Leading Packaging To New Heights

Winning the battle for the brand
It may not take an air-to-air missile designer to develop successful consumer goods packaging, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be one. Jay Gouliard can testify to that. A former mechanical design engineer at McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, Gouliard brings an unusually broad range of experiences to his roles as corporate officer and vice president of packaging development at General Mills.
He has gone from being a tool- and die-maker at Caterpillar to the director of global packaging design and development at The Coca-Cola Company. Along the way, he also led a mechanical design group at Anheuser-Busch and a proprietary PET bottle development organization at Cadbury Schweppes.
Through these eclectic opportunities, Gouliard says he has grown to know the engineering, equipment, design and branding facets of the business equally well.
It certainly is a broad base of knowledge that serves him well at General Mills, where he’s charged with oversight on materials selection, functionality, structure and design for packaging across all of the company’s brands—the Big G cereals, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Yoplait and more. He leads the team that introduced the packaging format to launch the GoGurt brand and an entirely new yogurt category at the same time.
Gouliard says his break-through experience, which he calls “the first big ‘aha,’” came at Coca-Cola. “We wanted to see what we could do with packaging to communicate the essence of that brand effectively to consumers around the world,” he says. “That’s probably the first time I realized how strong a connection there is between packaging and branding.
In recent years and going forward, packaging is taking on an even more important role for brand communication, according to Gouliard, as media choices continue to fragment.
“With the proliferation of media, it’s very difficult to reach the general population. But packaging is one way we can touch the hearts and minds of all those consumers,” he says. “The packaging will communicate for you 24/7.”
A champion of packaging innovation, Gouliard also recognizes the economic reality of striking out in new directions. For large companies, filling lines and package designs are geared toward high-speed production that keeps costs down, he says.  
“You can’t expect to launch a brand new, highly innovative product that replaces an existing product at a cost that’s lower than what you are doing today, because most of the structures we have in the marketplace have been highly optimized over many, many years.”  
But Gouliard strongly believes the cost of innovation is worth it, even if achieving a desirable cost-return ratio takes time: “I try to communicate that packaging is an investment in our brand, not just a cost of doing business.”
Asked what packages he is most proud of having worked on, Gouliard cites two highly innovative ones: a registered, embossed beverage can his team developed at Anheuser-Busch and the textured “Splash Bottle” created for 7 UP.
The push for innovation is only growing stronger, he says. “One of the next battlegrounds for companies in the consumer packaged goods area is going to be packaging, because the battle for market share and brand supremacy lies at the shelf these days,” he says. “The battle for the shelf and for consumers’ attention will be won or lost through the effectiveness of our packaging.”
Name: Jay Gouliard
Title: Vice president of packaging development, General Mills Inc.
Years in current job:Four and a half years
Where or when do your best ideas come to you? 
“My best ideas come to me when I’m out of the office, out in the environment somewhere, whether it’s sitting in a café on the Champs Elysées in Paris or walking along the Mississippi River up here in Minneapolis or at an art museum or on an airplane. A lot of times it’s translating things I see in nature, in architecture or in other products into the world I live in at General Mills.”
What do you consider the ultimate branded package?
“Coca-Cola’s Icon bottle. Globally, it’s one of the most well known, most recognized icons of that brand.”