Two key principles guide brand owners in pursuit of “premium” appeal. The first is that packaging change is inevitable, constant and must be anticipated to ensure success. The second is the promise of premium packaging: that a product presentation that exceeds consumer expectations with an element of luxury goes a long way in solidifying brand loyalty.
These two notions collide in the reality that the characteristics that constitute “premium” have varied throughout the years as consumer tastes and preferences evolve. Increasingly, premium packaging isn’t only synonymous with heavy-duty materials, but also sustainability and convenience. As brand owners aim to entice consumers with the “everyday luxury” of premium packaging, they must also pay careful attention to the latest consumer trends in order to strengthen their market share by capitalizing on the right materials and formats.
By working closely with suppliers, these companies will benefit from a constant stream of new technologies, including materials, containers, printing capabilities and the equipment to effectively handle it all.
Packaging as an Everyday Luxury
The idea of “luxuriating” a product through packaging certainly did not originate with the Great Recession. However, the economic downturn of the previous decade has offered the industry an opportunity to try a new approach. In order to innovate their product packaging and entice customers at a time when the overall consumer attitude has been “save, don’t spend,” brand owners are re-energizing high-quality, affordable products by wrapping them in luxury packaging.
“People seek everyday luxuries to retain a certain standard while spending according to the ‘new normal,’ and we see this played out in packaging,” says William Cunningham, global marketing leader — packaging, DuPont.
For example, ready-to-eat and microwavable meals are a popular solution for dual-income families with little time to prepare meals at night. A product that typically is seen as a basic low-cost item has been reinvigorated as demand has increased due to economic factors. Seeing the potential of such products, brand owners have created packaging that enhances the attractiveness of quick meals. These days, quick meals are hardly recognizable as simply edible dinners that save time; luxurious packaging elements such as ceramic pots and compartmentalized containers create an enhanced experience and support the feeling of a home-cooked meal.
New advances with existing packaging formats are enabling generic products like quick meals to shine on the shelves. The standup pouch continues to lead the way for design innovation focused on product differentiation and premium positioning. “Pouch fitments such as pour spouts and other converted features are increasing the utility of the package while the expansion of microwaveable structures is further enhancing the convenience of the standup pouch design,” says Chris Rempe, director of global marketing, Automated Packaging Systems.
The idea that everyday products can have a special and exclusive look through their packaging creates a consumer experience that imparts luxury and quality without compromising consumer wallets. Cunningham says, “The consumer mind-set that ‘it doesn’t have to be expensive to be special’ will continue to drive this trend.”
Competition in the Packaging Sphere
Brands face fierce competition when it comes to premium packaging. Food CPGs are finding it particularly difficult to differentiate their products to consumers, however the race to innovate has also led to the birth of some of the most creative packaging solutions to date.
“We see the food industry continuing to lead the premium packaging revolution. Package appearance and function are often the difference between success and failure. In essence, the company is selling the packaging as much as the product itself,” says Rempe.
In order to stand out, brand owners are making use of new materials to distinguish their products on the shelf. “The changes we are witnessing in the marketplace seem to be more than trends; rather, they represent seismic shifts in consumer preferences that are driving CPGs’ premium product and packaging development,” says Chris Voght, Senior Director of Sales and Marketing, Torayfan® Division, Toray Plastics (America), Inc.
Advances in additive technology are helping to create unique packaging materials with distinct visual characteristics — for example plastic that looks like paper or even leather. Additives are also making it possible for packaging to take on tactile and aromatic dimensions that help set brand products apart.
Snack foods — products the public generally sees as very accessible — are getting a dose of luxury with technology that is refining flexible packaging. Printpack, for example, is using proprietary technology that allows photochromic ink to be applied to packaging. The incorporated graphics remain invisible until exposed to sunlight. “The process represents the first time photochromic ink has been applied to a flexible film, which gives brand owners, in any market capable of utilizing flexible packaging, new options for interacting with their customer base. This type of packaging application can truly set a brand apart by adding depth to the consumer experience,” says Mark Brogan, Director of Technology and Innovation at Printpack. “It can make all the difference when it comes to purchasing decisions.”
Premium Packaging Highlights Function
It is not just aesthetics that set products apart in the marketplace. Functionality plays an important role in representing the brand and providing a premium experience for consumers. “In terms of the packaging, we find that the CPG aims for the package not only to be part of the experience, but to enhance the experience overall; that can begin when the consumer engages with a product that stands out on the shelf. The construction of a package is key to differentiating a product and elevating it from ordinary to premium,” says Voght.
According to Cunningham, one of the key areas that DuPont is asked to support is easy-to-open packaging.
Consumers demand on the go convenience, with packages that are fuss-free to open at the point of consumption, whether it is in the car, in the office, during lunch, after a sports game, etc. A sealing solution, like DuPont™Appeel®, provides easy peel functionality with repeatable performance for all package forms — whether pouches, thermoformed trays, lidded cups or blister packs — in a wide range of polymer types.
Another way to ensure product safety and freshness is through advancement in flexible packaging lids. According to Voght, a product excels in the premium sphere when film lids are easily removed and leave no residue. Toray’s LumiLid® dual ovenable, traditional and bio-base PET lidding films allow brands to assure their customers that their product is up to premium standards.
Extending shelf-life is also top-of-mind for brands as they explore ways to “luxuriate” their products. For example, brand owners are seeking materials and designs that provide stronger barriers against oxygen and moisture. “To satisfy that requirement, CPGs are choosing clear, metallized and bio-based high-performance thin barrier films manufactured with certain advanced coatings and sealants,” says Voght.
Voght notes that CPGs dealing with the challenges presented by evolving distribution channels and transporting goods in changing altitudes find premium value in materials like the new Torayfan® Over-the-Mountain BOPP films. “These high oxygen- and high moisture-barrier films use high seal-strength technology and hermetic-seal functionality to insure that bags stay sealed in those changing conditions, which also helps keep food fresh,” he says.
Lifestyle Influences Product Packaging
With the recent economic fluctuations and the surge of millennials that are continuously demanding more out of their products, packaging that fits into an on-the-go lifestyle is particularly popular among consumers. “It used to be that smaller portions were simply ‘mini’ versions, but now we see them tailored to be more personalized experiences, wholly distinct from the family-sized offering,” says Cunningham.
Timm Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing at Spee-Dee Packaging has noticed a growing demand for single-serving, on-the-go packaging. “Major food manufacturing companies are looking for ways that they can package their single-serving products as the best quality products on the shelf,” says Johnson. “Not only are these portion sizes expected, but their packaging is expected to exemplify quality and functionality.”
Recently, Spee-Dee helped an oatmeal manufacturer “luxuriate” its single serving oatmeal cups. Using Spee-Dee’s combination fillers, the company was able to package its product in a single-serving, premium cup that not only suited the on-the-go lifestyle, but was also able to incorporate complex ingredients, like fruits and nuts, into the cup. “The ability to include the ingredients that the oatmeal manufacturer asked for was very important to the product. With the additional ingredients in the new cups, the product was not only of the highest quality, but the packaging was able to support and illustrate the level of quality,” Johnson said.
Consumer Expectation Drives Wellness and Safety
The idea that premium packaging supports the product itself is very important when it comes to the overwhelming demand for healthy products. Cunningham believes that the lifestyle packaging trend goes hand-in-hand with the explosion of wellness products that are now available. Not only must the portion size support a healthy lifestyle, but the packaging itself must be able to clearly communicate to customers what they are consuming.
“Consumers expect that relevant information supplied on the package — such as farm conditions for the product and animal provenance — can provide them a history and unique connection to their food. Plus, brand owners are able to offer consumers a more engaging experience and build greater brand loyalty,” says Cunningham.
According to Rempe, not long ago products like fruits and vegetables were packaged in inexpensive poly bags. Today, the vast majority are being packaged in eye-catching standup pouches that incorporate high-end printing. While the product itself is exactly the same, the standup pouch provides a premium look that is preferred by consumers and is fast becoming the industry standard. Technologies like the SidePouch® stand-up pouch and the SidePouch® FAS SPrint Revolution™ from Automated Packaging Systems allow brands to package these products in a highly productive and cost effective way.
“In the organic and health-conscious segments, we are seeing a trend to move away from the shiny standup pouches that have become so common in favor of matte finish structures. The matte finish look conveys a more environmentally sensitive message and premium appearance consumers of these types of products are looking for,” says Rempe.
Additionally, while consumers are increasingly more aware of where their food is coming from due to the amount of information that can be printed on packaging, brand owners have turned their gaze to their machinery in order to ensure their consumers are getting the best and safest products.
Spee-Dee Packaging has a Rotary Filler designed to support the highest level of sanitation due to its stainless steel design, minimized surface area, removal of fasteners and catch points in the food zone, which are notorious for collecting material and causing bacteria buildup. “Our brands are aware that their consumers are looking more intensely at what goes into their products. With that, they must be conscious of their own equipment in order to ensure consumer safety as well as create the most premium product. Brands want what’s inside the package to match the quality of what’s on it,” says Johnson.