Apr 09

Trends on the supermarket shelves

Posted by Packaging Sense in Trends | Uncategorized

Packages in the shelves

Most design trends are obviously the result of product trends, i.e. drinking and eating habits evolve. This is also valid for non-food products such as household- beauty- and petfood products.

Trends in design also emanate from technology as the design computer is, unfortunately often, the only tool young designers use to develop new ideas. I say unfortunately as the computer is the culprit if in the wrong hands for the following five reasons:

He doesn’t think, he executes. So, before even opening the computer the ‘Big Idea’ has to be found in somebody’s head. Without a big, campaignable idea which is remembered, no good communication.

Most package designers sit in their studio and work two-dimensionally on a screen about 30×40 cm. The reality is outside in the real world with hundreds of different packages around and not against a white background as on the computer screen.
It’s such a cool tool that everybody, even the most amateur designer or employee feels that what they do looks good on the screen.

Thanks to the computer we can work fast today and we can, by ‘stealing’ images (it’s called downloading), put something together quite fast without real thinking and thorough analysis of what was done.

When we have done the job, it’s so easy to send it as a ‘jpg’ to the client. We thus forget that any creative job has to be sold, i.e. explained to the client as she or he doesn’t necessarily see the same as we. Especially as the client today is very often an ‘unschooled buyer’ of artistic creative communication. So the client then asks to do this and that and one finally arrives at the point where she or he actually designed the pack instead of the professional designer.

This being said, we progress both on the technical side with materials and CO2-reductions and on the marketing side with layout and shapes. I can count to about eight clear trends and these are:

  • The brand logotype in the middle (layout)
  • Windows, i.e. see-through packaging
  • Mat plastics for a more agreable touch
  • Smaller packsizes and multipacks. Yes, many consumers do not want quantity today, but quality in small doses
  • Shaped cartons
  • “The 3 price levels”
  • Plastic and glass bottles with a structured surface (touch)
  • Considerably more attractive POS material, freestanding or on pallets.

The brand logotype in the middle
Last time there was a real change in layout was some 15-20 years ago when Parmalat put their logotype vertically which then was copied by several other brands. I myself put VITTEL vertically at that time: The trick was to make the pack look optically larger as a big brand no doubt looks bigger than a small one (Ribena).

Some 5-6 years ago Danone moved the brand to the middle and little by little brand owners haved found out that it is a far bettter position than putting it on the top. Why? Because what interests the consumer most on a pack is not the brand, but the product illustration which on these packages has moved on top in a prominent position. Strangely enough this layout also strengthens the brand. The Royco, Nestlé, Knorr packages are some recent examples.

The consumer wants to see what she buys. In the cheese and sliced meat sections of the store this type of plastic film packaging is well known since long, but the transparent window on cardboard packaging is a rather new trend. This window can be with or without transparent plastic film depending upon the structure of the pack. If all the text on the Knorr Vie sleeve is, in my opinion, useless as half of it is almost illegible, it is refreshing to see the clean simple design of the label on the bottle!

I could show numerous other examples, but I suggest the curious reader goes to the supermarket to have this trend confirmed. My own favourit is the bread sachets at Coop.

Mat plastic films
This trend, as so many other trends, comes from the most sophisticated packaging market, i.e. Japan. If, some years ago, we were impressed to see crystal-clear plastic films, really transparent and not as the milky polythelene, today’s consumers appreciate the mat surface. It is nice to touch and also gives an impression of tradition and non-industrial. To further communicate this sense of home-made, we see more and more the combination with kraft paper (real or fake as on the GLOBUS pack).

Smaller packsizes/multipacks
Be it small Mars or Bounty bars, salami sticks from Citterio or Piccolinis from Buitoni, individual portions have come here to stay. Yes, some of us are getting fatter, but many of us are  going in the other direction and choose small sizes (Ragusa). We have understood that, as we move less, i.e. burn less calories, we also have to take in less calories. Multipacks for Babybel cheeses or two-finger Kitkats are today available in any shop. We can even find mini-Tabasco or small shots of Red Bull. As mentioned above, this is more a product trend than a design trend.

Shaped cartons
Cardboard quality and technology as well as sophisticated machinery has today made it possible to do almost any shape in cardboard. It is no surprise that last year’s Pentaward went to a new shape of Kleenex tissue packs which no doubt created some problem on the production line, but was such an outstanding design that it sold out in two weeks! The Baci carton is a further example of how we can today develop even roundish shapes in cardboard.

The three price levels
Any big supermarket chain will today offer three levels of quality or price… superpremium, standard and economy. I don’t know who started it, most likely Tesco, but you will find today simple white designs as well as goldembossed sophisticated solutions from the leading retailers. As I live in Switzerland I have chosen to show the economy designs for Coop and Migros as well as their superpremium packages. Here one can really speak of design trends as the symbolism used is similar in all markets (white-gold-embossing, etc.)

Structured plastic and glass bottles
One again, technology has facilitated the work for the designer to add structure to the bottles as well as interesting designs thanks to plastic film shrink wrapping. The tactile role of package design is no doubt the most significant improvement or trend during the last years.

As this no doubt means a slight cost increase I find it gratifying that the retailers and brand owners are accepting this to make packaging more interesting.

Point-of-sale activities
Once again, thanks to technology, i.e. first-class flexographic printing on various ‘flute-materials’ we see, mainly from Ferrero, very attractive sales-stimulating material (pallets, free-standing corrugated displays, etc.).

However strangely enough, it is in this world that far more can be done to render shopping more attractive. Trays still mostly carry logotypes and not sales-stimulating texts and the shippers, which often end up inside the store, are still designed for logistic, and not for marketing thinking.

This leads me to the great weakness in today’s marketing youth. They do not think holistically. Neither do they see the total packaging picture (primary ‘retail’, secondary ‘display’ and tertiary ‘shipper’ packaging), nor do they reach out for the synergy effect you can achieve between packaging, POS, advertising, website and other marketing activities. What a pity!

An article like this would not be complete without mentioning where we stand still or even go backwards. I see no progress in easy-open packaging. I still believe that micro-well is a material that can be used far more and last, but not least, the GDA-information on packages is no doubt a step backwards as it is not giving understandable information on how to eat and drink with moderation.

A trend which needs a special article is the considerable increase in special editions where creativity is far superior. The masters are Toblerone and Kinder.

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