For retail buyers and category managers, the packaging of a new product is one of many factors that have to be considered, but one that has special meaning: It’s the attribute that projects the product’s message. And if it doesn’t do that effectively, the product probably won’t fly.

So says Peter Lavoy, member of the Food Institute’s Board of Trustees, the recently retired president and chief executive officer of Foodtown Supermarkets, and a lifetime retailer who spent time in the buying ranks.

To be sure, category managers and buyers at retail chains need to pay close attention to whether or not a newly offered item will provide some new dollars to its category through innovation or recognition of new consumer needs. And, close attention needs to be given to the levels of support that the supplier is giving the product to drive sales and bring customers into the stores.

But while those are the requirements that must be satisfied if the product is to fly off retail shelves, packaging is by no means a secondary issue. “It is absolutely essential,” says Lavoy, “that the packaging clearly, effectively and excitingly tell the consumer what’s going on with this new introduction. If it doesn’t, the product’s success is at severe risk.”

For retail buyers, all the issues, and especially the packaging, have to be transparent and presented in a well-organized way, because the task of reviewing new products is quite frankly a daunting one due to its scale. In 2006, nearly 17,800 new food products were introduced. That’s nearly 600 a day-retailers work plenty of Saturdays-and, while many are line extensions, a substantial number require careful review.

For new products to meet retail requirements, packaging has to achieve several objectives. First of all, the packaging must be creative, and that creativity has to reflect the innovation behind the product. The packaging has to quickly describe the innovation to customers, so, in the split second that the customer takes to scan the shelf, the product’s value will be effectively projected.

According to Lavoy, a key requirement for new products is a website address on the packaging to help consumers get maximum information on the item’s benefits, as well as an 800 number for the same purpose. These must be in larger type and must stand out on the label.

Other benefits, such as kosher certification, need to be clearly stated on the label. Adds Lavoy: “Information on product use is really necessary. Labeling for new products has to ram home the value of the product, its benefit to the consumer, and one of the best ways to do that is provide recipes and serving suggestions or how to access them.”

The packaging of a new product must, of course, satisfy all labeling rules and regulations, relative to nutrition, content, ingredients and other issues. But the bottom line is that packaging for new products has a vital role to play: Making sure that the consumer not only knows its benefits, but is prompted to buy into them and purchase the product. F&BP