How Retailers are Driving Package Decisions

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Consumer product packaging is increasingly being driven—not by manufacturers—but by retailers. Not only package design; package substrates, as well.

Ever since Wal-Mart introduced its “Packaging Scorecard” in late 2006, the hand-writing appeared on the wall. When the world’s largest retailer sought a commitment from thousands of suppliers to cut back on extraneous packaging; demanding smarter, more environmentally sound choices in the process, it was bound to have a huge impact. Setting and measuring a series of goals to be attained over time gave the program credibility.

This has consistently cut the waste stream created by packaging and shipping materials. It continues to drive reuse, recycling and the search for viable alternatives to the expense and high energy costs associated with virgin materials that often strain natural resources in the process. This has had a ripple effect across the consumer product industry.

Retailer initiatives are driving manufacturers to assess their packaging and make changes on their own, likely in anticipation of coming demands. For example, Procter & Gamble recently announced the company will take three of its top personal care brands and repackage them in sustainable sugarcane: Pantene Pro-V, Cover Girl and Max Factor. The implications of this move are huge given the company’s world-wide distribution. Then, other CPG manufacturers emulate P&G, so the exponential effect is incalculable.

Whole Foods recently entered the fray. Of course the Whole Foods brand has always stood for environmental stewardship. The company has practiced reducing, reusing and recycling in every aspect of its business since its inception, and continues to find new ways to conserve.

Last September, the company instituted packaging guidelines for its 2,000 body care and supplement suppliers. The primary focus was to present manufacturers with three viable alternatives: to switch from using virgin plastics to PCR content (post-consumer recycled plastics), to cut down on plastics or to use glass. PCR presents challenges but it’s worth exploring because an effective closed-loop system for plastic packaging is more attainable now.*

Suppliers were given a full year to comply. Unless the guidelines are met, Whole Foods will not shelf those products in its stores as of this fall. For its own house brand, Whole Body products, the retailer will switch from its amber PET No. 1 packaging to PCR later this year.

What’s best about Whole Foods’ approach is that the company has developed a forum for all suppliers to share information with each other. Instead of operating independently, suppliers are encouraged to glean insights by interacting. This model is worth emulating as manufacturers are increasingly charged with greener solutions for products and packaging from the outside, and working toward finding economical solutions on the inside.

Retailers in all channels benefit from the drive of large, influential players to induce suppliers to make substantial packaging changes. But all retailers, regardless of size, can seek out greener package solutions for their own store brands. That makes a powerful statement. It’s just plain good business.

Consumers who are increasingly interested in viable, greener choices will benefit, rewarding those brands who are more sustainable with their loyalty. Costs associated with energy use, increased greenhouse gases and the use of raw materials, especially oil, will be mitigated if economical new choices can be found to replace them. But ultimately, our landfills and our earth will benefit most.

*For more information about PCR, as well as guidelines, The Sustainable Packaging Coalition has released an in-depth report. www.sustainablepackaging.org.

Ted Mininni is president of Design Force Inc., the leading brand design consultancy to consumer product companies with Enjoyment Brands™. Design Force helps clients market brands that deliver positive, gratifying experiences by connecting consumers to brands emotionally with compelling visual brand experiences. Design Force, Inc. can be reached at 856-810-2277, or online at www.designforceinc.com.

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