Along with storing and preserving the product inside, good packaging can also drive the sales
Food processors spend plenty of time, attention, and money to make sure that their product is prepared and processed to exacting standards. With that in mind, putting that product in inferior packaging is a sure-fire way to waste all that hard work. On the other side of the coin, the right kind of packaging can boost an item’s sales and visibility.
“It is impossible to separate the packaging from the product,” says Peter Donnelly, marketing applications specialist for Multisorb Technologies Inc., Buffalo, NY. “The consumer weighs both when making purchasing decisions because the product has innate value, but the packaging adds perceived value.”
Packaging is such an important means of identification that many companies use the same package and label design for years, says Ray Pozen, national product manager for the Chicago-based Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.
“Packaging must offer high visibility and legibility just to penetrate the shopper’s physiological clutter screens,” he continues. “Product features must be easy to read, and color combinations must provide high contract to differentiate the product. We feel the package design must reflect the tone, image, and personality of the product concept or brand.”
The freshness factor
First and foremost, good packaging must keep a product fresh and safe. It’s useless if it can’t do that. DuPont, of Wilmington, DE, recently published a survey showing that freshness and taste are the most important factors when selecting products (see sidebar).
“Since product freshness is of utmost importance to consumers, packaging product in a form that maintains quality is very important,” says Dr. Donna Visioli, senior technical programs manager.
One of the results from DuPont’s survey showed that 77 percent of U.S. consumers said that an experience with inferior packaging would impact their decision to buy the same product again. Examples given of inferior packaging included improperly sealed packages, torn bags, and detached zippers.
There are several ways to improve both the food safety and consumer appeal at the same time, though. DuPont worked with Monfort Pork Co. to add value to the company’s case-ready pork products, which range from chops to tenderloin items. Monfort utilized a vacuum skin package that features film containing DuPont Surlyn®. The case-ready meats save the retailer money by eliminating the need for in-store processing packaging, and they can be already marinated or seasoned and ready to cook, increasing the consumer value.
“The film, which contains Surlyn, holds the pork closely to the tray, creating a package with reduced purge, improved appearance, and increased convenience for the supermarket,” says Visioli.
More packages are designed to be air-tight, but even with the best barriers, they will end up with some oxygen in the package, notes Multisorb’s Donnelly. That is where the addition of an oxygen absorber can come in handy.
“Even at minute levels, oxygen can cause discoloration, flavor changes, and a loss of nutritional value,” he explains. “Working in conjunction with plastic barrier packaging, oxygen absorbers provide a viable option for manufacturers to offer a visually appealing package, while maintaining the color, flavor, and nutrition of the food product.”
Multisorb’s FreshPax and FreshMax oxygen absorber formulations are designed to work efficiently for a variety of foods, and they can be affixed to the package for enhanced package design.
Steve Meli, national accounts manager for Pactiv Corp., Lake Forest, IL, said that two of the most important features when it comes to product freshness are tamper evidence and recloseability. Pactiv has been manufacturing slider zipper systems for almost 10 years.
One of Pactiv’s customers, Perdue Farms, has noted that consumers perceive a significant benefit from products that offer the slider zipper closure and are more likely to purchase products that utilize the technology.
“Stand-up pouches have also been extremely hot in the meat and poultry industry,” Meli says. “With the club stores being such an important factor in the marketplace, stand-up pouches with a slider have seen an extreme amount of success in the frozen section. As the club store markets continue to grow and present such sizeable opportunities, the stand-up pouch with a slider closure system will continue to grow.”
Easy-open packages have become popular in a number of markets, such as sliced cheese, says Frank Kitchel, marketing director, meat and dairy flexible packaging, for Chicago-based Alcan packaging. Alcan offers a variety of flexible packaging materials, including peelable and recloseable films.
“A number of leading consumer food companies have publicly stated that they don’t want the consumer to use a tool, whether it be scissors or a knife, to open their package,” he says. While that is becoming more prevalent in the sliced deli meat category, Kitchel says that it could expand easily to items such as bacon and hot dogs.
“There used to be a day when you needed a bottle opener to open a bottle of soda,” he points out. “Now, it’s twist-top, and people can’t imagine why someone would buy a Coke or a Pepsi that didn’t have an easy-open feature.”
Both form and function
Dan Oberle, marketing manager for Berry Plastics, Evansville, IN, says that shoppers scan products in less than two-tenths of a second. Given that, good packaging should be eye-catching in an original way.
“In years past, color was the preferred method of grabbing customer’s attention. Today, color is a given; it takes more,” Oberle says. “Style, eye appeal and “wow factor” will enhance the opportunity for the initial sale, and improved package functionality will encourage the repeat buy.”
Smurfit-Stone’s Pozen says that consumer appeal of packaging is the result of many factors, including size, shape, color, and material. A subtle change in any of those factors can result in as much as a 20 percent change in sales. He also mentions another practical factor in packaging: durability.
“A package that retains its integrity during the channels of distribution will be more appealing to the ultimate customer than a package that is battered,” he says. The company has developed a line of packaging called the VPS System that can resist the abuse of transporting and stacking while maintaining its structure.
Consumers are drawn to attractive packaging, but they also like packaging that is easy to use, open, and carry, Mark Foote, president of Packaging Partners, Franklin, WI, relays.
“Consumers like packaging that fits their lifestyle — fresh, functional, quick, and recognizable,” he says. “They like the packaging that marries form and function, without waste and mess, and they appreciate the new packages that are constantly changing to keep up with their needs.”
One of Packaging Partners’ projects was for the Tyson Foods Whole Chicken package. “Tyson wanted a package for their whole cooked chicken that would stand up to microwave reheating,” Foote explains. “Because of the high temperatures, we used expanded polypropylene as the base forming material, and a high-temperature propylene sealant on the forming and non-forming materials. We also developed an anti-fog material for the non-forming PP sealant.”
The end result was a package that satisfied both Tyson and its customers. The company got the look, line speed, shelf life, and integrated packaging line that it wanted, and consumers got a microwaveable, convenient package.
The processor perspective
With all of its different brands, ConAgra Foods, Omaha, NE, packages its products with cans, folding cartons, flexible films, rigid plastic containers, and corrugated containers to fit a variety of consumers’ needs. Each package must deliver the product while communicating and contributing to the brand’s message, vision, and value proposition, explains John Kaiser, vice president, purchasing transformation.
For many consumers, finding on-the-go meals that are healthy and taste good are important. “For example, our Healthy Choice and Butterball brands offer convenient Ziploc® containers for their lunchmeat products, to help consumers keep them fresher and reusable for a longer period of time,” Kaiser says.
If a consumer understands a product’s benefits at first sight, they are more likely to purchase the product if it meets their needs, Kaiser notes. ConAgra’s Hebrew National introduced an updated logo and package design this summer to strengthen the brand’s premium position and meet the growing demand for kosher quality.
“The ‘Finest Kosher Quality’ seal was given a more prominent presence on the packaging to confirm and reinforce consumers’ confidence in the brand’s quality, taste, and heritage,” he says.
Hot and not
Trends in packaging vary, depending on the type of food product inside. Pactiv’s Meli notes two popular packaging trends in the sliced deli market.
“Sliders and tubs are the hot items right now. Those two items check the box of convenience and freshness while keeping the brand identity in front of the consumer every time they use the package,” he says.
Foote says that Packaging Partners has seen an increase in stand-up packaging, trays, retort containers, and packaging with microwaveable, anti-fog, and UV-protection properties. Shiny and plastic is in, and dull, cloudy packages made of paper, flat pouches, corrugated, and cartons are out, “though some [carton] sectors are growing with great graphics and new capabilities,” he adds.
Berry Plastics’ Oberle has seen a trend toward clearer packaging that also is microwaveable and tough, which are often competing properties to clarity. Polypropylene is becoming more popular because of its balance of those properties.
“Reusability is also important,” he adds. “The consumer demand for recycling is tepid in more regions of the country, but there is a clear desire for containers that can be ‘recycled’ into other uses.” NP
Packaging suppliers participating in the story include:
Consumers demand better packaging that ensures freshness
Nearly 50 members of the food and beverage packaging industry gathered at the 2005 Worldwide Food Expo to hear leading executives and editors discuss how “freshness” in food packaging impacts customers’ food packaging decisions.
The event was co-sponsored by DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers and Stagnito Communications and moderated by Dr. Donna Visioli, senior technical programs manager, DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers. Panelists included Dan Emery, vice president sales & marketing, Pilgrim’s Pride; Norman Bessac, vice president marketing, Cargill Meat Solutions; Scottie Mayfield, president, Mayfield Dairy Farms; Bryan Salvage, former editorial director of The National Provisioner; and James Dudlicek, editor of Dairy Field.
The panel centered on findings from a newly released, DuPont-sponsored customer survey that measured attitudes and beliefs regarding freshness in the food and beverage packaging industry. The survey showed that 72 percent of U.S. customers are willing to pay more for improved food and beverage packaging that guarantees freshness. In addition, 60 percent of consumers listed either taste or freshness as the most important factor when purchasing food, beating out price, convenience, and brand.
“It is important for industry leaders to understand that consumers want fresh packaging and to find ways to meet consumer demand,” Visioli said.
A theme echoed throughout the panel discussion was the tacit acknowledgement that consumers expect products to perform at superior levels. If not, the consumer will simply go elsewhere. Freshness in food packaging is linked to brand loyalty, Bessac explained.
“So if the packaging isn’t holding up, if there’s a leaker or there’s something wrong, it’s the old dented can theory,” said Bessac. “It causes concern, and the consumer has other choices and will move on to those.”
Anti-fog capabilities and extended shelf life are important attributes for food and beverage packages to possess, noted Emery. In addition, innovative designs on packages are essential to attracting consumers to a product, he added.