Innovation was the name of the game at the annual Packaging Conference.
Packaging industry insiders and experts gathered to discuss issues and advancements in their field, ranging from the development of new oxygen scavengers to the creation of zero-landfill pouches. While trends and topics varied, most presenters agreed: It's time for brands and companies to start innovating or risk being left behind.
With an improving, but still tumultuous economy, capitalizing on a niche market or addressing consumer needs can be the key to success.
“Innovating in a down economy is probably the best time, because when the recession is over you're going see yourself reaping the benefits,” said Michael Orkoroafor, vice president of global packing at H.J. Heinz Co. of Pittsburgh.
Orkoroafor used Heinz's latest packaging advancement, the Dip & Squeeze portable ketchup packet that debuted in 2010, as an example of change done right. The package addressed a long-term customer complaint — the small, difficult-to-open ketchup sachet. The result drew national media attention and snagged several awards, he said.
When working on new developments, companies need to make sure they are not innovating for innovation's sake, because they have the capability or because there's a new technology, he said. Instead, change should be rooted in trying to create a product a consumer wants, is willing to pay for and that will help grow your brand.
“That means you have to run and chew gum at the same time,” he said, adding that it's not easy, but when it's done correctly everyone wins.
Technology and engineering can help bridge the gap between what consumers want and what a company can produce, explained Yu Shi, worldwide director of early research at New York-based Colgate-Palmolive Co.
Consumers want packaging to be functional and to do its job well. They want packages that are easy and quick to use that protect their contents, Shi said. They also want products to be catered to their specific needs and feel personal, something packaging can help fulfill.
Interlocking toothpaste caps, for example, make consumers feel like their product is being protected. It also helps the product feel personal — like “it's my toothpaste,” she said.
Excellent engineering finds a way to fulfill those needs, even if consumers can't articulate them. Consumers don't know they want their toothpaste tubes to have a better ultraviolet barrier, they just want their toothpaste to come in a clear package and taste fresher, she said.
All packaging innovations, from the cosmetic to the complete overhaul, need to communicate a brand's message to buyers and stand out from its competitors.
“Purchases shouldn't be complicated, but store shelves are,” said Denise Lefebvre, vice president of global beverage packaging at PepsiCo Inc.
Global brands like Purchase, N.Y.-based Pepsi need to ensure that their packaging carries the same iconic look in every location, but should be adapted to local needs. A bottle of Pepsi in Vietnam will look different than a bottle of Pepsi in the United States, but they both evoke the same feelings and convey the same messages of quality and sustainability, according to Lefebvre. “Every time your consumer comes in touch with your brand it's the same promise over and over again,” she said.
To achieve this, companies need to think like consumers, an area where many companies fall short.
“They're so focused on technology and that's great, but that's a tool, that's an enabler to get to the consumer,” she said. “It's not about falling in love with the technology; it's about falling in love with the drive to improve the consumer experience.”
The Packaging Conference was held Feb. 6-8 in Las Vegas.