Today’s shopping habits demand tomorrow’s packaging solutions

What can brands do to differentiate themselves to consumers that are more discerning than ever?

03 April, 2017
To most consumers, packaging is simply what stands between carefree storage and a puddle of sauce on the kitchen floor. As long as a product can be picked up, poured and sealed, the package it comes in barely registers for most. But that’s changing. Where once the bottles, bags and boxes food came in were largely unchanged for decades, now people are starting to pay attention to how they look, what they tell them and even whether they should be there at all.

Dr Benjamin Punchard is director of packaging insights at market intelligence agency Mintel. He says the redefinition of what packaging should be is largely down to shifts in shopping habits. “It’s driven by shrinking households and the fact that people are busier, and that people are turning away from processed, ambient, long shelf life food and towards chilled foods and prepared – or part-prepared – meals.”

New packaging strategies are emerging to align with this change in consumer behaviour. From Generation Z to baby boomers, the way consumers interact with products is about to transform. Here, we outline the key drivers propelling this change.

Structure that stands out

According to Mintel’s Global Packaging Trends 2017 report, one third of US adults equate premium packaging with food quality. That means packaging that offers on-shelf differentiation is key, with eye-catching solutions ensuring a pick-up as well as offering brand protection. A prime consideration here is food waste, as more consumers look to cut down on what they throw away.

“We’re thinking about portions in a better way,” says Punchard. “As consumers move away from ambient to chilled products the likelihood of them not eating them in time before they go off rises.

Producers are tackling food waste in the way they structure some packaging. Some packs of chicken breasts are now separated into individual portions; if someone needs a single breast for that evening’s meal, they don’t have to open the entire pack and set the clock ticking on the remaining chicken. Consumers will see this as both strikingly different and helpful.

Packaging that works harder for consumers

Smart packaging will come to the fore this year. As the need for better brand engagement, nutritional awareness and allergy information - to name just three examples - increases, packaging that offers simple and intuitive access to information will foster consumer loyalty.

As an increasing number of consumers use their smartphones, even while they shop, packaging that helps them learn more about what they’re buying, as they pick items off the shelves, is crucial.

Much of this is down to a major change in shopping behaviour. “What we’re seeing is ‘shop the periphery,’ ” Punchard explains. “People tend to do mission-based shopping. They go round the periphery of the store to get their chilled, fresh produce then leave again. For young shoppers the centre of the store is perceived as overly processed. Big brands are losing out in the trust game.”

Meanwhile, the older generation are being more careful about what they eat as they look to delay the effects of ageing. “It’s a shift in eating habits,” says Punchard. “You’ve got Baby Boomers very concerned about health.”
In response to this, producers need to better communicate what their products can do for consumers and offer engaging content around the brand - for example, information about the origin of ingredients or healthy recipes that can be accessed by scanning a unique digital code.

Shopping by design

Brand recognition and authenticity are more important now to consumers than ever. For younger shoppers, buying decisions are often driven by how a brand fits into their social circle. For the slightly older Generation Xers, packaging that imparts information fuss-free is appealing. And for the older generation, it often doesn’t even matter what’s written on the packaging, according to Punchard.

“In Japan for instance, they’ve got an ageing population. There is lots of aged-friendly food in pouches. One of the reasons for that is producers know people want to feel food so they know whether it’s free of lumps and easy to eat.”

Packaging that talks to multiple demographics is also becoming more common. “There are more people caring for their elderly parents, perhaps by stocking up their fridge to facilitate them living in their own home,” Punchard says. “So you’re making yourself attractive to the end consumer, but you’re recognising that the shopper can be a completely different person.”

A shining example of this is a brand of wholegrain bread which offers a smaller pack with a draw string reclosure, aimed at elderly consumers. This reflects the fact that older people tend to have a smaller appetite and may lack the dexterity to deal with a more intricate closing mechanism. These simple but significant changes differentiate the product to those shopping for older people.

Structure, smart packaging and more intelligent design: three areas that brands can focus on to make differentiation easier to achieve. By tackling these challenges, consumers will sense that producers are working harder to give them what they want - and that in itself goes a long way to making people want to buy products.

Learn more from packaging trend expert, Benjamin Punchard

Discover more about packaging design trends that matter to consumers from our “Big Ideas” series of expert talks and panel discussions hosted by Amcor. We invited Benjamin Punchard, global packaging insights director at Mintel, to share his insights. While Benjamin's session is over, you can still watch the video and download his presentation from our post-event page: 

Benjamin Punchard
Director of Packaging Insights