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Beverage firms challenge tested forms | Markets

December 21, 2012 Comments Off

In the beverage market, brands are exploring new formats. As Amanda Roberts finds, traditional packs are constantly being challenged

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The UK beverage packaging market is experiencing a breakdown in pre-conceptions of the packaging formats for certain drinks. Brands and packaging designers are applying the latest technology across a range of materials in order to meet consumer needs or deliver additional benefits.

But when is it worth turning an accepted packaging format on its head to run with something new to the market? Is it sometimes better to maintain the status quo?

While change for change’s sake is never to be advocated, standing still in any market is also something that should be avoided. Innovation is needed in order to drive sales and while new products may have the benefit of a blank canvas as far as their packaging format and design is concerned, established brands that are used to leading in their own particular field need to continue to innovate in order to maintain that position. Brands that do nothing will quickly look outdated in comparison with their ever-evolving competition.

To get this right is a fine balance, but leading design agencies agree that it starts with a thorough understanding of the brand’s consumer.

Neil Hirst, design director at Seymourpowell, says: “Radical change is only a threat if the change doesn’t meet the requirements of the consumer. Consumers loyal to a brand buy the product, not the packaging. Packaging supports and encourages their choice.”

Alex Ririe, business director of Coley Porter Bell adds: “If a brand is simply jumping on the bandwagon, any increase in sales is likely to be short term. However, if the format is inherent to the brand positioning and consumer experience, then it will act to reinforce longer term consumer loyalty.”

Diverse choices

The choices available to brands, marketers and designers of packaging today have seldom been more diverse and exciting. Bottles used to be glass or plastic, but now they might be paper or aluminium. Cartons come with sophisticated closures and no longer slop their contents all over the table when poured. More film materials are being used while pack sizes and shapes are no longer standard. Visual enhancements, including embossing, different finishes and inks, provide the essential touches to deliver that desired stand-out on the shelf.

Although the environment continues to exert a significant influence over packaging design, it is rarely the only factor in a successful new packaging format. Other important drivers of innovation include the need for consumer convenience, product preservation and pack functionality.

New paper and board formats for wine, for instance, both have strong environmental credentials, including a lower carbon footprint, reduced weight and lower transport costs. But when South African wine producers Namaqua Wines and Du Toitskloof decided to package their wines in Tetra Prisma Aseptic 75cl cartons from Tetra Pak, they cited the practical benefits for consumers, plus commercial and environmental advantages, as the main drivers towards the adoption of cartons.

In spite of their environmental credentials, for premium and vintage brands, or wines designed to be stored to mature for many years, any format other than the traditional glass bottle is unlikely to appeal to the consumer who is likely to invest in them.

Seymourpowell’s Hirst explains: “The preference is still for the traditional formats, but the benefits of single use, portability, or convenience of alternative formats are now seen as entirely acceptable.”

Clinging to traditions

Glass bottles may be under attack from other packaging formats, but manufacturers such as Beatson Clark who are able to be flexible in accommodating smaller production runs are able to offer cost-effective solutions in some premium markets. Beatson Clark shares Hirst’s view that consumers cling to the traditional. Consumers’ feelings towards glass as a container are much warmer (79%) than metal (4%) or plastic (43%), according to a TNS European Packaging Survey from 2010. Embossing a logo or brand onto a standard bottle through bespoke finish moulds combines flexibility with value for money and is ideal for small volumes.

Functionality is also extremely important. For Eager Drinks, which produces a not-from-concentrate range of juices, the ability of the CombiblocMidi carton pack, from SIG Combibloc, to preserve the nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins of the juice at ambient temperature was paramount.

New usage occasions are also important, as brands seek to target new consumers in specific situations with pack formats created to meet a particular set of needs. One exapmple is the significant rise in the number of festivals and attendance, not just by teenagers and students.

Velda Croot, business development manager of design agency JDO, says: “Camping or glamping has become popular, which in itself creates new trends and needs. No-one wants to be carrying corkscrews, wine glasses or spirits with mixers when you can carry a perfectly mixed can or an individual bottle of screw top wine.”

Packaging has also been successfully used to attract a new audience to a brand or product sector. For instance, the 250ml slim can from Rexam was successfully used by Accolade wines for its 2012 Sparkling Collection, targeting 25-35 year old females through a combination of impactful packaging, well-known brands and aspirational flavours.

Modern print technologies can transform pack designs, introducing a more interactive feel for a brand. Rexam Beverage Can Europe has noticed an increasing demand for special finishes for its cans. “Finishes include the popular matt and spot matt, perfect for creating elegant appeal, tactile and sparkle, which can add depth and realism to designs, through to glow in the dark and embossed finishes,” said Kym Hamer, marketing manager and new product development at Rexam.

But what if it goes wrong? JDO’s Croot cites an interesting example of milk in a bio-degradable plastic bag. On the surface, this seemed like a good idea, but in practice, the consumer didn’t buy it and the retailer withdrew it after a few months. The practicality of storing the product in the refrigerator was part of the problem.

She adds: “Does this mean that although we really want to be environmentally friendly and save the planet, when it comes to day-to-day necessities, practicality, function and perhaps even familiarity, win over morality?”

At a recent event hosted by the Institute of Packaging Professionals, retail expert Cathy Barnes, director of the Faraday Centre for Retail Excellence, argued in favour of a more sensory approach to packaging. “Designing a product’s packaging must not be done independently of the product itself. It needs to form a cohesive message. Consumers interact with a product on the shelf through their five senses,” she said.

She also argued that 83% of marketing budgets focus on one sense – the eyes – but that a brand’s impact increases by 30% if one more sense is engaged into packaging design and by 70% if three are integrated.

Innovation in the future will go beyond the visual appearance of the packaging, the material used and its three-dimensional characteristics into completely new areas. In the battle to create ever-greater stand-out, development of digital packaging opens up new opportunities with QR codes and augmented reality.  The shopping experience may never be the same again. Traditional pack formats will continue to be challenged for years to come.

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