.

I haven’t heard the phrase “no frills” since generic products faded from the stores, but it has returned to shoppers’ vocabulary. They see waste everywhere. Perceived waste offends them because they are extremely concerned about rising food prices and because they believe it is damaging their planet as well as costing them money.

While many of the respondents mentioned the need to reduce waste, they weren’t complaining about over-packaging. In fact, most of the shoppers I asked for examples of over-packaging told me that they couldn’t think of any except for plastic bags. One went though her pantry shelves and“couldn’t find a single item that I would say was over-packaged. I did find things in plastic that could be in paper, but things that could be eliminated, like handles, seals and pull tabs, had a function that was useful.”That’s quite a turnaround from the decades of over-packaging criticism. Plastic bags are the exception that is getting lots of attention. Whether or not they live in places where plastic bags have been or may be banned, many shoppers have heard about the bans and seem aware of how widely paper bags are used and the kinds of problems they cause.

“The stores get us to buy reusable shopping bags. That’s good, and I’ve learned to use them, but I’m getting more and more annoyed by seeing the stores use paper bags inside plastic bags for customers who don’t bring their own bags. After buying reusable bags for myself, I’m still paying for those double bags in the price of my groceries!”

The numbers who responded to our question with “easier-to-use information” are smaller than the green numbers, but they are really overlapping and no less important. The clamor for relevant information is especially significant. When information relates to diets and dieting, there is so much nutritional data that many consumers are overwhelmed. The fact that calories are relatively simple and increasingly available in an easy-to-comprehend format makes them more powerful than ever. When they are readily available and easy to understand, shoppers use them.

Here’s a closer look at some answers-grouped by “Green,” “Functional” and “Value”-to our question “What kind of packaging would you like to see more of?”

Green answers: 60%

The first two comments below should raise red flags for packagers. Although consumers’ appreciation of packaging is much greater-and their negativity much less than it was 10 and 20 years ago-the idea that less is better and no packaging is best is still out there. That is one of the best reasons to consider new lines of no frills, bare bones packaging that looks like it is designed for the crunch.

“Twinings tea bags have always been over-packaged. Some Lipton bags are, too. They individually wrap the tea bags in paper, put them in a cardboard box and then wrap that in plastic. When we weren’t worried about costs and landfills, the extra layers didn’t matter so much. Now, they should look at how Celestial Seasonings packs their tea bags together in a flavor-saving pouch, or have a boxed version with no individual bag wrappings.”

“I try to avoid all kinds of packaging and don’t want to see more of any. I shop the perimeter of the grocery store-less packaging, and goods have less cost, chemicals, sugar, HFCS and salt.”

“Minimal packaging, like fewer bags” “More recyclable wrapping and less packaging-way too much used. No more Styrofoam.”
“Glass instead of plastic.”

“More refillable packages and products.”

“More biodegradable.”

“No frills.”

Functional answers: 32%

Almost one-third of the respondents talked about functionality, such as easier to open, more transparent, less deceptive, especially as regards quantity and value. Food and beverage marketers who aren’t paying attention to shoppers’ wishes for easier-to-open packaging may be punished by Amazon, which has started to sell groceries and offers many products in packages they are calling “frustration free.”

“Easier-to-open snack products.”

“Less plastic packaging that is IMPOSSIBLE to open. I’m in my 50s and have a hard time opening items. My mom finds it impossible.”

“More see-thru.”

“Secure, easy open, easy to compact after use.”

Value (what-you-get) answers: 20%

Another 20% of respondents made value-related comments about deceptive or shrinking sizes. And 4% didn’t answer the packaging question at all. That adds to well over 100% because many of the “Value” and “Functional” comments had an eco-friendly component.

“Easy-to-use information like 100-calorie packs.”

“Size of package-amount of product equalized or standardized so you know how much you are getting without reading the small print.”

“Less plastic, less packaging materials used to make items seem larger.”

“Warning flags for HFCS [high-fructose corn syrup] and trans fats as well as peanuts.” F&BP