Three ways for packagers to keep up with the times and trends that are a’changing.

From farm to fork, the food supply chain is evolving more rapidly than ever before. Consumers, retailers and food producers alike are looking for fresher, more convenient food packaging solutions that have a minimum impact on the environment. The space is a competitive one, in which packaged goods companies need to advance. With this in mind, what should packagers examine in order to stay ahead of the curve and get smart about achieving success?  

1. Pay attention to consumer preferences  

As consumers expand their knowledge on issues pertaining to sustainability, there is the growing sense of responsibility when it comes to their purchases and the impact these purchases have on the environment. The purchasing power that consumers yield is progressively influenced by the sustainable aspects of the products they choose to have in their households. The result? Consumers are evaluating how the “things” in their world align with a lifestyle that for many is increasingly green.  

According to a 2010 “Greendex” research from National Geographic and GlobeScan, findings suggest that 40% of individuals across 17 countries reported avoiding excessively packaged goods ‘all’ or ‘most of the time.’ Additionally, recent data from Tetra Pak’s “Environmental Research 2011” survey shows that 88% of consumers in 10 countries expressed a preference or strong preference for products in recyclable packaging. In the United States alone, some 70% of consumers said they are willing to buy a “green” product if the quality is the same as a “non-green” alternative.    

For packagers, these types of preferences are critical to informing product development to deliver products that are relevant to consumers. One way companies in the U.S. can gain this level of insight is through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) approach, which ensures a product’s environmental impacts are understood as part of the standard design process. The DfE informs industry, environmental groups, and academia on a variety of approaches to reduce the human health and environment impact of products and services.  

2. Change with the times  

Today, nearly 60% of households in America are comprised of one or two individuals, and more and more we are seeing convenience, size, ease of storage and disposal drive consumers toward the need for greater efficiency in their day-to-day lives.   

The rise of non-nuclear families such as couples without children, single parents and empty nesters also has implications for packaging sizes. The shift from a “bulk” mentality is requiring manufacturers to increase their portfolio of single-serve/reduced-size packaging offerings in order to appeal to these changing demographics.  

To know what types of products will be successful, packaging companies must go deep into the consumer’s experience. Ethnographic research methods are seen as beneficial ways to determine how people use specific products and services. The key to this research method is to focus on observing and recording how people actually behave in various familiar environments using a specific product, rather than simply asking consumers to express their attitudes about particular products.  

3. Design today for tomorrow  

Packaging companies will do well by their innovation and R&D pipelines to initiate “future think.” When aseptic technology first emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, consumer convenience and cost-effectiveness, together with hygiene and food safety, drove innovation. And these key demands still drive innovation today, but it’s not enough to plan and design five years ahead. The ongoing challenge packagers will face year-over-year  is to understand the way we live today and how we can translate these key learnings to inform the way we will live 20 years from now.  

Suley Muratoglu is Vice President, Marketing & Product Management for Tetra Pak, Inc., ( www.tetrapak.com, a leading food processing and packaging solutions company. He is responsible for the expansion of the company’s presence within core categories, including dairy, beverage and food. Muratoglu joined Tetra Pak in 1994 as a sales manager in Istanbul, and his career with the company has taken him to Central Asia, UK and later to the United States.