Both cases illustrate the fine line manufacturers must tread between retaining brand recognition in their products and meeting consumer expectations for streamlined and sustainable packaging. It’s something that matters to buyers more and more; in a Nielsen Global Survey on corporate social responsibility, 52% of respondents around the world said their sustainable purchase decisions are influenced by packaging.
In response, brands are looking to their packaging suppliers for cost-effective solutions that strike the right balance. But even where aims can be met to reduce weight, shrink volume, or offer a compostable alternative, can the product remain recognizable at the point of sale?
Be careful about making radical changes. Consumers like to recognize their favorite products and brands instantly on the shelf. But if too many changes are made to packaging, manufacturers could end up alienating loyal customers.
A good guideline is to avoid making more than one major change to your packaging at a time—either graphics or structure, for example, but not both.
Any decision about changes to packaging will always be dictated by the type of product it is designed to contain. While food packaging presents the challenge of retaining functionality, meeting hygiene standards, and remaining aesthetically pleasing, beauty products lend themselves to more sustainable designs and materials.
As beauty brands continue to eliminate additives such as parabens and sulphates from their ingredients lists, and microbeads are banned by U.K. legislation, the packaging they use is starting to follow a similar trend. A number of brands now use biodegradable materials including bamboo, seaweed, and even chalk to contain their products.
Although many consumers are shunning excess packaging, manufacturers must consider whether the logistics involved in getting their products to market will allow for a minimalist approach.
Cardboard shelf-ready packages (SRPs) are used as a way of transporting and displaying the product. Some SRPs are put into an additional outer carton, which could be deemed excess packaging, but if the product is being transported overseas then it needs to withstand lots of handling.
However, it’s likely that a reduction in the weight of the cardboard, for example, can be made, which still offers the level of protection required while allowing the manufacturer to achieve a small but significant reduction in packaging material.
It seems consumers are not just looking for discreet, eco-friendly changes to packaging; they want to be sure the brand is committed to saving the environment. A 2017 study by Unilever suggested that more than one in five people would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing.
Ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s, for example, has successfully incorporated a pro-environment message into its marketing. By making this type of statement, manufacturers could open up new markets that were previously inaccessible, which will ultimately mitigate against the higher marketing costs.
The packaging industry still has some way to go in terms of developing more sustainable solutions, but businesses and consumers are driving this change with their determination to use recyclable or compostable packaging wherever possible. Any measures in this direction are likely to pay dividends in the long run.
Mick Clark has over 31 years of experience in the packaging industry, the majority of this accumulated while working as sales director for independent contract packing company WePack Ltd. For more information visit www.we-pack.co.uk.