NO-frills Containers Mature Into Marketing Powerhouses

by Toni Antonetti
They respond to club stores and mass merchandisers. But marketers who are succeeding understand individual retailer tactics.
Creating a 'Shelf Talker'
on beverage ring carriers

Besides paperboard and shrink film, a third option—carrier rings—may answer the marketing needs for your multipack.
Traditional carrier rings are clear plastic that bundle packs of up to 12 product units, typically beverages. But this tactic is going beyond the strip that merely “holds the stuff together.”
Aquafina shows how to create billboard impact in bottled water with a carrier ring. The front of the ring, from ITW Hi-Cone, extends downward to form a rectangle, which holds an adhesive label that acts as a 'shelf talker.'
On the Aquafina multipack, the six-packs of bottles have their own merchandising panel.
Merchandising panels such as these call attention to short-run marketing tactics including instantly redeemable coupons, contests and special promotions.
The merchandising panels leave the top and bottom of the individual bottles exposed so the consumer can see the product.
Where to go for more information...
© Ring carriers. At ITW Hi-Cone, contact Charles Gagliano at 630.438.5300 or

Additional drivers for multipacks
Several additional factors are driving multipacks. Keep these in mind as you consider both the number of product units and the unit size as you design your multipack.
n Packaging that supports multiple benefits can drive sales. Sunsweet Growers reflects two in stand-up pouches of dried plums: convenience and healthful snacking.
The flexible-film pouch’s small size makes it portable for the consumer to carry all day, and it holds eight snack-size packages of plums.
Graphics including a sunburst on the outer bag convey the product’s healthful benefits.
n Health-conscious consumers are looking to exhibit portion control. For very young and older consumers, portions larger than 8 ounces are often too much in beverages.
n Multipacks carry logistical benefits for retailers as the secondary package that creates a pallet. Retailers love these “caseless” pallets because consumers take the secondary package home, reducing debris on the store floor and labor costs as the pallet sells down.
If you think multipacks are no-frills, one-size-fits-all product bundles, take a closer look. It could spell the difference between winning and losing in some distribution channels.
Multipacks are evolving from plain trays, often wrapped in “cloudy” film that obscures the product. They’re becoming a versatile marketing dynamo that responds to specific retailer strategies.
Basically, multipacks satisfy two channels—club stores and high-volume retailers such as mass merchandisers and grocery stores. They address two retailer needs. First, they put more product units inside the package, helping retailers to deliver value to their customers. Second, the larger package surface of a multipack provides the “canvas” to create impact on the shelf or a pallet display.
Club stores have become market innovators in multipack strategies. Steve Riccardelli, Vice President of Marketing at Sunsweet Growers, Yuba City, Calif., believes club stores “have become the best environment for new multipack ideas.”
Here’s why. Warehouse clubs typically offer packaging with the largest number of units. They often stock just one brand in a category. A growing number of marketers believe this provides greater freedom to be innovative in bulk package sizes.
Mass merchandisers and supermarkets generally display multipacks holding fewer product units than club stores. While club stores may carry multipacks with as much as 24 units, grocers and discount stores often opt for sizes of four to six units. Examples lie in the canned fruit aisle and in yogurt in the dairy case.
Similar, yet different
While multipacks for club stores and mass merchandisers exhibit stark differences, they also share notable similarities. The secondary package overtakes the primary package as the “beacon” for the brand. Foremost, the package has to make the sale.
In this environment, a single color printed on ordinary brown corrugated cartons falls short. A winning multipack requires graphics in four process colors with additional spot colors.
Marketers and vendors that make multipacks cite three ways these packages are heightening impact on the store shelf.
1. Paperboard is advancing to meet more challenges. Marketers face three materials choices in designing a multipack: paperboard, film and ring carriers.
Paperboard reigns as king in the multipack business. For multipacks with fewer units and sharper edges on individual product units, paperboard often meets marketers’ requirements for strength and durability.
Estimates of paperboard’s future growth in multipacks run as high as 7 percent per year. One trend pushing the growth is single-serve products such as yogurt, baby food and canned fruits and vegetables emerging in multipacks of four to eight units. These modest-size multipacks provide consumers with a perception of enhanced value over a single unit of the product on the shelf. They also help marketers meet cost pressures.
A well-planned strategy using smaller multipacks can gain a brand exclusivity with a retailer. Del Monte has been BJ’s Wholesale Club’s exclusive brand of canned fruits and vegetables with eight-pack, paperboard containers featuring four-color graphics.
Del Monte reaps two advantages by using the container. First, it provides a larger billboard than individual cans. Second, the containers are durable enough for stocking in a stabilizing pallet pattern in the store aisle.
Distinctive shape
Another Del Monte offering is a four-pack of 4-ounce cups of diced fruit, available in six varieties. The six-sided, curved carton provides a distinctive shape with curved ends and ample room for a marketing “billboard” in canned fruit.
“Big food companies have told us that they achieve more of a sales lift with the billboard effect,” says Mike Skrovanek, Director of Marketing for MeadWestvaco’s Coated Board Division.
Marketers should be aware of several developments that could make paperboard the right choice for their multipacks.
New film and board laminates are more tear-resistant. They also provide richer graphics and emit a gloss.
Extra gloss and bolder graphics are also possible through new printing technologies, inks and aqueous coatings.
Water-based coatings that offer moisture and grease resistance on paperboard are about to come on the market. These coatings, applied during the printing process, will eliminate the need for additives in the paper stock.
2. Technological improvements are making shrink films tougher and more receptive to richer graphics.
Although paperboard owns the lion’s share of the multipack business, shrink films are growing rapidly in applications previously limited to paperboard. One estimate forecasts shrink film’s growth in multipacks at 20 percent annually.
One reason for the surge is these films are becoming tougher. That makes them suitable for the strength requirements of a heavier multipack.
One film gaining favor with marketers is clear, tough, co-extruded low-density polyethylene (LDPE). It accepts up to eight-color printing and reverse printing.
Biaxially-oriented polyolefin is one film that marketers are finding suitable for multipacks that need to hold heavier products without tearing. One example: wrench sets in home improvement centers and club stores.
Razor-sharp images
Besides strength, graphics on shrink films are improving significantly through high-definition flexographic printing. And computer-driven graphics are providing razor-sharp images by counterbalancing distortion and assuring more accurate registration.
LDPE films are replacing hazy polyethylene shrink overwraps in covering corrugated trays.
With LDPE films, marketers can achieve the higher clarity and gloss and that make brilliant colors possible on bulk packages of canned vegetables, soups, beverages and bottled water, says Dan Bloedow, Vice President of Market Development at Bemis Co.
Welch’s signals the cornucopia of flavors in its variety pack of fruit juices across the entire “real estate” of shrink film enveloping 24 cans nestled in a paperboard tray.
The bright, colorful package is particularly effective in club stores, where it contrasts the sterile visual environment.
3. Multipack sizes are changing to meet consumer needs. A third trend in multipacks is taking shape from club stores’ influence. Multipacks are evolving into different sizes.
The strategy of the distribution channel determines the size. Multipacks holding up to 24 product units are the domain of club stores while mass merchandisers and supermarkets sell in four-, six- and eight-unit packages.
Club stores generally favor larger multipacks because they sell in volume. Consumers and small businesses use up these products more quickly in bulk sizes. In addition, consumers believe larger package sizes mean lower unit prices.
However, one body of thought believes a growth trend is emerging in smaller multipacks. Wal-Mart prefers four- to six-unit packs with a lower “ring” than a club store-size multipack, signaling extra value.
“A lot of the really big-bulk packs are out of vogue. The 12-packs are becoming 8-packs, and the 8-packs are becoming 6-packs,” says Gary Miller, Market Director at paperboard manufacturer Rock-Tenn Co.
Products inside the multipack are getting smaller, too, partially in response to consumers’ increasing desire for portion control in their continuing “battle of the bulge.” PepsiAmericas introduced 18-packs of 8-ounce cans and tripled its sales forecast within 45 days of launch.
“For older consumers, 12 ounces of soda can be too much,” says PepsiAmericas’ Michael Kucik. “We also thought the product would appeal to parents and would be popular with children as a lunchbox item.”
The author, Toni Antonetti, is a freelance writer in Mundelein, Ill., who has written extensively on packaging and branding issues.