Retail-ready packaging. Shelf-ready packaging. Display-ready cases. The US has been talking about this as the next big thing in retail channel packaging for some time, but adoption hasn’t followed the projections.

While implementation is not without challenges, brands and retailers may be leaving opportunity on the table in the form of logistics efficiencies and operational savings in store. But the biggest untapped opportunity is the ability of retail-ready packaging (RRP) to enable the engagement of consumers to deliver on your brand promise. In the uncertain environment for brick and mortar retail, can you afford not to consider how RRP can help you achieve your goals?

First things first: What are we talking about when we say “retail-ready packaging?” In brief, RRP is packaging that arrives at the retail store in a ready-to-sell unit that doesn’t require repacking or unpacking to place on shelves.

Generally, why is it good? The “Five Easys” help explain. Good RRP makes replenishment in the store easy by making it simple to identify product in the back room, easy to open at the shelf and easy to place on the shelf. These attributes drive significant operational savings by reducing labor in the store, as well as reducing stock outs and frustration for the consumer or a lost sale for the retailer. Good RRP also makes it easy to dispose of the box when its empty, which saves management costs and effort for the store.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the fifth easy, Easy to Shop, which is completely focused on the consumer experience. This benefit of RRP creates huge potential for brands that are looking to engage consumers in a difficult retail environment.

How is rrp being used?

The current implementation of RRP in the U.S. is opportunistic. Club stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club have a specific form of RRP given the nature of shopping from pallets in a warehouse-style store layout. Value-priced retailers such as Aldi and Lidl also deploy this model as a way to keep every cost as low as possible. Use of RRP is required for doing business, with Aldi for example.

In contrast, RRP is used for two primary functions in grocery retailers in the U.S.: To enable flexible pouches to stand upright (tuna pouches) or for snack-bar products to stay organized. Usually this RRP is developed by the national brand manufacturer themselves.

These applications make sense. Shopping either category without the structural support of RRP would be a negative experience for consumers and a replenishment nightmare. In fact, it’s so obvious that some might be surprised to realize these are forms of RRP.

In other categories and in other regions, RRP is significantly more common. For example, in the United Kingdom, national as well as private label brands often use RRP for all types of products in retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco. In the U.S., home hardware stores also use RRP frequently as well.

Does rrp improve branding?

Are U.S. grocery retailers missing out on an opportunity? As stated above, one of the “Five Easys” enabled by RRP is that products are “easy to shop.” Let’s break that down a little further in terms of the implication for brands.

In brief, RRP helps brands by:

  • Reducing negative experiences from stockouts in which the demand for an item cannot be fulfilled from current inventory
  • Making it easier to find favorite or new flavors
  • Providing another platform for engagement around the brand

To begin, RRP can make it easier in some categories to keep more product on shelves by enabling stacking that wouldn’t be possible with the primary package alone. This helps reduce the risk of stock outs, which can lead to consumer frustration and a negative brand experience. This also means RRP can increase sales. Brand-loyal consumers are not likely to pick up a similar item, which results in a lost sale for
the retailer.

Some RRPs have a mechanism that pushes product forward or uses gravity to align the product with the shelf face, enabling a positive consumer experience and ease of shopping. Most retailers need to employ labor to pull shelf stock forward (facing) to receive the same benefits an RRP could provide. Similarly, RRP can more easily enable stocking of point-of-sale displays on the store floor that also help prevent stock outs for high traffic or sale items.

Shopper reference point

RRP can also help keep flavors organized, which has both a shopability benefit as well as an operational efficiency benefit. Specifically, RRP makes it easier for consumers to find what they’re looking for. Staring at a whole shelf panel of the same brand colors is enough to cross anyone’s eyes. RRP, particularly when coupled with smart primary packaging, helps break up the visual field to make it easier to find a favorite flavor. When you only have a few seconds to catch their eye, every little detail counts. By enabling navigation for favorites, you also make it easier to show off new features or flavors.

RRP makes it easier to identify gaps on the shelves and fill them more quickly. If staff has to read a label closely to connect their restock to the shelf gaps, the chance of error is high. The store may end up with a chocolate flavor in a vanilla spot. By grouping similar flavors and using visual cues such as colors or shapes, RRP can more clearly indicate what product is out of stock and make it easier for staff to place replenished stock in the right location.


Reinforcing brand promise

Lastly, the biggest untapped opportunity in brand value from RRP is in conveying brand promise and brand personality to supplement the primary package. As a brand manager you think about colors, images, fonts and other ways to draw the eye to your product. Imagine taking it to the next level by adding 3D representations of the brand that are playful, attention-getting and engaging. RRP gives you another platform for conveying brand shapes or features to supplement your graphics.

The way the triangle of a Toblerone bar or cylinder of the Pringles can evoke a particular brand response, so can your RRP. The Fairy detergent example won an award in 2015 for point-of-sale packaging due to its creative way of enhancing the brand while reducing production and operation costs.

“The design maximizes Fairy brand assets and visibility of the claim from all angles, ensuring the brand and benefit are visible in the aisle and from above—an important consideration given Fairy is often stacked on the floor in-store. As bottles are removed from the [RRP], the iconic Fairy ‘Bizzie’ Baby is revealed, reassuring shoppers of Fairy’s heritage and value,”1 and also deploys a creative structural design to help reduce material without reducing brand benefit.

The sky is the limit when deploying your “ownable” shape in your RRP. It can evoke an emotion, a place, an ingredient or a feature of the product simply through the structural features of the design. “Think outside the box” applies quite literally here.

The combination of powerful structural brand execution with the operational and shopability benefits creates a very compelling picture for RRP. Now might be the time to seriously consider implementing RRP for your products.

Keys to success

If you’re deploying RRP for cost reasons, it’s important to consider the impacts on brand and shopability when executing your RRP.

Common missteps with RRP include:

  • Poor quality perforations. When perforations don’t separate cleanly, the result is unsightly, exposed corrugation, damage to the RRP portion left on shelf or even destruction of the RRP altogether. Workers don’t take the time to clean up these edges, and your brand suffers.
  • Poor shapes. A regular slotted container with a perforated opening down the middle is common, but when used for square boxes, the “shopability” of the RRP is negatively affected. The product name is not visible, and retrieving a product from the box is more difficult.
  • Poor color management. If you’re using RRP to help your brand stand out on shelf, make sure your suppliers are using the same color specifications. If you make changes to those specs, ensure that retailers phase out old stock to avoid having multiple colors/ brand messages on the same shelf.
  • Inconsistent signal. RRP is an extension of the brand. If you’re a premium brand, make sure the material used, graphics, color quality, etc. are all in line with the premium image as well.

What’s next?

It’s worth noting that implementation of RRP might be easier for private-label brands—direct control and access to product manufacturers simplifies the design and execution of RRP—but the concept applies to national brands as well.

  • Don’t underestimate the quality of the material used in RRP. Designing the structure isn’t enough. Achieving the “Five Easys” also requires consideration of how the material will look and perform on shelf. Bad RRP will negate the benefits.
  • When evaluating whether to pursue RRP, consider the total cost and benefit. The incremental cost of sourcing and implementing more packaging might seem insurmountable, but good RRP has the potential to drive significant benefit for every stakeholder of the process through cost efficiencies in logistics as well as in store operations, increased sales for retailers, enhanced engagement for brands. Make sure to add up all of these costs and benefits to guide the final decision.
  • If you’re a national brand interested in pursuing RRP, it’s key to engage your retailer partners early to ensure your vision is achievable.