‘Packing’ a punch

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Updated: Oct 13, 2015 12:45 PM

Packaging needs to move beyond being an afterthought in the marketing mix. Some brands are finally waking up to the fact that packaging can have a very strong impact on sales at the last mile

Packaging needs to move beyond being an afterthought in the marketing mix. Some brands are finally waking up to the fact that packaging can have a very strong impact on sales at the last milePackaging needs to move beyond being an afterthought in the marketing mix. Some brands are finally waking up
to the fact that packaging can have a very strong impact on sales at the last mile

A walk down the aisle isn’t an easy one. We aren’t talking just about the weddings, but also that weekly walk down the aisle in supermarkets. With millions of options available today, it is no less than a herculean task to choose a product.

Food products, for instance, get judged more often than not by the price and ingredients mentioned on the pack, but in several categories, children, in particular, get attracted to colourful or innovative packaging. To keep pace with customers and to stand out from the crowd of brands screaming for their attention, the need for brands to take cognizance of the science of good packaging has never been more crucial.

Take, for instance, Parle Agro’s Frooti. The mango juice brand, which has been been around for decades now, changed not only its logo but packaging as well earlier this year to give away its child-centric image and take on a bold and contemporary look.

The rebranding exercise done almost six months back by London-based design firm Pentagram saw the company unleashing a R100 crore marketing campaign. It focused towards building better brand recognition, apart from relatable and strong on-shelf visibility. Says Nadia Chauhan, joint managing director and chief marketing officer, Parle Agro, “At Parle Agro, we have always believed and invested in the power of packaging as we have seen the impact it has on driving impulse purchase. Especially in a category like ours where impulse is a key driver, building strong brand identities and unique package designs delivered in consumer friendly pack formats is absolutely key.”

Telling stories

The $24.6 billion packaging industry has been growing continuously with an average annual growth rate of 13-15% (as per reports from the Indian Institute of Packaging) and India’s retail growth and increased consumption of consumer products is only going to further fuel the demand for better packaging in the country.

Packaging today has to do much more than just attract and inform: it needs to engage, communicate, and in so many ways, form an emotional bond between the brand and the consumer.

The Paperboat and Yoodley packaging are cases in point, as opposed to the use of bottles, cans and tetra packs.

Packaging that challenges the status quo and the norm, tend to stand out. “As a brand, we believe in delighting our consumers. And so, we take packaging as an opportunity to do so, by throwing in little nuggets of joy in unexpected places,” says Neeraj Kakkar, CEO and founder, Hector Beverages (makers of Paperboat) while highlighting that after several iterations of design, the company found the doy pack to be adding a whole new dimension to the brand itself—in making it more human, more fun, and more friendly.

While bottles, tetra pacs and cans were the norm, Paperboat’s packaging is lighter, more compact, far more easily transportable, and had a 10% lesser carbon footprint than all other forms of drinks packaging in the market. “Two years ago, there were few brands in the country that were telling stories on the back, front, or the side of the packs.

We took the onus, and started telling a lot of stories on our packs. Today, most of the consumers we interview tell us how these stories enamoured them,” adds Kakkar.

Many attribute this steep inclination towards packaging in recent years to more and more brands inching towards humanising their products, and speaking to consumers directly through packaging. “In the past, Indian brands were rather functional in their approach. Today, there is a big focus on the cosmetic part of branding,” points out Harish Bijoor, founder, Harish Bijoor Consults.

Indigo Airlines extends its branding through everything—including uniforms, stairways, ground-handling equipment and edible products sold on its flights. This shows that packaging can be re-used; it can be funny and most of all it can beautiful and desirable—often worth keeping as a brand souvenir.

Brands, from time to time, do conduct research to understand the market as well as consumers’ needs, in order to arrive at the right packaging mix.

Though different brand owners have different approaches to, and opinions about research—how much, what type, how extensive etc—it would be unusual (and possibly, even reckless) not to do research before committing to a pack redesign. United Spirits’ Royal Challenge refreshed its packaging and communication to cater to the newer breed of Indians who are bold, determined and spontaneous. Says the company’s CMO Amrit Thomas, “Brands that invest in understanding consumer needs, evolve with speed, innovate through consumer-aligned products and positioning, are more likely to win the hearts and wallets of consumers.”

Innovative variants

The need to understand the impact of striking a balance between innovation design and functionality in order to deliver a package that can impact sales positively and help build the brand and in some instances even new categories, is very essential.

Consumers are demanding more innovative packaging, that is, smaller sizes, or at price points that suit their pockets, or even packaging that allows them more convenience. Packaging can also help drive occasions of consumption—’on the go’ varieties such as squeezy packs for ketchups or ‘party’ packs (carbonated soft drinks brands); ‘hang out’ packs (chips brands); ‘family’ packs (Cadbury’s, or ice-creams), packs for ‘friends’ (Cadbury’s Shots or even Domino’s Pizza); ‘gift’ packs; and much more. Therefore, there are innovations in the size, shape, openings and closures, in designs, even in secondary packaging.

Mondelez constantly tries to refurbish its packaging. Last year’s packing revamp was the 21st re-design in the brand’s 108-year history. “Packaging plays an important role in creating brand identity & recall and shelf impact across product groups,” asserts Sameer Mehendale, senior manager, R&D Material Equipment Interaction – Asia Pacific, Mondelez International, while stating the example of Cadbury Glow, which is crafted exclusively in Bratislava (Slovakia). The gold and purple packaging is reminiscent of a treasure chest that glows from the inside out, filled with chocolate.

Vartika Hali, head, qualitative research at Millward Brown, believes that packaging that lends to an overall consumer experience of the brand is great packaging and states the example of Apple. “From the time you hold the pack and discover the brand inside… all of it is a heightened experience and it comes at a cost,” she says, musing, “Maybe that’s why some Indian brands are unable to really heighten the experience, since as you add in any element of the experience, the product cost will only go up.” And the dichotomy is, most F&B categories are looking at delivering on more affordable products to the end consumer.

Huge constraints in buying power, logistics and retail formats have so far limited many innovations. The economics of things has been a clear driver for certain types of packaging. Hence, it impacts the percentage of a product cost that is allotted towards packaging by certain brands. While for some, the packaging component of a product could be 15-20% of the product’s MRP, others allot as low as 2%.

This in return also brings to notice how some Indian manufacturers don’t pay the same attention to the quality of the pack, as they do to the product. Design, colours and the logo are usually taken care of and have evolved, but nozzles and bottle caps break or come loose or don’t last as long as the content. Quality, therefore, is key and
god really is in the details, for an overall brand experience.

Role of technology

A growing market need for food packaging is to give foods the highest level of protection. To allow for traceability is another reason brands are innovating. The aftermath caused by the Nestle’s Maggi fiasco brought to notice that consumers are also increasingly concerned about what is inside the package—whether the food is pure, or whether it contains preservatives and chemicals, for instance.

“Brand owners are looking for attractive, distribution-friendly, retail-friendly packaging options that protect food best while retaining taste and nutrition and giving a great product experience—which is why aseptically processed and packaged foods in tetra pak cartons for example are a fast-growing segment,” says Kandarp Singh, MD, Tetra Pak South Asia Markets.

There have been many technological innovations in the field of packaging. One of the most important innovations has been the development of aseptic technology which has been hailed as the most important food science advancement of the 20th century by the highly renowned Institute of Food Technologists.

However, since legal enforcement in India is weak, the same global players who comply with stringent laws on packaging materials including food grade and low migration inks in the rest of the world, sometimes use cheaper substrates and inks in India.

Points out Naresh Khanna, editor of Packaging South Asia and chief consultant of IppStar, that the government bodies have a very poor understanding of the issues of safety, health and environment in relation to both consumer products and the packaging industry. “For instance, the Indian government sometimes passes irrational orders without showing any sensible plan or workable initiative for the collection, sorting and recycling of refuse and garbage of which packaging can be both a dangerous as well as a recoverable and recyclable component of value,” Khanna says.

Most experts agree that technology for packaging should also consider the impact of packaging on the environment.
To sum up, it may be a relatively under-leveraged, unsung ‘P’ of Philip Kotler’s marketing mix, but the Indian marketing ‘jugaad’ habit has created enough examples to learn from. Starting with paper-based packaging for beverages, to aseptic packaging of milk, to a diverse packaging portfolio that caters to a variety of foods and consumer categories, the variety of packaging innovations have been a welcome change for customers.

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