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Less is often—but not always—more when it comes to packaging

A new survey, “A Study of Packaging Efficiency as it Relates to Waste Prevention” by analysts at ULS Report (Rochester, MI), found the key to producing sustainable packaging hasn’t changed much in the last 12 years.

Milk in a standup pouch might fly in Europe but not in North America, where shoppers want rigid plastics packaging they can grip, says Agarwal.

Once the container is in the shopper’s hand there is a better than 50% chance that he or she will put it in the shopping cart rather than back on the shelf, says Surendra Agarwal of Kraft Foods.

This 2007 follow-up to its 1995 report on packaging efficiency confirms that lightweighting and source reduction are the best ways to improve the economic efficiency of consumer product packaging while improving the environment.
“Regardless of the packaging material, the best way to reduce waste, energy consumption, and the potential for greenhouse gas emissions, is through source reduction,” says Bob Lilienfled, editor of The Use Less Stuff Report. “For packaging designers and decision makers, this demonstrates that the product-to-package weight ratio is an excellent top-line indicator for making decisions about packaging efficiency and sustainability.”
He says that translates into greater use of lighter packages, larger sizes where appropriate, and the promotion of concentrated product forms such as fruit juice or liquid laundry detergent. The study also illustrates the value of flexible packaging as a strategy to reduce trash.
Lilienfeld says from what major retailers such as Wal-Mart are trying to do in sustainability, flexible containers are the compact fluorescents (CFL) of the packaging industry. Unlike incandescent light bulbs, CFLs save on energy and raw materials. Unlike CFLs, which required customer familiarization before purchasing, flexible packaging is a known quantity.
Yet acceptance of lightweight packaging is not universal. Surendra Agarwal, senior global technology consultant for Kraft Foods speaking at the PEPP 07 conference organized by Maack Business Services (Au, Switzerland), says many flexible packaging solutions such as standup pouches, which are well accepted in Europe, are fighting an uphill battle in North America where consumers want solid packaging they can grab and hold easily.
Agarwal also says there is a trend toward packaging being part of brand equity, a real asset to a business providing additional value and not just a cost factor. Besides protecting and containing products, the design a package has helps a company position itself in a market, influences whether customers like the brand, creates loyalty and preferences, differentiates, and drives awareness.
The reason for this, says Agarwal, is that advertising dollars reach fewer people than before and consumers pay less attention today. “Ad-savvy consumers have built-in spam and pop-up blockers diluting, truth checking, and challenging everything you say to them,” he says. Consumers’ time has also been compressed compared to previous generations.
Agarwal says studies of Kraft’s packaging show that the first five seconds in which a purchaser sees an item on the shelf are the most important. To capture the shopper’s attention in this window, products need superior shelf presence through competitive point-of-difference, perceived functionality and product benefits through packaging shape or graphics, and to communicate an image. “More than 50% of today’s purchases are done by impulse in supermarkets,” he says. Kraft has increased its mayonnaise sales by switching from glass jars to a PET blowmolded container. Better graphics presentation, as well as convenience and easier storage, were reasons for the purchases.
Agarwal says a second five-second span during use is important to build loyalty to a brand and product. “The biggest complaint among shoppers is a package might be attractive but it is hard to open or re-close,” he says. “If you lose the consumer here it is hard to get him back.”
Kraft sees its future, according to Agarwal, tied to polypropylene (PP) since packaging weight reduction and saving costs are important to the company. PP is 34% less dense than PET and has a lower cost/volume ratio than polyethylene or high-impact polystyrene, he says.
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