In case you hadn’t noticed, the private label retail product sector is in the midst of a metamorphosis. The depth and reach of retailers’ private label programs continues to grow—and this is particularly true of the national-brand-better (NBB) segment for products that don’t have a direct competitor on the nationally branded side of things. These are unique products that stand in their own right. They are brands, just like Coke, Kraft and Nabisco. They just happen to be owned by retailers.

One of the best ways to further differentiate these NBB products is through packaging. All too often, national brands can get bogged down by “that’s the way it’s always been done” thinking when it comes to packaging, or are tied to decisions already made for them in terms of what they can and can’t do with their product packaging. But innovation in packaging has been significant of late, bringing better overall quality, shelf life, food safety, etc. to the table—all items that we’ll have ample opportunity to explore during PACK EXPO International later this year (see you there). So to gain more of an edge, retailers should consider every packaging angle—particularly for NBB products—letting the logic of the packaging choice lead them into the best decision possible.

Retailers come at this game from a different angle, and when it comes to packaging they benefit from a rather short history in terms of hands-on operational packaging considerations. For years, retailers have largely left packaging decisions up to their supplier/manufacturing partners—and margins were incredibly tight. But now, as retail private label teams grow in size and sophistication (often poaching folks from national brand manufacturers), they’re developing their own specifications—and sometimes fully immersing themselves in the manufacturing process, steering initial R&D ideation through launch, and even opening and running their own plants. Since they’re new to this game, they’re eager to learn about all of their options—a great opportunity for packaging professionals to get in on the ground floor with these retailers-turned-manufacturers. And NBB products that will likely carry a higher price tag are more prone to absorbing a stronger investment in packaging (earlier this year I wrote a feature outlining packaging aspects unique to a private label retail perspective, highlighting a few product areas important to private label, which could be useful).

As more retailers go to market with a higher degree of innovation in their packaging, you can bet that the national brands will start to follow suit in an interesting twist of the mouse now chasing the cat—but a game that will only benefit the packaging sector overall.