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Gourmet News

October 2007

"Message in a bottle--and box"

Packaging's evolution reflects fashion, function and social concerns
By Joanne Friedrick

A jar is not a jar, nor is a bag just a bag. Rather, packaging materials, whether containing the product to be sold or housing the item purchased, tell a story about the product, your store and your relationship with your consumer.

"You've got 2.6 seconds to look at a package, so all the key elements have to be there," explained JoAnn Hines of PackagingDiva.com. "The front has to tell a story," she said, while the back needs to cover the regulatory issues of ingredients labels and so on.

Color can become a brand, she said, as people begin to recognize a product by its packaging color. Packaging can be any color, she added, you just need to marry it with the product inside.

"There seems to be two categories of packaging--high end and products moving toward more basic," added Hines. "The middle of the road is going away."

Value-added packaging, said Hines, is coming on strong. This includes packaging that is helpful, by telling consumers what else goes well with the product in hand such as a hangtag with recipes; packaging that is reusable, such as a chocolate box that doubles as a jewelry holder; or even packaging that "talks" to shoppers with color-changing labels that indicate ripeness, temperature or expiration date.

GourmetStation, a producer of high-end, home-delivered meals, has focused much attention on its packaging, said founder and president Donna Lynes-Miller, both for branding and functionality purposes.

"When you put a high price point on food and then put it in the hands of UPS or FedEx, you have to have functionality," she said. But there also needs to be an upscale message that is translated in both the exterior packaging and the food containers themselves.

Miller said customers re-use not only the soup jars and entree containers, but also the packing materials.

"Some use it (the cooler) for food; one person used it to store their income taxes," she explained. Miller noted that although they explored using conventional Styrofoam coolers and dry ice, in the end they went with custom-cut foam pieces that better fit with their packaging and gel packs that also allow the contents to begin to thaw in transit. That cuts the prep time from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, said Miller.

The regional menus of Paris, Tuscany, Cajun, Fusion and American used by GourmetStation are reflected in the package graphics, which include old postcards. These graphics "give customers an emotional connection with the region," explained Miller.

Miller said her company reflects the overall movement toward upscale living and luxury. A home-delivered meal is a small indulgence, she said, and packaging is definitely part of that experience.

Consumers are better traveled and have more discretionary income than at any time in history, and this is reflected in their variety-seeking behaviors and the success of exotic foods and flavors, said Scott Jost, director of Studio One Eleven, the product innovation division of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging.

Packagers are leveraging that interest in exoticism through rich color palettes and metallic accents, he said.

Food and beverage packaging gets its style cues from women's fashion and fragrance, hair and skin care products. While it used to take a couple of years for the fashion color palette to impact food and beverages, said Jost, that timeline is now down to a couple of months.

But even with the influences of fashion and consumer trends, Jost said deciding what to do with packaging is dictated by brand and category appropriateness. In the honey category, for instance, Jost said research showed consumers wanted to buy their honey in bear-shaped containers--not the first choice among innovative package designers.

And, the bear had the lowest re-buy intent among customers because they became frustrated with its functionality. So the resolution was not to eliminate the bear container, but to redesign it so it would work better. Aesthetics alone shouldn't dictate the packaging outcome, said Jost, but rather it should be combined with research.



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