By Lynn Dornblaser
Who cares about innovation? Why should we bother to look at inventive formulations, positioning or packaging-particularly in uncertain economic times?
Consider these data points: The Food Marketing Institute says there are 34,000 U.S. supermarkets and that a typical supermarket carries about 24,000 products. At the same time, Mintel records the introduction of more than 20,000 new products each year, in the United States alone. By our estimation, nearly 60 percent of these consumer packaged goods introductions are simply new varieties or range extensions; perhaps upward of 80 percent could be considered mere tweaks of flavor, fragrance, or package size.
What this amounts to is an overwhelming retail setting that, for consumers, is full of disorder and confusion. So why bother with innovation? In the coming year, it will be more important than ever for businesses to respond quickly and creatively to consumer needs and desires as they become more selective in how they spend their money. You'll never reach them, though, if you don't put time into innovation that will cut through the inordinate clutter on store shelves.
To help guide your explorations, Mintel has identified six major consumer package good trends where packaging plays a significant role. Let's look at each one of them in turn.
Pure simplicity. Purity of ingredients and simplicity of use have been in the works across the packaged goods spectrum for some time now. But they have become essential to today's consumer. This is, in part, a response to food safety scares of the recent past. But, more importantly, it also is a reflection of consumers' busy lives and their need for simple, clear communication of product benefits. The new language of this trend is "convenience equals simplicity."
A wide range of products driven by this trend have appeared on the market, across a number of categories and segments. We see it in the growth of organic and natural products, for example, and in the increase in products that bear Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance claims.
And, increasingly, brands are leveraging packaging to convey products' simplicity and purity. We see a variety of examples of this, but perhaps one of the best ones comes from the UK's Fresh Trading. The company sells a line of smoothies and juices under the Innocent brand name, and recently expanded the line to include chilled ready-to-heat and eat vegetarian meals. The Innocent Tasty Veg Pot line comes chilled (typical for the UK market) in a clear plastic tub so consumers can see the vegetables and sauce in the package. It heats up quickly in just a few minutes.
Another major aspect of this trend is the general push toward environmental responsibility. The old "green mantra" of reduce-reuse-recycle is very much in evidence here, as are two additions to that mantra-rethink and repurpose.
Package reductions have expanded into most categories and package types, as has recyclability. Though it is in the "reuse" part of the green mantra where we see the most interesting developments. For example, Plup Spring Water in Finland sells water in a HDPE bottle shaped like a donut. The company urges consumers to refill and reuse the bottle-and the packaging is durable enough to handle it. But the brand also urges consumers to keep buying new bottles, as a portion of the sale of each product goes to a Baltic Sea conservation initiative.
Enhancing mood. This trend, overall, is about products that help to soothe and energize. Consider the variety of products that contain caffeine; most notable in energy drinks, the ingredient is also increasingly found in skincare products designed to help firm and tone.
Packaging's role is most evident in a newer angle to this trend-products that use ingredients beyond caffeine to offer energizing benefits. In this area, we see packaging playing a strong role in luring consumers to try the products. Sometimes the packaging can provide a unique functional benefit, but quite often the package is simply designed to appeal to consumers' desire for a new, unique look.
Take European dairy company Emmi, which introduced its Emminent Energy Drink in Switzerland and Portugal with dairy ingredients, probiotics, taurine, and green tea to provide energizing benefits. It positions itself as a quick-hit of sustained energy via a package format that's unique in the dairy category-the slim 100mL bottle that, throughout Europe, has come to represent the probiotic drink sector.
Staying home 2009. As consumers become more and more concerned about the economy and its effect on their lives, they are looking to stay at home more and recreate experiences formerly obtained outside the home. This is a bit of a change from the past, when much of the "cocooning" discussion related to consumers' fears about the outside world. Today, the movement seems to be driven more by finances dictating that they stay home.
The kinds of products we are seeing are ones that help consumers dine in instead of out, and those that help recreate the spa experience at home. For dining in, many of the products we see on the market are prepared meals or meal kits. To help consumers with their already-overloaded lives, some of those meal products are ones that are partially cooked, completely cooked, or only require quick and simple heating before eating.
For example, Riviana Foods offers its Minute Rice brown rice in pre-cooked individual cups that go into the microwave for only a minute. Such packaging can help consumers achieve that eating-at-home experience without requiring substantial time or cooking knowledge.
In nonfood products, it is fascinating to see how packaging does-and sometimes doesn't-play a role in helping consumers mimic the spa experience at home. Products that employ packaging to help convey the luxury spa message often do so with a more upscale look and feel, often achieved through package shape (home scent products packaged in glass or unique plastic structures for personal care) or via language and package graphics.
Some products, however, show that the spa experience can be enjoyed by anyone, and the package makes that clear. For example, Dial offers its basic Renuzit air fresheners in a Relaxing Spa scent with standard packaging that clearly indicates the trend is accessible by everyone.
The middle gets squeezed. In the past, it seemed that most products could be roughly organized into a pyramid shape. The base of the pyramid included most of the products we see on the market-every day low pricing, basic staples, and the like. As products became more differentiated, more upscale, or more expensive, they moved their way up the pyramid.
Today, however, we see that pyramid shape changing to more of an hourglass shape. That is, both economy and luxury rule the marketplace, and it is the products in the middle that are increasingly find themselves squeezed. In our opinion, what that means is that products without a strong point of differentiation, either through benefit, formula, or packaging, risk being squeezed out of the market or, at least, marginalized.
Clearly, packaging plays an integral role for products at both ends of this trend. At the economy end, we see more basic private label offerings, all appearing in bare-bones, straightforward packaging. But it's the other end of the market that is more interesting and offers more opportunity for packaging companies.
Packaging can help reinforce the indulgent nature of products, and can provide benefits that enhance the occasion. For example, in the United States, Target offers its Archer Farms premium cereal in a bag-free oval-shaped 300g composite canister with an easy-pour, see-through resealable lid. The structure is a completely new one for breakfast cereal, helping to reinforce the upscale nature of the product. In addition, the functionality of the package (resealable top, no inner bag) helps to keep the product fresher longer.
A second package that reinforces the "treat" aspect of the product comes from Japan, from Morinaga. The company's Dars chocolate bars bear a thermochromic label that indicates when the chocolate is at the optimum temperature for eating (22 degrees Celsius). The bar is sold in several countries in Asia. And the label helps ensure that consumers will get the maximum enjoyment from the bar, enhancing the experience and justifying the more upscale price of the bar.
Extreme specificity. Consumers are now looking for an "experience" that is theirs alone. CPG products can help them achieve that level of personalization with narrowly targeted benefits. More and more, we see products that focus on need states and lifestyle factors, rather than just on demographics.
Of course, there still are plenty of products on the market targeting a specific demographic, like teens or children. But we do see more activity in products for specific need states, like health concerns.
Consider the beauty sector. What we are seeing more of are products that help enhance beauty from the inside out-beauty drinks. Long a trend seen only in Asia, it is now moving into the West, with a significant U.S. introduction by Nestle called Glowelle. This drink contains antioxidant vitamins, tea, and fruit extracts, and is said to nourish skin from the inside. It sells in a uniquely shaped bottle at Nieman Marcus stores-for $7 a bottle. And the company recommends for best benefit that consumers drink one bottle per day!
50 is the new 50. Clearly, yesterday's 50 year olds are not today's 50 year olds. Their activity levels and needs are quite different than they have been in the past. For one, today's 50 year old is a Baby Boomer. And what comes with that moniker is a desire for instant gratification and products that are right, just for them.
In terms of formulation targeting these needs, we see plenty of activity-products for various health concerns, for example, and a load of beauty products. However, we still see very little activity in products packaged specifically for aging consumers. The ones we do see either do not specifically position themselves to older consumers or, sometimes, do so in a covert way.
A good example of that covert positioning comes from Kraft's Maxwell House coffee. The coffee, now sold in a plastic canister with integrated handles, offers an easy-to-open plastic lid. Once consumers take off that lid, they see on the film seal that the package has been endorsed by the American Arthritis Foundation.
Taking the opposite tact, Japan's Suntory beer is well suited to aging consumers, but it's not promoted as such. The beer has a pull tab that has a dent underneath, making it easy for less-than-agile fingers to pull up the tab. The company says the can employs the principles of universal design, which focuses on the development of products to be usable by anybody, regardless of age or ability.
This focus-on universal design rather than on specific targeting to one age group-may well be the way forward for packaging that has strong appeal to older consumers. After all, how many Baby Boomers will admit that they're, in fact, aging?
Sorting through these six trends, you begin to see that they often blend together, and that they all tie in to larger, overarching consumer drivers. The best way forward for any brand manager, package designer or retailer in 2009 lies not in addressing just a single trend but, rather, in keeping a larger eye open to all of these trends, and how new product development may tie in. BP