NASHVILLE, TENN. — Consumers are constantly on the move, enjoy snacking and crave personalization. They're also anxious, value-seeking and obsessed with wellness.
Good news for the flexible package industry, according to market research experts.
Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at London-based Mintel Group Ltd., gave an overview of consumer trends and the role flexible packaging can play in them, at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Flexible Film and Bag Conference, held May 8-10 in Nashville.
One of those trends: the rise of the "transumer." We're living our lives on the go, spending more and more time in transit every day, Dornblaser said. That's led to an increase in missed meals or eating on the run. In the U.S., 19 percent of all meals and snacks are eaten in the car.
Meanwhile, time and budget limitations have made bite-sized products and services more attractive, she said. "It isn't just about food and drink; we consume our lives in little bitty pieces."
In grocery aisles, you see products getting smaller: Yogurt, for example, used to come in 8-ounce cups but now comes in cups of 4-6 ounces. At the same, we're communicating in small, short bits; Twitter and texting only allow for short, simple communication, Dornblaser said.
"We're seeing all kinds of things shrink. I think that really speaks to the whole idea of us being a snack society," she said.
Single-serve flexible pouches offer an ideal solution for both transumers and snackers. They are "easy to grab and go, easy to stick in your bag, easy to have whatever it is you need" in a package that's small and lightweight, she said.
While packages might be smaller, people still want products to be all their own. One-fourth of U.S. consumers say the ability to customize a product is one way they define luxury, Dornblaser said. Consumers view personalization as a right, not a privilege, she said.
In flexible packaging, that can translate to flavor sachets or mix-ins, like a bag of chips that comes with a sachet of flavoring allowing people to add their own seasoning.
Brands are noticing how flexible packaging can meet those, and other, consumer demands.
More products are showing up in flexible packaging, according to Mintel market research data. The amount of newly introduced products going into flexible packaging has gone up over the last five years (2008-12). Flexible packaging is now the second-most popular form of packaging for new product introductions, coming in after bottles.
Pouches and sachets have seen the biggest growth.
Pouches are used in just about every product category, from beverages to laundry detergent. It's also an area where new shapes and closures are combining to make some unique packages, like a frozen wine drink in a pouch shaped like a cocktail shaker or a yogurt smoothie in a pouch with a large, kid-friendly twist-off cap, Dornblaser said.
According to Mintel, three overarching trends will drive the consumer market: well-being, value and fun.
Wellness is inescapable and means more than just physical well-being — consumers are also concerned with emotional, mental, spiritual and environmental wellness, Dornblaser said.
Shoppers are seeking out indications of health on product packaging and they're looking at more than just calorie counts — they want products that offer positive attributes, she said.
Consumers are looking for all-natural products that are high in vitamins and minerals, contain whole grains and have lots of fiber and protein and reduced sodium.
Packaging can use graphics and shapes to reinforce a product's natural attributes and clearly and efficiently communicate its benefits. Bottles or pouches with small waists are easier to hold, but also exude a curvy feminine shape that conveys wellness, she said.
Consumers are also gravitating toward products that offer "just enough" for a small treat, she said, like individually wrapped miniature candy bars or "adult string cheese" in varieties like brie or parmesan.
Shoppers are also looking beyond themselves to the environment. Claims of eco-friendly packaging on new products shot up from around 3 percent in 2008 to around 14 percent in 2012, according to Mintel.
That jump doesn't indicate a big change in the industry or the types of packaging, but shows that companies are just getting better at advertising recyclability, Dornblaser said.
Companies are doing more than putting a recycling symbol on a package; they're also redesigning packaging to use less material, she said. And in countries like Canada, where curbside composting is more prevalent, companies are launching compostable packages.
Flexible packaging can offer a great environmental message because it is so lightweight, but the industry needs to make sure that consumers understand those benefits, she said.
Though 66 percent of consumers say a package should be recyclable, recycling isn't their top concern.
More than 80 percent of consumers say beverage packaging should be easy to open and should keep the product fresh, according to Mintel.
That insight can be applied across all product categories, Dornblaser said. Older consumers especially are looking for packages that can be easily opened and closed without the use of scissors or other tools.
Seniors, those ages 65 and older, are looking for packages that address their needs without talking down to them. It's a demographic that has money and is willing to spend it on an easy-open package, she said.
The industry needs to make more packaging that's appropriate for everyone regardless of age or ability, she said.
Flexible packaging tends to be easy to open and can meet consumer needs, she said. Though the industry has come up with some interesting concepts, like cookie packages with a resealable film opening, there's still not enough universal packaging in the market, she said.
Consumers are also looking for value, a concept that appears "in all price points, all channels, all companies," Dornblaser said.
In the past, value meant buying in bulk or purchasing industrial-sized packages of products. Now, the focus is on affordability: smaller products for a lower price.
This new concept of value is borrowed from emerging markets and illustrates the importance of keeping watch on developments in those regions, she said.
"Used to be, once upon a time, established markets brought their ideas to emerging markets who then adopted them," she said. "Now … we're seeing that happen in reverse more and more. That's really a role that flexibles play in very, very strongly."
With being constantly on the move, grabbing meals when they can and looking to both save money and stay healthy, it's probably no surprise that consumers want to have a little fun.
About 18 percent of women and 13 percent of men consider themselves anxious, and half of those take medication for it, according to Mintel.
More and more people are seeking that "take me away feeling," looking to laugh, have fun and be distracted from what's bothering them, Dornblaser said.
Packaging can provide that with unexpected functions and unique formats, she said, pointing to a lip gloss that comes in a round rigid plastic case with a squeezable center.
Other products can encourage people to "channel their inner kid," like a case of beer that can be turned into a cornhole board or juice that can be consumed in aerosol foam.
Shifting products into new formats, like a pouch, can transform the entire product category and make it fun for new consumers, she said.
Pouches of single-serve alcoholic slushies are now prevalent in the marketplace. Soup in a pouch, like Campbell Soup Co.'s Go line, can use ethnic flavors and bold graphics to make soup that isn't boring.