Carol Cady, director of packaging research and development at General Mills, is determined to feel the pain points of retailers and consumers, even if it means pulling an all-nighter at the local Wal-Mart.
In fact, she has done just that, more than once, bringing teams of packaging developers to the store and working late into the night with store employees to unload trucks and pallets and to stock shelves.
“I remember driving home at 5am, pinching my cheeks to stay awake,” Cady says. “But by the end of that experience, we had a good understanding of how our packaging hurt or hindered their work. That sort of learning sticks with you, much more so than reading a report. You gain a great deal of empathy by experiencing it yourself.”
It’s that sensitivity in combination with her technical background, which includes a degree in chemical engineering and 25 years experience in research and development at General Mills, that puts Cady in a class of her own.
With exposure throughout her career to the range of technical disciplines underlying new product development, namely food processing, food science and packaging, Cady focuses specifically on packaging these days. She oversees the package development function at General Mills and is responsible for advancing structural package design for the company’s various brands, including the iconic Pillsbury, Bisquick, Betty Crocker and Green Giant brands.
Cady also leads the G-Tech Packaging Team, whose mission is to develop future-focused, transformational packaging technologies. The objective, with all of the technologies the group works on, is to create breakthroughs that enable new products, improve sustainability or enhance productivity.
The G-Tech Packaging Team serves all General Mills brands and business units, and is part of the company’s larger G-Tech organization, which also develops new ingredients and food processing technologies.
Putting the pieces together
Asked what she considers her organization’s most successful packaging project to date, Cady points to the Betty Crocker Warm Delights dessert mixes. Warm Delights is a shelf-stable, single-serving product packaged in a microwaveable bowl with a paperboard sleeve. The product formulation and package work together to deliver a high-quality baked item without the need for a conventional oven, and much more quickly.
The breakthrough product concept and package structure exemplify the transformational thinking that Cady is nurturing at General Mills. “It was a huge new packaging platform for Betty Crocker. It moved the brand to a whole new level of convenience,” she says.
“What had been thought of as a multi-serve mix with 30 or 35 minutes of bake time became an individual-serving product that could be prepared in less than two minutes in the microwave,” she explains. Consumers simply add water to the bowl, stir and bake.
The product delivers a new target audience and creates a new eating occasion for freshly baked desserts, and has generated substantial sales for General Mills’ Baking Products division since its launch.
For Cady, packaging is at its best when the package structure and graphics work hand in hand with the product to communicate the brand’s benefits. The Warm Delights package brings all of these pieces together, using product photography and graphics not only for appetite appeal but also to reinforce how easy the product is to use.
Cady cites the Bisquick Shake ‘n Pour package redesign as another project that pulled all of the crucial elements together. The product, a pancake mix, is packaged in a plastic bottle. Consumers pour water into the bottle, shake and then pour the batter onto the griddle.
Although the convenience-oriented product concept was solid, the old package was somewhat industrial looking and lacked ergonomic design features. In addition, the bottle didn’t successfully communicate how the product should be used.
The redesigned Shake ‘n Pour package, in contrast, is shapely and easy to handle, and consumers intuitively understand how to use it. New features on the redesigned bottle include a handle and a fill line for adding the correct amount of water. From a visual standpoint, the curvy structure reinforces the swirl under the Bisquick name.
“The shape and form of the bottle really are consistent with the brand imagery, and the benefits are clearly communicated at the shelf,” Cady says. “This was a project where we saw a significant jump in sales as a result of the redesign.”
Bringing transformational technologies to bear on sustainability has become an important focus for Cady’s team and colleagues in other parts of General Mills.
To reduce the carbon footprint of the Hamburger Helper package, for instance, the packaging team worked closely with peers in General Mills’ product development group. Packaging reduced the number of pouches in each carton, and product development changed the shape of the pasta so it can be packed more tightly in the package.
“These changes together resulted in a 20 percent reduction in the carton size, and it had a significant impact overall on the environment,” Cady says. Specifically, the package redesign annually reduces the use of paper fiber by 890,000 pounds, trims greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent and takes 500 trucks off the road.
For the future, sustainability will be on Cady’s radar both for new packages and in redesigns. The increasing emphasis on design in consumer goods packaging also is influencing her work.
In addition to partnering with external design firms as needed, Cady is keeping an eye on up-and-coming design talent that could enhance General Mill’s internal packaging group. She has personally led semester-long studios at industrial design schools such as Pratt Institute and the Rhode Island School of Design, providing students with package design challenges.
Additional trends Cady identifies as key to the future of General Mills’ packaging are convenience, health consciousness and an aging population. The trick will be to develop packaging that makes appropriate trade-offs among these divergent requirements.
“Consumers may want a package that’s more convenient, is made from sustainable materials and also provides a health benefit such as portion control,” she explains. “Finding that place where we can use packaging to drive the most value to the consumer, optimizing competing trends, is what we’re after.” BP
Name: Carol Cady
Title: Director of packaging research and development
Years in current position: One-plus year
Ultimate branded package: StarKist tuna in a pouch
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