The Right Way To Refresh Packaging

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The Right Way to Refresh Packaging, By Ted Mininni

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While contemporizing packaging is routinely executed by consumer product companies, the end result is not always good. According to research conducted by Perception Research Services, “10% of package redesigns spike sales and 20% spur declines”. 

Even major brands have been guilty of improper package revitalization, resulting in considerable consumer pushback in highly competitive product categories. Lest anyone forgot, Tropicana recently refreshed its packaging and immediately received a “thumbs down” from consumers. Reason? The new packaging totally disregarded the visual brand assets that distinguished Tropicana and made it a category leader, trading them for a generic, minimalistic, trendy package design. From a functional standpoint, the segmentation system was diminished, making it harder for consumers to find their favorite variety. 

In barely over a month, Tropicana’s refreshed packaging was scrapped due to highly vocal consumer discontent and lost sales; the traditional packaging quickly reinstated. In the meantime, according to Advertising Age, “Sales of the Tropicana Pure Premium line plummeted 20% between January 1 and February 22, costing the brand tens of millions of dollars”. 

The debacle saw double digit sales increases for Minute Maid during that same period. Was Minute Maid the beneficiary of the Tropicana debacle? You bet it was.

Comparing oranges with oranges: Coca-Cola was obviously intent on avoiding a Tropicana-like miscue, when executing a package refresh for its Minute Maid juice brand. Venkatesh Kini, VP of Marketing at the global juice center for Coca-Cola was quoted in the press saying that his company “has been testing package designs with consumers for nearly two years, identifying those key equity items it shouldn’t change.” 

The new Minute Maid packaging features fresh fruit with a sliced piece resting on top of whole fruit. The brand identity is strong and dominant. Beneath that, a vertical swath of color with the fruit variety appears. At the bottom of the front panel, a green vertical bar states: “100% Pure Squeezed Orange Juice”. 

Putting the focus on the considerable equities of the Minute Maid brand and freshly squeezed 100% fruit should work well. The new design has stronger shelf appeal while communicating the product’s key assets as well as each variety, simply and cleanly. There’s nothing diluted or watered down in this refresh.

Important point: a collaborative effort between the company’s in-house design staff and outside design consultancies helps ensure balance between brand equity maintenance and creative that contemporizes and stretches the brand. This is something CPG companies should consider when considering package revitalization projects.

Visual brand assets must be guarded zealously since they own considerable equity. Package design changes that play up key visual assets will win at retail. Likewise, simplifying to better segment and clarify varieties is generally well-received by busy consumers. On the flip side, diminishing or downplaying key assets or making it harder to discern varieties will lead to confusion or outright repudiation by consumers. 

Heritage packaging can be effectively contemporized, read: simplified, without giving any equity away, if done expertly. Lay’s Classic Potato Chip packaging is a great example. The bright yellow bag features a larger Lay’s brand identity with the word “Classic” beneath it. A graphic depicting a delectable stack of potato chips tumbling down toward the consumer with a couple that appear to leave the bag and settle in the hand says it all.

Keeping it simple is a strategy employed by Post Shredded Wheat. This heritage product is natural and simple. It’s made from 100% whole grain wheat. Period. Simplified, decluttered packaging is segmented by color cues. A simple visual of a spoon contains the variety within, except for the original variety which features the large biscuit on its signature yellow package. The few, clean ingredients are listed on one side of the visual for each variety; the prominent Post brand identity in its signature red cartouche on the other. 

If anything, this packaging refresh unified the line and segmented it most effectively. Before the package revitalization, there was a lack of unity to the line and it was more difficult to find one’s favorite variety. This demonstrates how packaging can be contemporized to strengthen, not weaken, the brand.

Rather than seeking to change key visual assets, many consumer product brands are better served when they execute package refreshes that incorporate changes to package structure. Changes that make the package more convenient or efficient to use, add to handling comfort or make storage concerns a priority, are a winning strategy.

When Heinz ketchup used its package refresh to address handling and storage issues, introducing its Fridge Fit™ bottle, it was an instantaneous hit with consumers. Rather than “contemporizing” the visual assets on its packaging, the company merely added a vertical blue swath announcing “Fridge Fit™ and a graphic that demonstrates how easily the new package slides in and out of a refrigerator door compartment.  A well-executed structural change did the rest. Simple, effective.

International Delight coffee creamers executed a package refresh, subtly changing the structure to make it sleeker and more elegant, while correcting a potentially errant pouring spout problem. The new package structure enabled each graphic element to stand out more effectively, as well. 

Remember: unique package structures differentiate one brand quite clearly from its competitors. If executed well, they delight brand adherents and make consumers who aren’t users, take another look and consider switching brands. Structural innovation that evokes a reaction from customers when approaching the shelf is disruptive. These examples feature disruptive packaging at their best. 

Kodak deliberately went for marketplace disruption when the company launched ink-jet print cartridges in stand-up pouches for its Easy-Share All-In-One printers. Proof that mundane commodity items will stand out among competing products if packaged in a disruptive manner. Flat-bottom pouches are a real departure for print cartridges. A laminated three-layer structure with crisp graphics makes a strong statement. There are four pouch formats, each featuring Kodak's signature "Kodak yellow" color. 

So before beginning a package refresh, ask the following questions:

What are we trying to achieve with this revitalization? 

Which core visual assets should be retained and even augmented?

Does our refresh need simplification, better segmentation, stronger visual appeal? Or does it need a structural change that will make the packaging more conducive to the customer’s use?

After assessing what really needs to be done, proceed with the knowledge your package refresh is much more likely to succeed at retail. More sales, better turns and stronger consumer engagement must always be the end goal; otherwise, it isn’t worth doing a package revitalization.

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.

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