by Rick Lingle, Executive Editor

Club stores present a world of packaging unlike any other venue. It’s graphically apparent to designers that this is a markedly different environment than supermarkets or supercenters to try to catch the attention of category buyers and consumers while maximizing efficiency and reducing the environmental impact through the supply chain.

“We design packaging for club stores with larger elements and maximize color, as the consumer on average is further away from the package and views it for less time than in retail stores,” offers designer Paul Sewell  of product development companyLC Marketing,which has a customer base that includes club stores. “We also need to get the message across within that time, so we keep the elements simple and clear. The club store tends to display the individual units in the outer boxes and on pallets, so these pieces or real estate play an imperative role in identifying the product. Also, because of this, the key elements sometimes need to be placed differently.”

This aseptically packaged soup set for club store introduction leverages healthful aspects in a colorful carton.
Photo courtesy  of LC Marketing/Image Brands

First, fast and last impressions

Image Brands is LC Marketing’s graphics arm, formed 20 years ago, that specializes in club stores. According to CEO Lisa Cohen, packaging in this unique market faces a tremendous amount of instant pressure.

“The average club store customer makes a decision whether or not to buy your product in four seconds from six feet away,” she explains. “Does your product tell your story from a distance? The customer is not going to turn over the carton to try to figure out what your product is; he or she will move on to the next one. You just lost your opportunity. The warehouse clubs sell most of their items in full pallet displays, usually in a tray or carton. Most trays have a standard three-inch lip, so make sure the graphics that explain your product is above the tray.

“The manufacturer should think of the pallet as a billboard. What is the best possible way to simplify and convey my message? Does it resonate with 95% of the customers walking in the building? Every product in the aisle is fighting for the same customer to buy their product. It is important to keep in mind that warehouse clubs do not sell lines, they sell items. Each item has to stand on its own sales numbers-and packaging can be the key to a new product’s success or failure. Have you conveyed your message?”

Cohen discussed the packaging basics for Healthy Chicken Noodle Soup from subsidiary Home Chef Kitchen that’s poised for club store introduction. “We wanted a package that was colorful, yet clean and informative, and would stand apart from the already crowded soup category,” says Cohen. “In doing so, we wanted a package that would be beneficial to both the consumer and the environment. Instead of using the traditional soup can, we decided to use a bisphenol-A-free, recyclableTetra Pakcarton. Considering the numerous benefits of this product, it was difficult to keep the information on the front to a minimum. We therefore utilized the side and back panels.”

In another example, the company developed a 24-count box for club sale that offers photography of the raspberry pastry and incorporates the Danish flag along the top, bottom and side, as well as the famous Nyhavn Canal in Copenhagen. “There is no guesswork on what the product looks like out of the box,” emphasizes Cohen.

The soup carton hits on the strong “green” aspect that works as well in the club environment as anywhere. “Club stores request sustainable packaging wherever possible,” Cohen says.

Sales and marketing administrator Iris Walker ofMoen Industriesconcurs. “We have learned that our customers’ goals are to reduce scrap and material usage while increasing stacking strength and, in many cases, product ‘displayability’,” she says. Noting the utility of the company’s bliss-style boxes and trays, she adds, “In addition to reducing scrap and material usage in most cases compared to regular slotted containers, these displayable boxes and trays offer top-to-bottom compression strength and stacking strength for end-cap displays without sacrificing an option for good graphics.”

Some examples she sites include Ocean Spray Cranberries’ T-Fort bliss display for Ruby Red grapefruit juice, H.J. Heinz’s H-Bliss display for condiments, ConAgra Foods’ E-Fort bliss for cooking oil, and Paramount Farms’ four-sided, three-piece bliss display for pistachios.

For the club perspective, Costco’s 2010 annual report, released in January 2011, is indicative, and offered this summary: “Our merchandise packaging is also becoming more environmentally sustainable. In collaboration with our vendors, we pursue opportunities to eliminate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic in our packaging and replace it with recycled or recyclable materials. Likewise, packaging design changes, as in the case of our nuts and snacks packaging changes from plastic jars to reclosable bags, have allowed us to increase the amount of product on a pallet, ultimately resulting in fewer delivery trucks on the road.”

With the proper package considerations, packagers can develop products that are not only acceptable, but that positively “sing” in the clubs. F&BP

SIDEBAR: An expert's view on club store packaging

We asked Michael Clayman, president ofHHC Publishingand publisher of Warehouse Club Focus, about packaging for this specialized channel.

F&BP: What packaging aspects need to be considered when developing products for the club stores? 

Clayman: Engineering a product’s package to maximize the number of units on a pallet can directly influence a product’s potential success. A vendor needs to make sure they engineer a pallet to face both the 48-inch side and the 40-inch side. 

Understanding the member or members who will potentially purchase your product is important, since that identification should affect the packaging design/graphics message. 

Utilizing pallet skirts/wraps to manage your product’s inventory is an effective way to reduce that inventory risk for products whose volume does not require a full pallet display. For items like these, the vendor will create a half-pallet merchandising display that sits on empty pallets and is surrounded by a corrugated wrap promoting the item/vendor.

F&BP: How do the various clubs approach their packaging strategies differently? 

Clayman: BJ’s philosophy of stocking 7,350 items and better meeting the needs of its consumer members differs from Costco, which stocks around 4,000 items and Sam’s with 5,350 items. To be able to fit the extra 1,800 to 2,800 products in a smaller footprint, BJ’s, in many cases, utilizes pallets that are approximately one-half to two-thirds the height of a traditional 52-inch high pallet. Those shorter pallets enable BJ’s to merchandise two SKUs in the same space a single SKU is typically stocked.

Costco’s approach to packaging and private label is clearly evident when it co-brands its Kirkland Signature name with a brand name. Company examples include Jelly Belly, bacon strips with Hormel and grape juice with Newman’s Own.

F&BP: How have sustainable packaging requirements affected the club channel? 

Clayman: First, the clubs still accept and stock items packaged in clamshell or blister packages.  However, the packaging materials need to be recyclable and/or environmentally friendly. 

Sam’s Club created a symbol that identifies products that are environmentally friendly, which will appear on products that have been recognized by a third-party organization or have taken steps to be better for the environment but do not have a certifying organization available for their product or industry.

The third-party sustainable organizations include: Fair Trade Certified, USDA Organic Certified, Forest Stewardship Council, and Carbon Neutral Certified.

Given that, the clubs are more concerned with making sure the perception of the packaging of the products it sells is environmentally responsible. From using more corrugated and less plastic to eliminating as much secondary packaging, sustainability is important. 

One of the ways the clubs and vendors are addressing the sustainable packaging issue is to eliminate secondary packaging. Some club items have no display cases and no slip sheets in between layers, and when the product is gone, the only thing left on the floor is the pallet itself. A good example is in the dry grocery department: a package of eighteen 2.15-ounce packages of Kraft Easy Mac macaroni and cheese (shown above).