Crunch Time for Snack Packaging?

As ‘me-too’ brands flock to the low-carb trough, skillful marketers of snacks (and other foods) have a window of opportunity for true differentiation.
by Jim George
“Anti-obesity” and “low-carb” may be among today’s hot messages for consumers, but this is also a time of grand opportunity for snack food marketers.
While many snack-food brands continue to use packaging primarily to trumpet ubiquitous healthful-eating messages, harried consumers continue to gravitate toward packaging that minimizes hassle. And surveys continue to make clear that they won’t sacrifice taste in their “battle of the bulge.”
That leaves the door open for true innovation in snack packaging. Category sales are growing at a modest 6 percent. But the battle for supremacy is still being won through tangible differentiation at the store shelf.
Kevin Leibel notes that marketers who are coming out on top are integrating both the packaging and the product to create a distinctive marketing position. Leibel is Founder of Innovation Management, Chapel Hill, N.C.
He adds, “As we work toward creating product differentiation and unique selling propositions, creative packaging can lead to competitive advantage and should play an important strategic role in any upfront product development.”
Recent snack packages from three marketers — Beer Nuts Brand Snacks, Hershey’s and Mott’s — reflect this thinking. Each of these marketers focuses on innovation and product/package integration rather than hopping aboard the “good-for-you” bandwagon.
A really ‘nutty’ twist on beer
Many consumers ages 21 to 27 recognize Beer Nuts Brand Snacks’ namesake brand of beer nuts. As Director of New Business Development for the Bloomington, Ill., company, Thomas Foster’s challenge “is to get on their grocery list.”
Foster sees this age group of young adults as the “next generation” of beer nuts consumers. “Their lifestyle is beer. We developed a product that fits that,” he says.
Packaging figures prominently in the equation. Beer Nuts Brand Snacks, working with 7-Eleven, hit upon a clever use of text and “can board foil” on a composite canister. This synergy of graphics, text and materials results in a container that looks like a beer can.
The canister holds 7 ounces of nuts, and is from Sonoco. It responds specifically to the grab-and-go mentality of C-store consumers, Foster notes.
“We wanted to tie into the No. 2 selling item—beer—in the C-store market. The product communicates the brand name and the logo stands out,” explains Thomas Foster, Director of New Business Development for Beer Nuts.
Foster points out three additional advantages resulting from the canister:
-Beer Nuts is a niche brand, so product quality reigns supreme. The canister extends the product’s shelf life to 16 months, compared with 12 months for portions of the Beer Nuts line that are packaged in foil bags.
-The canister generates cross-merchandising opportunities (see our article on point-of-purchase displays elsewhere in this issue).
-The canister also combines portability and pour-ability. It fits in car cup-holders and includes a recloseable lid.
Cartons with ‘movement’
An effective tactic for gaining shelf impact is “breaking the rules” in your category. With Swoops, Hershey Foods Corp. doesn’t exactly break them, but it sure bends them by reshaping the chocolate bar in the wavy form of a potato chip.
Chuck Kukic, Brand Manager, Flagship New Products at Hershey’s, explains that the Swoops brand is all about “movement” and a savored moment of indulgence. The brand name, chip contour and package structure integrate to target an on-the-go lifestyle.
Six chips each come in three single-serve polypropylene cups, which rest inside a shaped paperboard carton from Caraustar. The cups, from the Rampart Packaging Division of Printpack, mirror the chips’ shape to protect them from breaking.
Alcoa Flexible Packaging supplies the peel-off lids on the cups.
Graphics and the carton’s rounded edges give the package a whimsical look that supports the Swoops name.
A rainbow of fun
Mott’s makes applesauce fun for kids by adding a playful element. In a co-branding strategy, Mott’s turns applesauce into a fruity magic show.
Four-packs of the applesauce cups, marketed under the Magic Mix-ins brand, come in a paperboard carton. Smith Design created the festive carton graphics.
Each multipack includes packets of two different varieties of Pop Rocks candy. Kids stir the crystals into the applesauce to create a flavorful, colorful twist to a familiar snack product.
“The package design really supports the color-change aspects” of the product’s rainbow of colors, says Ron Copeland, Mott’s Senor Marketing Services Manager.
“Vivid illustrations of the crystal packets changing the sauce color, a colorful rainbow graphic and ‘magic dust’ support what makes Magic Mix-ins unique to the applesauce category.”
The author, Jim George, is the Senior Editor of BRANDPACKAGING magazine.
‘Grazing’ for ideas ahead of the curve
In the quest to integrate product and packaging, some measured thought can lead to a winning snack brand.
Peter Clarke has several ideas. He’s President at Product Ventures, Fairfield, Conn., which has done extensive structural snack package design.
First, signify on-the-go convenience. Start with the baseline that you’re behind the curve if your snack product isn’t in a cup-holder-friendly package.
Clarke suggests providing value-added features to extend the range of potential meal occasions for your brand. Packaging components could include handles, clips and cost-effective resealable components.
Key is packaging that enables consumers to eat the snack sporadically in the same way they can sip from recloseable beverage containers.
As a second strategy, Clarke recommends snack packaging that responds both to mom’s need for easy at-home storage and kids’ desire for packages they can wear or display as a personal status symbol. The “want quotient” for “cool” packaging is high among pre-teens, who some marketers also describe as “tweens.”
Clarke notes a number of brands that have succeeded in answering mom’s call for convenient storage. But he adds that the snack aisle is wide open for packaging that simultaneously provides kids with a measure of “cool.”
What if your brand is looking to move ahead of the curve while riding the current “low-carb” trend? Clarke points out that marketers are communicating the low-carb message graphically, but it “hasn’t trickled down to structure yet.”
Where to go for more information...
Structural package design. At Product Ventures, contact Peter Clarke at 203.319.1119 or