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
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.
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
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
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
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.