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When it comes to packaging, we need to take a step back and think about how we approach innovation in the first place.

What problem are you trying to solve, and what benefits are you trying to deliver?

It’s about taking time to understand where the real opportunity lies, which is where the food and drink sector has sometimes struggled.

I hear the same story and see the same reaction from consumers. A lot of packaging in this sector is still hard to open, still not re-sealable, still not recyclable enough. Then you have the retailers…there is still a lot of work to be done in utilising more recyclable packaging. Where is the corporate social responsibility in all this?

Also, food and drink is a heavily commoditised sector and there is a lot of risk. The margins are very small and that’s why there’s sometimes not as much innovation in packaging as there is in other sectors. There’s very little price elasticity, and not much room to manoeuvre. So there’s only so much you can do.

A holistic approach

We are sometimes approached by companies wanting us to help them create something because they’ve seen a trend, but they’re not necessarily thinking about what’s right for their customers, or how to grow their brands and their categories.

There has to be a holistic approach, which uses a lot more consumer insight at the beginning, and then employs the right people to translate the research into design and through development.

There are often challenges linked to the way organisations are structured. In many global companies, joined up communication can be very difficult, particularly for multi-region or global projects. The bureaucracy, departmental politics and an unified vision can be a barriers to getting things done. I’m not saying it’s a problem without a solution though and, looking on the bright side, I think things are changing.

When food and drink clients come to us now they are more willing than ever before to sit down and listen and try to understand – and that’s a very positive step. Many of them have restructured their businesses now to have front-end innovation teams. And that in itself is proof that they understand there is a need to change.

However, they don’t necessarily have the resources to implement the optimum processes, which is where businesses like ours come in and can help.

What has sometimes happened in the past is that people go crazy about the latest trends and want to adopt something new in their business, then decisions are made in very subjective ways, without supporting evidence.

Invest earlier

Ideas may be developed, then they undergo several iterations, and lots of financial resource is committed only to find later that they’ve been doing the wrong thing and there’s no room in the market for what they’re developing.

But, because they’ve already committed resource they have to find a way of pushing it. If they had invested earlier in really understanding the opportunity, then money and time could have been saved. What’s needed at the early stage is a thorough, solution -agnostic approach.

Knowing when to bring in your consumer insight tools is really important. If you develop lots of ideas, then bringing the consumer in to tell you if they like them, well, that’s a little bit too late. 

Why other sectors are leading the way

Personal care is another sector where things do change and there is quite a lot of innovation in packaging. Take shampoo: there’s lots of development there all the time, whether it’s the opening and closing mechanics, the texture, the shape.

Dove changes it’s structural packaging regularly. And that frequency is incomprehensible to other sectors. It’s about knowing that they have to reward and retain their customers – and that you don’t necessarily have to change the formulation of the product to do that (which is often a more expensive exercise than changing the packaging.)

And a brand like Dove wants to attract new people to the category and the brand. If you want to grow your customer base then you need you need to invest, and packaging is an obvious way to do that.

Lynx also innovate regularly because they understand that the whole experience of the brand is wrapped up in their packaging. And that’s a whole different mentality from what happens – all to often – in food.

It’s unbelievable that we can still buy food in a can that doesn’t have a ring pull! But this is partly about the value that the consumer applies to the category. With personal care it is different as we’re all prepared to pay a bit more for something that makes us feel clean and beautiful. There is a lot more emotionality in that category than there is in food.

Where is the innovation in food and drink in packaging?....Read the full story on the FDIN website here

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