Certain benefits of packaging-such as reducing product waste and keeping product fresh-have even more value to consumers when money is tight

by MONA DOYLE, Contributing Writer

In June 2009, we reran a June 2008 web-based survey of consumers’ willingness to “pay a little more for” specific packaging attributes. Both surveys asked 1,000+ respondents to select as many of 30 listed attributes, benefits and features that they thought were worth paying a little more for. The biggest question we wanted the survey to answer was whether consumers would still pay more for packaging improvements at a time when they are cutting corners, cutting back, trading down and cutting out.

Would more 2009 respondents say they would not pay for any attributes?

Would most people still say that there were packaging attributes they would pay more for?

The answer to both questions is yes. More respondents said they would not or could not pay any more this year. But in spite of the recession, 73% said they would pay more for one or more attributes-only 4% less than the 77% who said they would pay more in 2008. For most shoppers, packaging that meets real needs is worth paying more for in spite of, and in some cases because of, their efforts to save money.

Reduced advertising and broadcast media power, partly attributable to the recession, is one factor in consumers’ continuing recognition of the importance of packaging. In more and more cases, the package is their only picture of the product. Many see some packaging attributes adding value to products, a way of reducing waste and cutting cost rather than adding cost.

At the same time, more than 25% this year said they see less packaging as something worth paying more for. More parents of young children see multipacks as worth paying for-they may be wasteful in terms of packaging, but they provide controlled portions and less product waste. Those attributes seem more important this year than last year.

“Made in U.S.” slipped from first place-except among the unemployed. “Reusable” took first place this year-probably because it suggests a combination of savings, eco-friendliness and the reusable bags that more and more shoppers are carrying into, as well as out of, the supermarket. The actual percentage (45%) of women who said they would pay more for reusable packaging was unchanged from 2008. What did change was the percentage of men who said they would pay more for reusable packaging-that increased from 29% in 2008 to 35% in 2009-while the percentage of women who would pay more for “made in the U.S.” dropped from 43% in 2008 to 38% in 2009.

Many shoppers find upgrades in packaging adding to their comfort level with store brands. With many more meals being fixed at home, more appreciate packaging that makes their housekeeping and food prep easier. Parents of young children want packages that fit on the refrigerator doors that they “open and close 100 times a day.”

Many would pay more for refillable packages. Thirty percent said they would pay more for refillable packages this year-that is half again as many as last year-and represents the largest increase from 2008 to 2009. Among middle aged women (45-54), more than 40% said they would pay more for refillable packages this year. Refillable packaging opportunities in food and beverage aren’t as obvious as they are in household and personal care, but opportunities exist and are worth exploring for cereal, snacks, cookies, bars, juices, milk and more.

Key take-aways are:

• Some shoppers are using packaging as part of their national versus store brand decision making.

• More women are willing to pay more for packaging attributes than men.

• Mothers of young children are willing to pay more for more attributes than other women.

• Except for “Made in U.S.,” all of the attributes that 25% or more said they would pay more for were important to more respondents this year than they were in 2008.

• All but one of the attributes related to greenness or sustainability had higher response rates this year-the exception was “Made of glass,” which many perceive to be more expensive.

• More shoppers say that refillable packages, which resonate as eco-friendly and a long term way to save, are worth paying more for.

• More consumers see the value in handles and other things that make bottles work better.

Almost all the packaging attributes listed got higher responses this year, suggesting that more shoppers are seeing value in packaging that responds to their needs.

Mona Doyle is the 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


Harris Interactive Quick Queries were fielded in June 2008 and June 2009. Both queries asked this question: “At a time when the cost for everything is going up, for which of the packaging improvements listed below would you be willing to pay a little more? Please select all packaging improvements that would lead you to select products that cost a little more.” A list of 30 attributers, benefits and features was shown with the question. The lists were the same with two exceptions: “fit in cup holder” and “one-handed use” were dropped in 2009, while “less packaging” and “stand-up tube” packages were added.