How Much Packaging is Too Much?


Interesting ongoing packaging experiments

are being conducted in Germany. British supermarket giant Tesco co-opted

the idea recently to conduct an experiment of its own over a six-week

period. The premise of the exercise is simple. Customers in a defined

number of supermarkets are allowed to shed any packaging they find excessive

near the checkouts after making their purchases.


Not only does Tesco recycle packaging

its customers leave behind, it plans to study the results of its exercise

and relate feedback to product manufacturers. According to the company,

common customer packaging complaints cited are the amount of plastic,

board, and foil used; toothpaste cartons; and trays and plastic film

containing produce.

New insights are being seriously considered

as Tesco, a food retailer, looks for new ways to reduce extraneous packaging

on its own store brands and peripheral department packaging based on

feedback from its experiment. 

Consumer packaged

goods (CPG) companies have been reducing excessive packaging for some

time, of course. As retailers increasingly focus on developing and managing

their own store brands, more sophisticated, responsible packaging is

one of their primary concerns, too. Yet, there is a growing consensus

that more can and should be done.

Cost savings can be significant with

reduced packaging on the front end, yielding fewer materials used and

less energy consumed as highly desirable added bonuses. But savings

on the back end are noteworthy as well. When consumers send less material

to the trash and into recycling containers, energy savings are likewise

substantial. Even better: Consumers appreciate having fewer packaging

materials to discard after consuming products. CPG companies and retailers

should not overlook this insight; consumers attach greater perceived

value to the brands involved.

As is the case with most initiatives,

a balanced approach is the key to successful packaging changes. A small

percentage of consumers are avid environmentalists and more sensitive

to perceived excess packaging. But other shoppers might require more

information about ingredients and prefer to retain additional packaging.

Results will have to be weighed with these considerations after the

experiment concludes.

The less packaging consumers have to

dispose of during the test period, the greater the affirmation that

product manufacturers and retailers are doing a good job. Still, the

data collected from discarded packaging near store exits ought to be

very revealing and much more insightful than verbal feedback alone.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

In many focus groups, companies have

focused on soliciting consumer input on the design of packaging rather

than the amount of packaging. Though experiments like this might spur

CPG companies to consider adding the design-of-packaging dimension,

maybe it’s not a good idea to add the topic into focus-group discussions

without also observing customer interaction with actual packaging.

In many instances, respondents are likely

to either say what they think is expected or adopt a “herd mentality”

and go along with predominant group consensus. Sometimes, it’s hard

to get at the truth about the various elements of packaging that consumers

respond favorably to and also ones they dislike in group sessions.

Getting back to Tesco’s

experiment: What better way to find out how much packaging is too much

than by allowing consumers to show product manufacturers and retailers

themselves? Observing how and what consumers discard after making purchases

is invaluable. In Germany, for example, retailers observed that consumers

readily threw toothpaste cartons into receptacles as they left stores.

This action and the resulting feedback prompted product manufacturers

to develop toothpaste tubes that stand upright on store shelves, sans

outer cartons.

The idea must be gaining steam because

Procter & Gamble has decided against outer cartons for some of its

Crest oral-care products. Perhaps P&G is taking a cue from its European

counterparts. Or, perhaps P&G’s decision results from its own

internal testing or information gleaned in collaboration with an outside

design consultancy.

Regardless, this development presents

new challenges, because products like toothpaste must include regulatory

information on the packaging, not to mention OTC remedies. When it comes

to food products, allergy, and dietary concerns, ingredients and sourcing

make the stripping away of extraneous packaging a challenge, too. The

need to eliminate excessive packaging must be balanced with a sense

of responsibility. Consumers’ need for information and product safety

concerns also must be carefully considered.

In spite of these concerns,

brilliant package reduction solutions are being devised.

  • Prilosec OTC redesigned its
  • packaging to double the number of pills on a blister card, reducing
  • packaging waste.
  •  HP’s laptop-in-a-bag won
  • Walmart’s competition for innovative packaging ideas, and an exclusive
  • promotion in its stores sold out the 15,000 laptops in a limited run.
  • Aveda lipstick packaged one
  • lipstick tube with six refillables to cut down substantially on waste.
  • McDonald’s decision to convert
  • hash brown containers from paperboard cartons to paper bags saves an
  • estimated 2.9 million pounds of packaging annually.

Good package solutions can be developed

when companies know where their packaging can be reduced without compromising

product integrity or consumers’ “need to know.” Actually seeing

how consumers interface with packaging gives companies the most solid

information possible and also a real starting point. That also could

lead to the development of more distinctive, proprietary packaging undreamed

of until now. In turn, new advancements could be leveraged to refer

back to their brands in a highly recognizable, differentiated manner.

Rather than viewing consumer disenchantment

vis-à-vis current packaging as a negative, it is wiser for CPG companies

to regard these insights as great opportunities. The chance to develop

better package designs that are fully aligned with consumer expectations

should not be missed—especially now, in a tough economy. Smart brands

will survive and thrive now and be much better positioned to pick up

more share when the economy turns around.

Ted Mininni is president of Design Force,

Inc., the leading brand design consultancy to consumer product companies

with Enjoyment Brands™. Design Force helps their clients market

brands that deliver positive, gratifying experiences to consumers. Their

expertise lies in emotionally connecting consumers to brands by creating

compelling visual brand experiences, which motivate purchase decisions.

Tips + AdviceYour Name