Using Package Innovation as the Ultimate Game Changer

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All too often, consumer product companies focus on their product offerings when it comes to innovation. But think about it: how many ground-breaking products entered the marketplace over the past year? Certainly numerous consumer products have featured incremental innovation. But how many are memorable due to being real game changers?

So here’s something worth considering. Package innovations have sometimes become the game changers for brands; not products. It’s time to step back and take a long look at packaging to see what could be dramatically improved. Just because “conventional” category packaging has always been in place, does it necessarily represent the best solution? This isn’t about developing unique structure, new substrates, closures or package attributes for the sole purpose of brand differentiation, although they certainly help. It’s about rethinking packaging based on consumer engagement as well as their current and changing needs, and then delivering it by daring to break out of the expected.

Observing consumers’ interactions with packaging and soliciting input on how it might be innovated is a good starting point. Find out what matters most to consumers who are purchasing products within the category: ease of use? Avoiding wrap rage scenarios? Better maintenance of product integrity? Reusable packaging? Sustainability? When logical, realistic solutions present themselves, brand managers and consumers will wonder why it took so long to achieve them. 

Companies that have corporate cultures that innovate product and packaging on an ongoing basis require top-down commitment to create and nurture this kind of environment. Even when competitors get into the act and copy the latest improvement, strong brands continue to move ahead. That ensures they stay out in front, delivering strong customer experiences and reaping the reward of loyalty no matter how many competitors emerge. 

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When it comes to break-out packaging, Sargento comes to mind. The company was first to use flanged interlocking profiles on cheese products in the mid 80’s. This created a reliable, airtight seal when pressed together preventing the rapid molding of cheese due to air exposure. The industry scrambled to follow the lead but Sargento went one better in 2000, introducing its Slide-Rite® Slider which is a true zipper and patented the technology, changing the game again. No wonder it’s a leader.

Coca-Cola recently pushed packaging forward light years with its PlantBottle. This is true innovation: bio-plastic packaging that is not only bio-based like much of the new plastics on the market but also biodegradable. This is terrific: package material from renewable sources rather than petroleum; plastics that degrade rather than living endlessly in landfills. How much does sustainability matter to consumers? Beverage Industry magazine reports that a recent survey conducted by Natural Marketing Institute showed that 75% of consumers prefer to see minimal packaging followed by recyclable packaging and the use of environmentally-friendly packaging materials. 

While Coke’s packaging currently replaces up to 30% of the PET in its bottles with plant-based materials, the company’s ultimate goal is to develop a bottle made 100% from these materials. While this can be generated in a lab, the application has to be doable on a large scale. By wisely licensing this technology to Heinz for packaging, Coca-Cola is also generating a revenue stream to offset the massive cost of investment in pioneering new packaging solutions.

Speaking of Heinz, its redesigned peel-back ketchup package is clearly based on how consumers interact with the product: the top tears off to squeeze out ketchup and the bottom panel peels back for those who prefer to dip. There’s also three times the amount of ketchup the old packets held with far less mess. It’s a great idea and long overdue; a direct result of conducting meaningful user research. 

HEXBUG packaging is another game changer. There’s nothing else like it in Toyland so it stands out and stands alone.  All of its brand packaging is unique but the Nano Hive Habitat Set goes one better. The package is part of the actual product. The interactive playscape opens up to let boys customize the multi-level habitat any way they choose. They can then add their favorite micro-robotic creatures to the habitat for hours of imaginative play. The concept not only eliminates excess packaging; it forms its own “carrying case” for the toys. 

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Image courtesy of Innovation Labs, Inc.

In 2010 Method Laundry Detergent with Smartclean Technology™ debuted in packaging as unique as its formula. 8x more concentrated than conventional detergents and 95% plant-based; one sleek 20 oz package does 50 loads of laundry. The detergent features a unique pump top and can be held and dispensed by one hand. Before this detergents were only packaged in heavy, cumbersome, water-and-detergent-filled jugs. Game changer?

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Clamshell packaging is being re-envisioned as well. Pure Fishing, Inc.’s Berkley NanoFil fishing line utilizes a non-traditional clamshell made more sustainably of less plastic and more paperboard. When consumers turn the PET domed blister counterclockwise, a die cut in the paperboard lets the dome on the flange of the blister pop out. A simple twist easily lifts the clamshell off the package and enables product that isn’t needed to go back into the package. How many consumer products might still be packaged in clamshells to prevent pilfering while being redesigned for ease of opening? How many might store unused product for future use? 

How about shedding clamshell for a new solution altogether? Procter & Gamble’s Gillette Fusion ProGlide shaving products replaces clamshell with a formable pulp tray made of renewable bamboo and bulrush fiber. This new package pushes pulp tray innovation forward while managing to cut costs. But the biggest plus is that it’s much easier to open than clamshell, which consumers endorse. No more stab wounds from scissors while trying to open packaging! 

These are just a few of the game changers in packaging that delivered better solutions due to vision, an innovative spirit and courage. Any time an entire category of packaging is challenged with something startlingly new, breathtaking and unique, there’s a more than good chance it will succeed brilliantly if properly researched (with end users) and executed. While exciting, it’s true that there’s still an element of risk involved. But that’s what game changers embrace. They act and deliver optimal category packaging solutions.

by Ted Mininni

President of Design Force, Inc., www.designforceinc.com