Creative Packaging Design
Customers look to packaging to make impactful first impressions on consumers
People have always been told to “never judge a book by its cover,” but packaging professionals, manufacturers, and the retailers of any items that are sold dressed up in packaging are banking on consumers ignoring that adage. Merchandisers are hoping that not only do consumers judge their products by the packaging, but they’re hoping that the packaging is a strong influencing factor when it comes to a purchase decision.
Packaging provides a number of purposes – many of which go far beyond the primary role of simply wrapping or covering the product itself. Primarily, packaging does serve the purpose of protecting product integrity. Packaging protects products from outside elements, damage while being handled or shipped, and in the case of food products, can extend the shelf life and keep the food safe from contamination and other food safety concerns. Packaging can also relay valuable product information to consumers about ingredients, nutritional information, and even instructions for use.
In addition, packaging can enhance convenience for the consumer. Today’s consumer is always on the lookout for ways to save time through purchasing items that can be used or consumed on-the-go. The right kind of packaging can provide consumers with this convenience as well as give them a way to re-open and reuse products – another sought after packaging benefit.
Results from the annual Power of Meat study conducted by the Food Marketing Institute and North American Meat Institute show that packaging innovation is of interest to consumers, particularly when they’re shopping the meat case. When it comes to packaging that’s featured in a typical meat department such as leakproof, freezer ready, resealable, environmentally friendly, pre-portioned or packaging that reduces food waste, consumers in the Power of Meat study expressed high levels of interest in the various innovations.
- 98 percent of those surveyed were either very interested or somewhat interested in leakproof packaging;
- 76 percent were interested in freezer-ready packaging; and
- 72 percent were interested in products featuring resealable packaging.
“In addition to functional advantages for retailers, sales may be influenced by educating shoppers on the benefits of various packaging as true selling points,” according to Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics, LLC, the company that conducted the Power of Meat study.
Of course, the role of packaging in a product’s appearance can also not be ignored. Colorful printing, labeling, and design can decorate outer packaging enhancing commercial appeal of the products. With so much competition on the shelves, product packaging can be a crucial influencer in a purchase decision.
“Packaging, if treated properly, can be one of the most influential ways of creating and reinforcing brand equity and brand awareness. It has to be treated by the company as a marketing asset not just as something that protects the product,” says Dr. John Stanton, Professor of Food Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University. “You see the product on the store shelf; you see the package every time you open the refrigerator or pantry door; you see the package when you use it. It can have an impact when a consumer is visiting another’s house and the product is sitting out on the table. It is a constant reminder until it is disposed of...as opposed to a 30-second commercial which most likely goes in one ear and out the other.”
Even though consumers are shopping for the products themselves, packaging design plays such a crucial role in the purchase decision that it’s no longer an afterthought for manufacturers and processors – oftentimes it’s at the forefront of new product development. Many manufacturers utilize university research programs as consultants during the early phases of product development.
Clemson University is one of a number of US universities that feature packaging design and packaging science programs. The school works with hundreds of US manufacturers on packaging design consulting, distribution testing, systems analysis and training.
“What I’ve learned from studying packaging, consumer attention and behavior to packaging is that there’s no universal trend – it’s a mathematics game,” says Andrew Hurley, Associate Professor in the Department of Food, Nutrition and Packaging Science at Clemson. “When you can leverage a packaging style that’s different from the rest of the category and find a way that you can define your product that’s different than the rest, then you can capture attention.
“I would say the majority of the grocery store is unseen – and unseen is unsold. So, the more you can differentiate yourself within the category, the greater success you’re going to have.”
In the end, this success can equal sales.
“Packaging speaks to the consumer when the consumer is standing in front of the store shelf, deciding among the alternatives,” Stanton says. “And your package can mean the difference between a purchase or not.”
Packaging companies don’t develop the products that end-users purchase and consume, but they serve a crucial role in the product distribution process. While many manufacturers consider packaging to be the final part of production, others are seeing the benefits of working with packaging equipment suppliers sooner rather than later.
“MULTIVAC serves such a wide variety of clientele that we are asked to provide a myriad of packaging solutions,” says Cem Yildirim, Product Manager Market Development. “We are asked to provide solutions across the complete packaging spectrum of flexible to rigid, vacuum to modified atmosphere to sealed-only packages.”
MULTIVAC Inc. is one of the leading providers of packaging solutions for food products, life science and health care products and industrial items worldwide. Each machine is individually designed to meet the processor’s requirements regarding package design, output and efficient use of resources. The company’s portfolio includes vacuum chamber machines, traysealers, thermoforming packaging machines, labelers, quality control systems, automation solutions and even turnkey lines.
In order to meet the customer’s needs, MULTIVAC must consider all aspects of the production process in order to provide the most beneficial packaging system.
“At MULTIVAC we always start with the product,” Yildirim says. But that’s only the beginning of the process, there are so many more criteria to consider, he adds. “Other criteria include shelf-life expectation; mechanical protection requirements; required marketing attributes; opening and reclosing properties; and package cost consideration.” In addition, the overall objective of the packaging must be considered, “Is it efficient, cost-effective packaging or innovative, aspirational packaging?” Yildirim says.
To properly configure a new packaging system, the company takes into account:
- How the package will or should be loaded or filled with product;
- Packaging material requirements and equipment compatibility;
- Package functionality requirements;
- Top and/or bottom labeling requirements;
- On-pack printing requirements for variable information;
- Check weighing and foreign material inspection requirements; and
- Interfaces with other upstream or downstream equipment on the line including infeed conveyors, visual inspection, automatic case packing, case closers, case labelers, material handling systems, palletizing and pallet wrapping.
“When evaluating tray sealing projects, the foremost question is whether the trays will arrive to the traysealer already filled with product or are they to be filled within an integrated primary packaging line. The shape or size of the tray and how well it can be transported is also taken in to account. Maximum throughput is achieved with consistent, even flow of trays to the tray sealer so infeed systems matter as much as the selection of traysealer model,” Yildirim explains. “When planning for skinpack projects, the shape, size and contour of the product are all critical variables as the lidstock must effectively stretch wrap around and over it for a consistent quality appearance.”
Obstacles and challenges
Space and budgetary constraints are two of the primary challenges faced when designing a packaging system. Yildirim explains. “Equally important to keep in mind is product and package flow within the space and the availability of higher level equipment operators and maintenance personnel. And, when automating primary and secondary packaging lines, the quality of consumable materials is paramount. While a human can deal with inconsistency of consumable materials like trays, films, labels and cases, mechanization and automation are most effective and efficient with consistent, quality materials. As such, material costs can be higher for automated lines – however, the increase is usually off-set by higher efficiency and less labor cost.”
Other packaging challenges can come from the products being packaged. “Different products can react very differently to the effect of vacuum,” Yildirim says. “As pressure is decreased, wet products can flash causing contamination of the seal flanges. Product temperature and moisture content play major roles in reaction to evacuation. Another hidden factor is air entrapment within the product. A product with air inside of it directly impacts the ability to pull a full vacuum and/or reach a low residual oxygen content specification.”
Dry goods present their own set of unique challenges. “Powders and very light solids can flow with air as it is evacuated from a thermoformed package or pre-formed tray. Gas flushing can also disturb and re-distribute powders and very light solids.” Everything must be taken into account when developing a new packaging system.
“A successful primary packaging line is configured by keeping the ‘end’ in mind,” Yildirim says.
In the world of packaging, keeping the end in mind means keeping the consumer in mind. And as the consumer changes, the packaging industry must evolve and change.
“It’s all about understanding the category you’re selling in…and truly thinking as a consumer when you’re developing your packaging,” Hurley says.
“Perception is reality,” Stanton adds. “Good packaging implies good products, but incredible packaging means an incredible product.”