Multitasking Multinational

Impacting global packaging a category at a time

Consumers of brands from a multinational company like Nestlé span many countries and cultures. No one is more aware of the geographic diversity, and the myriad packaging requirements that go with it, than Nestlé’s vice president of packaging, Helmut Traitler.
Traitler has been with Nestlé for 25 years—rising through the ranks of food science and technology as well as product development before segueing to the packaging discipline.
Keeping up with global markets and trends is a big part of the job, he says. Traitler travels the world to study packaging in environments ranging from outdoor markets in Jakarta to neighborhood family shops in Tokyo. “It’s an eye opener when it comes to how items are packaged in different countries, and what the packaging can do for the brand,” he says. “This is inspiring.”
Two companies Traitler cites as particularly skillful are Apple and the Italian food processor Ferrero.
“Packaging has a very direct connection back to brand strategy,” he explains. “If the packaging isn’t right, if it doesn’t go together with the brand and what it stands for, you won’t sell the product.”
Traitler also recognizes the potential impact of packaging on a category. Take Nestlé’s Coffee-Mate redesign of 2000—what Traitler views as his biggest packaging success. In this project, Traitler replaced the gable-top cartons Nestlé was using for liquid Coffee-Mate and the glass jars it was using for the powdered product with shapely rigid plastic containers.
It was the brand’s first redesign in 40 years, and the project’s success was overwhelming. “It gave a fresh look to the whole category and created a trend to plastic containers that wasn’t there before. Even the private-label brands are imitating us,” Traitler says.
The new packaging grew the brand “tremendously and profitably,” he says. And it owes part of its success to Nestlé’s FastPack process for product and packaging ideation. Starting with a “wish statement” from Nestlé’s marketing group, a multidisciplinary team brainstorms to generate 300 ideas that meet the parameters of the “wish.” The team then goes on to pare down the pool of ideas to just three or four during a two-day event. The much-imitated Coffee-Mate packaging was the first successful outcome of the methodology.
Going forward, a key issue for Traitler includes universal design: a design approach, first embraced by the company three years ago, that works to make packages equally easy for people of all ages and physical abilities to use. He says that, while it is difficult to put a number on the number of packages that have received such considerations, it makes sense for a food company like Nestlé to think and act in an inclusive way.
In addition, Traitler says Nestlé has a very strong drive toward sustainability. “I can proudly say that we’re an industry leader in this. We have been the first in Europe to produce bio plastic-like materials from renewable resources, specifically cornstarch. We’re moving away from total dependence on petrochemical-based materials,” he says. “We’re doing this because we believe it’s the right thing to do. And it goes hand in hand with the desires of our big retailers, like Wal-Mart.”
Traitler’s team is also responding to retail customer needs by designing more supply-chain-friendly and retail-ready packaging. Underlying these initiatives is the fundamental principle of product protection, which can often be overlooked in the charge to develop aesthetic and differentiated designs that pop at the shelf.
Traitler says the teachings of his friend and mentor, Marcus Karel, professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, continue to assist him in this regard.
“This is very important to us,” Traitler says. “On the technical side, packaging is really all about protection—getting the product in the packaging in the best possible way through from manufacturing to the mouth of the consumer.” BP
Name: Helmut Traitler
Age: 59
Title: Vice president-packaging, Nestlé
Years in current job: Three
Where or when do your best ideas come to you? 
“Everywhere, through observation, especially on visits to different marketplaces and cultures, and through discussions with colleagues, friends and family.”