Cutting Packaging Down to Size
Smaller, lighter packaging generally
raises red flags with consumers. It usually signals they’re getting
less product for their money instead of the steady, insidious price
hikes which always cause consternation, especially in a down economy.
But that isn’t always the case nowadays.
Consumer product manufacturers, faced
with several dilemmas, have steadily worked to cut down on extraneous
packaging for very good reasons. With the rise in raw materials, energy,
manufacturing and transportation costs, coupled with the meteoric rise
in environmental consciousness, they’ve been consistently cutting
down on packaging.
Wal-Mart’s introduction of a “Packaging
Scorecard” a couple of years ago, applied considerable pressure from
the world’s largest retailer to over 66,000 suppliers to reduce packaging.
The retailer promised to become “packaging neutral” by 2025. No
small feat. It does signify Wal-Mart’s commitment to virtually having
all the packaging that flows through its distribution chain recyclable,
reusable and compostable by 2025. The impact of this decision has had
profound ramifications in the entire consumer product industry.
The effect of all of these factors combined:
a classic case of push-pull. Slowly, but surely, manufacturers are
becoming more environmentally focused and making significant strides
in reducing packaging. Examples abound in the marketplace. Procter &
Gamble’s rigid tubes of Crest toothpaste now stand on retail shelves
sans boxes. General Mills reduced Hamburger Helper packaging by 20%,
saving materials and an estimated 500 product distribution truckloads.
Kraft’s Crystal Light new PET bottles cut about 18% of packaging weight,
saving an estimated 8.7 million pounds of plastic.
Stonyfield Farm’s initiative, switching
from #2 plastic cups to #5 thermoform plastic cups for its yogurts,
reduced its overall packaging by 17% thanks to the thinner-walled #5
cups. The #5 cups are not recyclable as the #2 cups were, but in true
Stonyfield Farm fashion, the company is working with TerraCycle to repurpose
used yogurt cups to repackage new consumer products.
Nestle Waters North America saved 20
million pounds of paper over a five year period by simply designing
narrower labels on its popular regional water brands, including Poland
Spring and Deer Park. Coca-Cola has announced it will cut the amount
of plastic in its Dasani water packaging by 7% merely by redesigning
the shape of the bottles.
In a recent move, Kellogg’s announced
that it would test shorter, fatter cereal boxes in its Detroit market,
representing the company’s biggest packaging change since the 1950’s.
This is big news. The footprint of cereal packaging hasn’t much changed
in decades. If this experiment is well-received, it will no doubt have
ramifications throughout the entire spectrum of the consumer product
industry; including non-food companies. Significant changes to consumer
staples like cereal are bound to be immediately visible; a source of
instant conversation and debate.
Kellogg’s is touting the company’s
commitment to innovative thinking, responsiveness to its retail partners,
consumers’ environmental concerns. However, there can be little doubt
that an 8% decrease in packaging materials has its own advantages. Cost
savings that go right to the bottom line. The perception of a greener
footprint. Taking a lead marketing position in a highly competitive
category. All good—if it works according to plan.
On the face of it, retailers ought to
embrace the shorter packaging because they can move shelves closer together
and offer more product in the same footage. Consumers ought to love
the new packaging since it will fit far better on their pantry shelves.
The potential hitch: after decades of consumers being educated that
smaller packaging equates to less product, it’s going to take time
to reeducate consumers that in the case of greener packaging, it isn’t
“Less as More”.
Smaller or lighter pack sizes will have
be used to enforce positive values. Otherwise, they may become the cause
of negative perceptions among consumers. No easy task. Yet, consumer
product companies ought to consider: what better way is there to sell
sustainable values than through that most important of marketing initiatives—packaging?
Using the packaging itself to explain why consumers are seeing and holding
less packaging presents a valuable opportunity that should not be missed.
Further, using packaging as a communications
platform about the company’s commitment to sustainability issues gives
marketers a powerful tool to reach consumers. Tying that messaging in
to every customer touch point will further educate consumers and give
companies that embrace environmentally friendly practices in general,
and greener packaging in particular, a competitive edge.
Some marketers observe that if more and
more consumer products begin to appear in sustainable packaging, that
edge will disappear. Not so. If companies are smart about the manner
in which they think and work, they can continue to leverage this—and
always appear to be on the leading edge in the bargain.
More and more innovative ideas will be
fueled over the next few years. New materials and substrates, new energy-saving
packaging manufacturing techniques and equipment, new ways to do more
with less will continue to present themselves. Exciting possibilities
undreamt of today will become realities with focus and determination.
Smart companies will embrace more far-reaching
package design systems over time and find ways to do business more efficiently
on every front, including the intelligent use of energy and natural
resources. Continuing commitment to these important goals will make
the companies and brands that embrace them shine in the eyes of consumers.
Many companies’ sustainability measures
are going unnoticed since they are deliberately choosing not to communicate
these initiatives. Whether this comes from a fear of the perception
of green-washing, or companies simply feel it is the right thing to
do sans advertising the fact, it is a mistake not to market social responsibility
as a cornerstone of branding or rebranding efforts. As long as sustainability
initiatives are communicated in a fair and honest manner, companies
stand to gain appreciable value in consumer perception.
How about this for a paradox: cutting
packaging down to size will only increase its importance in promoting
the brand. The old adage: “Less is More” is true, after all.
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. www.designforceinc.com