Brands in a changing retail landscape - Why it's time to get Emotional

* 5 min read

Everyone in packaging knows what a fast-moving sector it is – new developments are always on the horizon, so it’s crucial to stay on top of what’s coming next. This is where events like Packaging News Live, which took place a couple of weeks ago come into their own – and I spoke at this year’s alongside some really knowledgeable, forward-thinking folk. Unsurprisingly, there were some common themes that came through, in my presentation as well as those I shared the Olympia platform with – namely Grant Montague of Perception Research Services, Simon Oxley of M&S Food, David Tonkin of 2 Sisters Food Group, and my colleague at SBS Gillian Garside-Wight.

Here are my top three take aways from our Sun Branding Solutions’ session.

1. Standing out: value creation in a transforming retail landscape

Without exception, one point was shared across every speaker in our session,which was the drastic shift in shopping habits within grocery today. Little wonder: the rise of discounters, the death of the weekly “big shop” and the exponential growth of online shopping all mean that packaging designers have to create solutions for a range of different platforms and needs.

What came through loud and clear was the need to focus on value creation and stronger emotional connectivity. From Coca-Cola to Marmite, (whether you love it or hate it) the power of experimenting with on-pack space is well-proven. With Scotch whisky Ballantine’s, for instance, our creative team’s aim was to fashion something uniquely eye-catching. Our idea to add dancing LED lights to the label worked great on individual bottles, but when lined up flashing in unison they strike a real presence. This impressive visual impact resulted in bars making an additional order of bottles to create their own in-bar theatrics.

Ultimately, instilling value into a product comes down to doing something different. I love Magnum’s Dipping Bar campaign for this reason. It’s a fantastic example of a brand cleverly exploiting our penchant for Instagramming our meals. Pop up Magnum stores in key locations, allow consumers to adorn the classic Magnum ice cream bar with the finest in sprinkles and sauces. This personalisation of the humble Magnum is not only highly shareable in social media, but also an ingenious way to breathe new life into a product and create value.

2. Changing consumer habits: tailoring packaging to our needs

Activity like Magnum’s (I was lucky enough to visit and try it!) – as long as they’re not overdone – are increasingly vitalnow that we’ve reached a stage of such diminished retailer loyalty. Only 10% of the UK population are buying all their groceries from one place, and as Grant Montague of Perception Research Services put pithily in his session, “consumers are shopping for now”.

But it isn’t just shopping habits that are changing, it’s the shoppers themselves too. Thirty-six percent of Brits now live in single households and in five years, 20% of the population will be over 65. So even though on-pack personalisation is a powerful marketing tool, packaging format remains essential too. If we are to adequately cater to a transforming consumer demographic, we have to ensure the packaging is suited to their needs.

Figures also reveal that more and more people are cooking for one. Couple this trend with the issue of food waste that’s increasingly high on the agenda, and there’s a strong argument for greater emphasis on portion control in food packaging. This is especially true if you take into account that fact that older generations are probably making up a good deal of British singles. Resealables go some way to solving this problem in that they can make food last longer. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot of scope to include more nutritional guidelines on-pack, since those who live alone are reportedly also more likely to eat unhealthily.

3. Being green: reducing and refining the packaging process

Environmental impact is also an all-encompassing concern. Figures from the European Commission show that 80% of Europeans are concerned about the environmental impact of products they buy. It’s an issue that M&S Food’s packaging technologist Simon Oxley and SBS’s Gillian Garside-Wight both touched on during their talks. Consumers have an instinctive aversion to excess packaging and it affects their buying habits. We’re drawn to products that demonstrate an effort to reduce plastic use. As such, our own Pack Science team works to designsustainability and reduced weight into the packaging process. 

What’s more, now that so much of our shopping takes place online, items often require additional packaging. This has its justifications – we’d all want our purchases to arrive in one piece. And as our very own packaging technology director Gillian Garside-Wight pointed out, “packaging is an emotional thing”. However, we are dangerously close to ‘over packaging’ our products and therefore creating more waste. Again, as Gillian noted, the packaging industry has made laudable improvements in packaging reductions but packaging needs have changed due to consumer shopping preferences. Now is as good an opportunity as any to start considering alternatives. Perhaps we needn’t be so dependent on ‘traditional packaging solutions’ and look to new packaging to meet very complex product AND distribution needs.