Conveying Proper Packaging Messages

Clear Lam PackagingPhoto Courtesy of Clear Lam Packaging Inc.

Effective communications is a key sales tool in marketers’ efforts to persuade shoppers to purchase produce.

Photo Courtesy of Stemilt Growers

Shoppers walking grocery aisles are faced with a large number of purchasing decisions. As the typical American supermarket carries more than 30,000 products competing for consumers’ attention, produce marketers of any size can use attractive and trendy packaging to communicate their messages and capture shoppers’ interest.

Packaging design is a key element in brand development. Today’s packaging moves beyond solid design. Marketers understand that to persuade shoppers to place their products in shopping carts, their work involves more than designing visually interesting packaging. To engage shoppers and better compete against other products inside and outside the produce aisles, effective produce packaging considers design early on in the process.

“You can’t just create a package,” says Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers Inc., a Wenatchee, WA-based tree fruit grower-shipper. A product’s flavor is crucial. If a product never gets purchased, people won’t know its benefits. “Color, shapes and sizes are so important,” he says. “It’s not just the cosmetics of the fruit. It’s the cosmetics of the packaging and how it stops shoppers in the stores and captures their attention, which has to happen. There’s a lot of noise in grocery stores. Products have to stand-up and say they want to be purchased.”

Calling out a product’s flavor and nutritional content, for example, can help differentiate a product from other shelf items. “Packaging is going into the next levels of pushing people to buy your products instead of just getting it on the shelves and you’re done,” says Noam Temkin, vice president of sales and marketing for Temkin International Inc., a Payson, UT-based manufacturer of flexible film packaging. “The work definitely continues once you get it on the shelves.”

The Silent Salesman

Packaging can be one of the most inexpensive components of a company’s marketing efforts. Packaging containing effective design, messaging and action items can help produce companies sell more products. Proper messaging should be a key element on labels. Grower-shippers place much effort into growing and packing their products, but many market their products in substandard packaging or with ineffective messaging, says Temkin. Retail is where packaging can and does make a difference in buying decisions. “Packaging is that silent salesman,” he says. “Everyone knows it’s not just about a pretty package anymore.”

Lifestyle imagery is becoming important in packaging. Instead of showing only the product, produce companies show people using the product in a variety of places, including in automobiles and eating while pausing during bike rides. Other trends include different form factors, such as multi-compartment bags, which separate products to avoid respiration issues. Another is shake bags where seasoning is included with the vegetables and when shaken, the compartment seasons the product.

Packaging plays a major role in communicating key product benefits supporting a brand’s positioning, says Paul Mastronardi, president and chief executive of Mastronardi Produce Ltd., headquartered in Kingsville, Ontario, Canada. “Packaging design is one of the key elements in supporting and building a successful brand,” he says. “Strong design supports the overall positioning, has aesthetic appeal to capture attention and uses elements such as color, pattern and shape to differentiate it from the competition and increase brand recognition.”

The convenience trend, where packaging includes dual pouches and compartment pouches for ready-made meal kits, has been a European trend for five years. Hans Christian Schur, chief executive of Schur Star Systems Inc., a Carlsbad, CA, packaging and packaging systems manufacturer, says he expects the trend to emerge in the United States within the next two to five years. “We are trying to add to that level of creativity, especially in the produce segment, where more and more growers and distributors are going in the direction of disrupting the shelves, going into handle pouches and shake pouches to increase the convenience factor for people wanting to pick-up product,” he says. “Pouching and creative flexible packaging can be a vehicle for brand owners to satisfy what we believe consumers will want in the future. Packaging is also important for food safety and convenience.”

Impulse By Design

Final purchases depend on a variety of inputs. Some consumers go for brand names and some prefer to do research, but a large majority buy on impulse. Those decisions can often be influenced by package design.

“Color, typography, brightness and graphics influence how consumers perceive a company’s products on the shelf,” says Jacob Shafer, senior marketing and communications specialist for Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, CA. Recipes, social media links to videos and other content, including coupons, can be effective in boosting a product’s value.

Because of a plethora of companies competing for limited shelf space, package design is critical. “Obviously, the quality of the product and the reputation of the brand are important, but packaging can serve as a reflection of that,” says Shafer. “The more innovative the company or product is, the more innovative and attractive the packaging. Unique packaging can also become synonymous with a product. Building that kind of rapport with consumers is where any company should want to be.”

Effective color, typography and graphics help visually communicate with consumers. People see color before any other visual message. Red is a power color signifying alarm or immediacy, while green is associated with ecology and health. Yellow communicates positive, happy thoughts and orange communicates zest and energy. Typography can communicate visually, and in addition to the actual words, font choices can tell a shopper if the product is playful or sophisticated, while graphic shapes communicate on the subconscious level. Take the FedEx logo, for example. It features an arrow, which communicates forward motion, explains Mary Coppola, senior director of marketing communications for the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, D.C.

A key to effective messaging is to know and understand one’s target audience and prioritize messages that will connect them with the brand, says Coppola. The design of a company’s packaging can communicate its values without taking up critical space. Companies can tell their stories through packaging material. “Packaging has become the billboard of brands,” she says. “The real estate on packaging is becoming more valuable, and the hierarchy of messaging being the most critical component.”

Michael Dyer, produce team leader for West Sacramento, CA-based Raley’s Supermarkets’ Golden Valley, NV, store says visual appeal is crucial. “Packaging is huge. Anything that can stand out and be brighter and catch the customers’ eyes will definitely sell,” he says.

On a scale of one to 10, packaging’s importance is nine to 10, says Dyer. “You need the right amount of color, eye-catching color, where it pops out,” he says. “The brighter the package, the more the ‘wow factor’ catches shoppers’ eyes. The yellows and reds really stick out.” If an item is merchandised in a section with different packaging, Dyer advises marketers to use different colors so the packaging is distinct.

Showing Off

A product redesign allowed for a larger viewing window in Mann’s vegetable platters and trays. Product viewing areas are becoming more important, especially for fresh produce, says Shafer. “Consumers want to see the freshness, color and condition of the vegetables they buy, and we’ve seen tremendous response to a larger viewing area,” he says. Other trends include simplicity, cleanliness and ease of use and understanding.

Typography must be legible from a distance, advises Temkin International’s Temkin. Many young agency designers contracted by produce companies may develop effective packaging that utilizes good font choices but often forgets shopper demographics by printing fonts too small for older eyes, he says. “You have to know who the shopper is and make the typography legible and the right size for it to be seen by multiple demographics,” says Temkin.

Imagery, color and messaging are vital components. Companies should ensure packaging features the right call-outs. It’s also important to not oversell product benefits. Consistency in brand messages is critical, as are repetition and constancy.

“If you keep changing it, it won’t get that repetition that’s needed,” says Temkin.

Properly designed flexible or rigid packaging should protect the product, extend freshness and enhance the consumer experience, says Roman Forowycz, chief marketing officer at Clear Lam Packaging Inc., in Elk Grove Village, IL. “Unique and innovative packages help exploit impulse buys and increase sales velocity,” he says. “Processors and retailers who properly design their packaging to consumer trends achieve the highest level of sales velocity.” Traditionally, many consumer product goods companies viewed packaging as an after-thought. Today, effective marketers design packaging early in a product’s development cycle.

Not detracting from the packaging image, labels and printed graphics should complement the overall design, communicate a consistent message and provide usable information for consumers, says Forowycz. Today’s consumers want to see the product and don’t want packages covered in graphics, he says. The color and texture of fruits and vegetables should be highlighted. Packaging that provides short ingredient statements, location of origin and some personalization is highly effective, says Forowycz.

The Process

The package development process begins with defining the objectives for the product being packaged. Questions include if the product is best used as a snack or a meal, and should it be packaged in a convenient format allowing purchasers to consume it outside of home? How will reclosing be addressed if the packaging is in a multi-serve product line?

Once features are determined, companies create digital images followed by mock-ups. Commercial-quality samples are produced for testing in consumer focus groups, at home and through other regional test markets.

Packaging development should be a focus, says Jack Tilley, market research manager at Inline Plastics, a Shelton, CT-based manufacturer of clear, recyclable PET or polyethylene terephthalate clamshell and two-piece packaging. “Packaging design is very important in merchandising produce,” he says. For example, proper selection of container type in rigid containers, whether round, rectangular or square, allows retailers to best utilize shelf space and highlight the quality of its food contents. “Packaging often changes to reflect eating trends.”

Point-of-purchase impact is a major goal. Larger produce companies develop packaging and graphics through consumer research combined with internal needs and distribution demands. Newer packaging trends include making packages feel “more natural” by using special materials and coatings. Consumers like to handle packages that feel softer and more friendly, says Forowycz.

Dyer agrees with providing a natural product feel, particularly for customers who purchase a lot of produce. Product viewing is important because customers want to see if the item is changing color as it ages on the shelves. To help produce clerks, marketers should ensure sell-by code dates are clearly visible but don’t block product view. “Customers want to feel and touch it, especially dedicated produce customers,” he says.

Roy Ferguson, chief executive of Chantler Packaging Inc., in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, says packaging design is sales-driven. Decades ago, innovation came from the producers. Today, about 70 percent of packaging ideas originate from customers, he says.

Impulse Purchases

Packaging can trigger impulse purchases. Clamshells, for example, require labels which can often be too small to include much information on product use, says Ferguson. Because of their limited size, elastic bands and twist ties aren’t effective in letting shoppers know the products’ purpose. “Some of those package concepts are good, but they don’t really suit trying to get people to impulse buy to use for other things,” he says. “It goes back to printed roll stock in bags and stand-up pouches. That gives you a greater area which you can utilize to convey great messages on nutrition and alternative uses for products. The bigger the footprint you have on a package, the more information you can add.”