In two decades, brands have found many new ways to express their identity and connect with customers through packaging. We look at what is coming next.

Twenty years ago, when BRANDPACKAGING put out its first issue, the packaging world looked very different. The way companies operated then wasn’t wrong; the CPG industry simply has an entirely changed set of marketing, branding and packaging ideals and undertakings today. Understanding the past is important, as is living in the present, but especially critical for brands now is watching the horizon for what will happen next in four key areas.   


Seventy years back, brands didn’t question what consumers wanted. They made products, put them in stores, and customers bought them because the options were fewer and their expectations and preferences were different. The approach to shelf was largely about the brand. Then, as brands and ranges exploded and people began desiring products tailored to them, a contrasting take on the path to shelf surfaced — one that made the customer the star. Brands began asking what it is consumers want and how to reach them. Research company Lextant seeks to help brands with just that by providing the industry with user experience analysis, user-centered interactive design and usability evaluation.

“Consumers today are often confused and overwhelmed by the wide array of choices — so many brands with seemingly undifferentiated claims,” says Chris Rockwell, CEO, Lextant ( “Even when brands have qualities that allow them to make unique claims, they aren’t articulating them in ways that are clear to consumers. How can consumers have the experiences they desire? How can brands resonate with consumers to rise above the din?”

“Our clients like ConAgra, P&G and Pfizer come to us because the old ways of understanding consumers for product and package design aren’t working,” he continues. “Lextant has developed new ways to help brands connect consumer desires to product and package experience, at every touchpoint along the consumer journey. We bring these consumer behaviors and desires to life in a way that’s actionable for every function in the organization, from brand messaging and packaging to the research and development of the product, aligning global teams with a clear vision for consumer experience. The result is a consumer desire-driven product pipeline and roadmap of innovation.”

Ever increasingly, consumer desires — and brands’ abilities to meet those desires — are driving company success. Knowing what your customer base expects and wants is essential to customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

“Consumers are more empowered than ever before,” says Rockwell. “They can find even micro-brands that represent their values and the experiences they seek. The brand challenge is to find ways to align the product and package experience to these desires. Brands need to communicate viscerally the consumer benefits and brand promise to the customer. One of the biggest missed opportunities for brands is to connect desired experiences to the multi-sensory cues found at every brand touchpoint.

“Consumers experience products and packages through multiple senses. Most companies seek to differentiate through a brand’s promise and pillars or core values, but they struggle with what these mean to consumers and ‘how’ to deliver these in the design of the product or package. These multi-sensory techniques that Lextant has developed allow brands to design ‘with’ and not just ‘for’ consumers — mapping the brand promise and pillars to the package, the dispenser and the product in a way that resonates with consumers instantly. Products and packages communicate instantly through the consumers’ sensory memories, automatically signaling that this brand will deliver on an experience they desire. It’s powerful. And it works.”

There are significant market and technology forces at work that will present new opportunities for brands, Rockwell continues. Brands will do well to have a firm handle on trends and research.

“Many companies are struggling to innovate for the millennial generation, which represents one of the largest market opportunities in history. Millennials bring new behaviors and even stronger expectations to the marketplace. They purchase with purpose. They see their values reflected in the products they buy. More than any other generation, they want to know how or where or by whom a product is made. They want to know what’s inside it and what will become of it, who’s making money off it and who can benefit from it. And while only so many words fit on the box or the back of the bottle, technology can create new real estate for brands to tell the stories that millennials want to hear. It’s a huge opportunity for brands. The Internet of Things (IoT) [where common objects like washing machines and kitchen devices can connect to the Internet] promises new advancements in technologies that can differentiate and deliver experiences beyond the package. Brands must resist the urge to be technology-centered in their solutions and seek to create cohesive consumer experience across all brand touchpoints – ensuring that consumers’ desired experiences are fulfilled at every point in the journey.

“In the end, we are finding that product and packaging challenges are not about a lack of ideas. It’s raining ideas in every organization we work with. What Lextant helps clarify are the problems and opportunities that brands can delivery on for consumers. This is the key to successful brands of the future.”

Crest 3D White

Putting it into practice, Lextant’s understanding of the consumer contributed to the development of three mega-properties for P&G: Crest Pro Health, Complete and 3D White.

Crest 3D White was brought to life in part through a deep understanding of consumers’ desire for a beautiful smile, rather than just healthy teeth.

In a global program, the Lextant team used journaling, in-home observation and ideal experience exercises that allowed consumers to define words like “healthy” and “clean” for each of P&G’s Oral Care segments, bringing them to life and providing a well-defined experiential framework to shape ideas.

The collaborative nature of this process and the rigor of the results gave P&G the confidence to realign global teams, so everyone from product development, R&D and chemists to marketing and advertising became integral to delivering a part of the experience. With that assistance, Crest 3D White has now become a billion dollar a year brand for the parent company.


At one point in time, packaging was simply a vehicle to get a product to the consumer safely. Now, the structure is just as important as the product inside. Frustrate customers with packaging, and you won’t continue to sell to them. Brands have a huge opportunity when it comes to housing their products. The advancements in technology and materials let companies cater to customers’ requests and lifestyles.

“The evolution of packaging technology over the past 20 years, particularly digital printing, has been the major game changer for brands,” says Gwen Granzow, VP/creative director and principal, Design North (

“Just 20 years ago, packaging was seen as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ game. A brand’s packaging would try to appeal to everyone. As technology simplified and reduced the costs of the print process and packaging materials, it allowed brands to become nimble and flexible with their targeting. Brands today can micro-target with packaging. The customized messaging allows them to forge deeper emotional bonds with their consumer.

“Other innovations seen in the last two decades have come in structural advances, driving major changes in how consumers use packaging.”

Steamfresh Fresh Frozen Vegetables

One such structural change brought a new category to market: steamable vegetables. In 2006, answering the needs of busy families, Birds Eye Foods created a new, no-prep method for frozen vegetables with its Steamfresh freezer-to-microwave flexible pouches that steam the veggies right in the bag. Commonplace today, it was a transformational package concept at its introduction, radically changing mealtime habits.

“The new benefits the package delivered required important consumer education, both about the ‘steams-in-the-bag’ microwave prep and the expectations of better, fresher taste,” says Granzow. “The bold appetite-appeal graphics pictured vegetables pouring out of a bag and onto a cutting board, communicating freshness, while the microwave oven and steaming icons reinforced key features of this new time-saving convenience.”

The introduction of Birds Eye Steamfresh Frozen Vegetables was the second most successful performer on IRI’s “Top 10 New Product Pacemakers” for 2006-2007, quickly expanding from nine to over 30 SKUs.

“Understand your consumer and what attracts them to your product,” says Granzow. “What are the emotional triggers? If your target audience is lifestyle-focused, your packaging should communicate with aspirational cues. If the reason to purchase is related to specific usage needs, consider designing a functional package that problem-solves for the consumer. More than any other marketing vehicle, packaging at its best reveals the soul of the brand to the consumer. It tells them why your product and brand are different, and it should provide a compelling and emotion-charged reason to buy.”


As Granzow just pointed out, package design brings a brand to life, conveying a company’s purpose and product story to consumers. It creates a spark between brand and consumers. Creative agency Duffy has been working with brands for thirty years and understands the importance of being able to connect the company with the customer.

“We have always believed that brands need a robust brand language to communicate successfully in the marketplace,” says Joseph Duffy IV, EVP of Design, Duffy ( “Technology simply gives us many more ways to deliver that message in an experiential way. The combination of design and technology allows brands to reach their audiences in so many more ways, from smartphones to wearables to the IoT.”

“Brands now have unlimited opportunities to reach their consumers, but they need to go about it differently than in the past,” he continues. “It’s not enough anymore to simply look the part; now you need to act the part by connecting in ways that are not obtrusive. People opt out with the push of a button: TiVo and similar technologies have changed the game, and brands now need buy-in from their audiences rather than simply disrupting their daily lives. It is about understanding the technology and taking advantage of it in a way where people will opt in. A disruption was once considered effective, where today it’s about integration.”

In addition, mobile is another hot spot for brands to watch. It’s a place where customers can be delighted by your brand’s attention to design detail or turned off.

“Mobile isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” says Duffy. “Everyone wants everything at their fingertips at all times. We also see a lot of opportunity with the whole IoT craze as well. We suspect that most brands and products will be connected to the Internet in some way, shape or form. But being connected can also add complication, so we think simplifying multiple brands and services together in easy-to-use interfaces are going to be the big winners in the near future. Think of it like a universal remote control for your TV. It is all about simplifying various products and services. People want to do more and more things, but it has to be second nature or it won’t be worth the effort.”


How easy are you making it for customers to interact with your brand? Duffy & Partners worked with Blue Plate Restaurant Company, an unchained chain of goodness.

Two owners, who understood that communities are a bit more communal when good food is just around the corner, founded eight unique restaurants in the neighborhoods of the Twin cities. Thankful for the patronage from loyal customers and the neighborhoods they serve, “Blue Plate Gives” was established so neighbors can vote for the charity they support with proceeds of their dining bill.

Duffy created the new Blue Plate identity and activated it through an IoT device called the Fuel Good Machine and mobile app. Restaurant patrons simply come in and order a meal to receive a Blue Plate Chip, which they drop in the machine on the way out the door. The charity with the most chips is given the Blue Plate donation for the month — a real win-win outcome that tastes good and is served easy.


For decades, brands have used packaging to differentiate themselves from the competition, and to great success. Now, companies are requesting agencies take branding a step further: to their physical space.

“When you are buying and selling products to consumers, branding is important everywhere,” says Anthony Deen, creative director, Environments at CBX ( “When you walk into someone’s house, you form an impression. Everything from the artwork on the walls to the rug on the floor to the light fixtures on the ceiling all help you understand what the owners are trying to say about themselves. It’s no different with retail environments. That’s why it’s critical for retailers to establish a distinct voice and personality for their brand that connects to consumers on a higher, more experiential level. Retailers must now, more than ever, work very hard to engage consumers by defining the consumer experience and making it meaningful.

“Branding spaces is about extending the brand into the physical environment — expressing a brand in a palpable way,” Deen continues. “For us at CBX, it includes designing everything from the packaging to the shelf talker on the gondola or a specialty endcap fixture. It includes the tradeshow booth where the discussion takes place between a manufacturer and retailers, the pop-up shop that introduces the product to consumers and the store itself.”


Before NJOY, the electronic cigarette/vaping category was still primarily entrenched in the visual world of tobacco, marketed as a cessation or tobacco alternative rather than a unique experience unto itself. CBX was challenged to reinvigorate and relaunch the brand as a unique, full-flavor experience in a rapidly growing category.

The agency conducted in-depth ethnographies and category audits that uncovered the target audience — the male millennial and the older transitional smoker. While the team didn’t want to alienate the female consumer, the brand needed to speak to the millennial who revels in hedonistic pleasure and lives life in the moment.

CBX came up with a brand identity that was vibrant, engaging and disruptive in store. The agency relaunched NJOY’s original six SKU line, as well as two new lines, ultimately delivering 150 SKUs in total. The agency supported the launch and developed consumer-facing POS displays in 7-Eleven, Walgreens and other convenience store locations.

From there, CBX created full-scale environments at trade shows, mobile vaping bars and the first free-standing NJOY retail location. The NJOY Vaping Bar it created can be found at The LINQ, a Caesars Entertainment property in Las Vegas.

The reaction was quick and intense: Less than three months after the relaunch of its vaping products, NJOY reached No.1 in retail sales, capturing 23.7 percent of this growing category, and accounted for 85 percent of the segment growth. By September 2014, NJOY grew to a 4.4 share and its market share continued to rise, with the aim of a 10 point share to be earned by the end of 2015. The new recharge line knocked LOGIC off the No.1 spot, and NJOY became the leading mass brand in the emerging flavor/vaping segment.