Structural flair

14 March 2005 (Last Updated March 14th, 2005 18:30)

Packaging has huge product marketing potential, something that brand owners of all kinds already recognise. But pack shapes are still relatively unexplored territory. Richard Dalgleish of ProCarton outlines the early pioneers and their discoveries.

Moving products from their place of manufacture to their point of use has always been critical. As supply chains become longer and more complex, its importance grows.
Packaging plays a pivotal role in ensuring that goods reach their point of use in good condition.

Research suggests that in markets where packaging is not used widely, wastage levels are as high as 50 per cent plus. This means that the cost of production and distribution, and therefore the cost to consumers, is much higher than it needs to be.
Although effective packaging ensures that goods reach market in the right condition, its role extends well beyond this point.

Luring the consumer

Competition among brand manufacturers has intensified noticeably in recent years – and the choice of products available to consumers has increased massively as a result. Meanwhile, the development of supermarkets, hypermarkets and now deep discounters has changed the face of retailing. Product manufacturers have had to adapt to meet these different needs and requirements. It is no longer enough to merely make your product available, it must also appeal to consumers.

In Europe, demographic changes have altered the market dramatically. The percentage of consumers over 60 years of age is rising rapidly; there are far more single-parent families than ever before; and a higher proportion of the population under 60 is in employment.

Such changes, and many others, have led to a shift in shopping habits that is having a direct impact on both the retail industry and companies that supply goods to retailers.
The upshot of all this is that brand owners have had to find ways to attract consumers at the point sale. Advertising, of course, is key. But since an estimated 70 per cent of purchasing decisions are made in-store, brand owners should be seeking other ways of ensuring that consumers pick their product.

Carton packaging: a selling point

It is against this background that packaging at the point of sale has become so important. Besides its protective function, packaging now has to serve marketing needs to give products the best chance of success. This is where cartons come into their own. Carton offers brand owners a type of packaging that not only protects and informs, but also helps to sell the product. High-quality multicolour printing, attractive special finishes, textures, embossing and recognisable images all contribute to this type of packaging's ability to fulfil a marketing function.

Shape and structure also play an important role. An innovative structural design can help to attract the consumer to a product by differentiating it on congested shop shelves. Unsurprisingly, brand owners, designers and carton manufacturers are all working together to find shapes and structures that provide this very differentiation while preserving carton's inherent efficiency.

Eye catching

Tests that track eye movements have shown that when looking at a solid block of products, the consumer's eye moves continually along them. When there are gaps between products, however, the eye stops. This means that the consumer is likely to have seen and recognised particular products. An industry that has used this information creatively is cigarette manufacturing.

Growing numbers of cigarette packs have either chamfered or rounded corners. The reason is that a ‘cut off' corner creates enough of a gap to stop the consumer's eye and allow brand recognition. This effect has been enhanced further with the introduction of oval flip-top packs which, once again, stop the eye momentarily and promote recognition.
Innovative structural design in carton packaging extends across numerous market sectors.

In the pharmaceutical sector, for instance, many cartons feature interesting and innovative ideas that not only differentiate the product, but also make it easier to use. Dosage and usage can be delineated to ensure that the user understands how much medication to take and when. Elsewhere, myriad ideas have been conceived – from curved sides on detergent packs that make them stand out on the shelf and easier to pick up, to football-shaped cartons for photo film.

The industry sectors where innovative shapes are most used are confectionery, cosmetics and beverages. In all three, point-of-sale impact is crucial to brand success. Consequently, many brand owners are working closely with designers and carton manufacturers to produce some unusual and surprising effects. Three confectionery cartons showcased at the recent Pro Carton/ECMA carton awards illustrate the results that such collaboration can have.

Boxes of delight

The Suchard Imagine chocolate box has an unusual handbag-style shape. This structure combines with clever graphic design and a pearl-like finish to attract consumers' attention at the point of sale. That's not all, however. The opening and closing method has been designed to be as simple as possible, and to allow the consumer to dispense the chocolates in a novel and convenient way. By using packaging in this way, the brand owner has ensured that their product stands out on the crowded shelf and, just as importantly, is attractive to use. Both encourage repeat sales.

Another example of pioneering packaging design is the Elizabeth Shaw ‘The Collection' chocolate pack. At first glance, it looks nothing more spectacular than a rectangular box. It is in use that the clever design becomes apparent.

The box comprises of two trays of chocolates, one of which has a tab. When the user pulls the tab, both trays slide out in opposite directions. As well as presenting its contents in a practical way, this package surprises the consumer and thus increases the chances of repurchasing.

Bob Houghton, marketing manager of Field Packaging, the company responsible for designing the package, says: ‘We commit a great deal of time and thought to the structural design of the cartons we manufacture. [We] also work very closely with the brand owners and the packaging machinery suppliers during development. In this way, we ensure that the brand owner achieves the result they expect and that the cartons can be filled effectively and efficiently.'

With its Papillion chocolates, Suchard has taken interesting design a step further. The colourfully printed cracker-shaped carton has a ‘zip' which, when opened, reveals a tray of chocolates. Once again, original design allied with an element of surprise offer consumers something special.

Finding a new direction

In the cosmetics industry, the major brand owners have traditionally relied on extremely high-quality print and special finishes to attract buyers. There is evidence that some are now using shape as a marketing tool. The Bruno Banani range of cartons, for example, leans at an angle of about 30º. In a market where most packaging is upright, this certainly attracts attention.

Carl Edelmann, the company that designed and manufactured the Bruno Banani package had to come up with a solution that would be stable on the shelf. Managing director Joachim Lange explains, ‘[We had to apply] very special constructional design skills to achieve stability. We had to design in elements on the base that ensured the carton stood well on the shelf, while retaining its overall look. This shows the new direction [in which we are moving] and what a versatile, innovative medium the carton is.'

Champagne challenge

There have been some very interesting developments in the beverage industry of late. Since consumers usually buy beverages on impulse, brand owners have had to find ways to differentiate their products from the bewildering array available. By using exciting and groundbreaking packaging, two brands of champagne have managed to do just that.

A few years ago, Veuve Cliquot introduced an innovative pack with a double function. The carton is designed in two pieces so that when the outer protective sleeve is removed, the rest of the package opens up to form a watertight ice container. Designing and manufacturing this carton posed a real challenge for carton manufacturer Van Genechten Packaging, but a thorough development process and careful selection of raw materials ensured stunning results.

According to sales director John de Somer, this project shows the great advantages of teamwork. ‘This is an attractive package that gives on-shelf presence,' he says. ‘But the fact that it transforms into an ice bucket illustrates the creativity and functionality that emerges when brand owner, designers and carton manufacturer work together.'

Perrier Jouet approached the packaging challenge in a different way when deciding how best to present its set of four small champagne bottles. It came up with a solution that looks like a high-quality, normal-sized champagne pack. There is a band around the middle that slides off to release four distinct sections displaying the four bottles. This not only shows excellent functional thinking, but also insight into what will please the consumer.

Shaping success

Developing new packaging shapes can be a complex procedure. If the brand owner's expectations are to be realised, designer, carton maker and machinery manufacturer must work cooperatively. It is their collective responsibility to ensure that a new design moves successfully through the packaging chain – from initial concept to production, and then from filling stage to the retail environment. Flair, ingenuity and a solid grasp of a particular project's requirements are key.

Consumer groups are becoming more varied and the balance of spending power between them is shifting. There has also been a huge proliferation of new products fighting for attention on our shop shelves. To succeed, therefore, a product has to stand out – and structure is one way of achieving this effect.

Examples such as Suchard's Papillon cracker and the Veuve Cliquot ice bucket illustrate exactly how manufacturers can rise to the challenge and produce something surprising and functional; something that delivers on carton's potential and on brand owners' expectations.