The supermarket shelf, without a doubt, is a crowded place. If population density were a statistic in retail, most store shelves would represent the equivalent of the world’s most heavily populated urban centers.

In a situation quite similar to that of the average individual in a cityscape, food products must do their very best to stand out and make themselves noticeable and unforgettable for passers-by to remember them.

In the food-processing industry, product quality goes a long way toward setting up loyalty, but the powerful message portrayed by that product’s package can often be the difference between a consumer walking by or stopping and picking up that product. In fact, 62 percent of participants in a recent study by Clear Seas Research “strongly agree” that product packaging influences consumer purchase decisions, and 61 percent believe package design has a direct impact on consumer perception of a product (See Table 1).

Processors are keenly aware, for the most part, of this delicate proposition: Investing in high-quality packaging that conveys the proper message, gets consumers’ attention and performs well under the toughest conditions is key — but at what cost? Processors must balance the need for the above with the crucial aspects of product quality and food safety, among other factors.

New product and packaging development employees surveyed cited product protection, brand image and product differentiation as the most important drivers of packaging (See Table 2).

As the cost of packaging goes up, too, processors must be on top of retailer markups and the ceilings that consumers are willing to spend for their products. One of the key “old wives’ tales” of the shopping world, regarding off-brands or private-label brands says, “It’s the same product, you just don’t have to pay for the name or the packaging.” Right or wrong, it’s a mantra many shoppers believe.

According to the Clear Seas Research study, processors remain committed to packaging initiatives, with 40 percent planning to increase packaging innovation initiatives and 49 percent maintaining their focus on those initiatives.