Package Deal


Here's potential good news for nutritional product manufacturers. You may have more than the proverbial three seconds to persuade that personal trainer to buy your 60-count bottle of ginseng on display at Walgreens. She may take more like five to 10 seconds.

Here's potential good news for nutritional product manufacturers. You may have more than the proverbial three seconds to persuade that personal trainer to buy your 60-count bottle of ginseng on display at Walgreens. She may take more like five to 10 seconds.

If those few extra seconds are still not enough to make you put down the 100-count aspirin bottle, there are ways to ensure that your product has the best chance of taking its rightful place in medicine cabinets, kitchen cupboards, and gym bags. Packaging that projects freshness, strength, environmental awareness, care in labeling, and an almost telepathic understanding of the customer you're targeting will help to make that instant connection.

Whether it's three, five, or 10 seconds, several packaging and labeling experts agree that consumers do indeed make purchasing decisions within an eye blink or two after first seeing a product on the shelf.

'It is literally at times a matter of a few seconds,' says Bob Scherer, vice president/partner of CL&D Digital (Delafield, WI), a package and label printing firm. Terry Allen, an artist and industrial designer who works with Alpha Packaging (St. Louis), says that people are so inundated by information every waking minute that 'if it doesn't get you within the first 10 seconds, I see people walking away.' Allen, who also consults with Web designers, notes that a home page must grab a viewer's attention 'within an eight- to 10-second period. If you're not getting them, they're moving on.'


There is obviously no one-size-fits-all design pack that suits every nutritional product. How do you know what design elements will attract customers? One method is to do a small-batch comparison of the same item using slightly different packaging, says Scherer, who claims that the package front accounts for 70% of a customer's buying decision. CL&D Digital's rapid printing capability enables the company to consult with a client, learn the packaging parameters for its particular product, and quickly print a small label run.

'We create the images, we make it real, put it out, and watch the consumers' response,' Scherer says. One client placed a 1500-item sample run of a new product on a store shelf after making one simple change to the label, coloring some blue and others purple. 'Males were coming to the blue,' he says. The client 'simply saw what was happening' and decided on the basis of its observations to ramp up to full production with the blue-label product.

CL&D uses Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto, CA) Indigo digital printing technology, which is faster than conventional printing, Scherer says. Although it may cost a penny or two more per label and may be inapplicable in some instances, he sees this digital test run as 'almost like an insurance policy.' Companies marketing new products can manufacture 'a few thousand, throw them out there, and watch what happens.'

Scherer asserts that this approach is more cost-effective than producing millions of the items hoping that 'this is the one that sells.' The sample-run method offers the same product with different UPC numbers, he notes, and clients discover ''we sold more of 01 than 02. Now we know how to go to market.'' Scherer also foresees a growing demand for small print runs targeting regional markets, personalized products driven by customer requests, and bilingual packaging.

Hyland's Inc. (Los Angeles) is one company that recently added bilingual labels to its homeopathic infant medicines. The redesigned labels now include Spanish instructions for the growing U.S. Hispanic market. Thao Le, marketing director, says that in redesigning packaging and instructions for Hyland's Teething Tablets and Hyland's Colic Tablets 'we had to consider both imagery and language' in order to appeal to both the mass market and the largest minority group in the United States. According to the company, the U.S. Census Bureau (Washington, DC) says that 25% of the babies born in the United States are Hispanic.

The redesign raised several considerations related to both imagery and language, Le says. 'Does the image of a teething ring translate across cultures? Does the image of a swaddled baby communicate colic relief? We collaborated with market research firm New American Dimensions to test different package designs and elements that would appeal to Hispanic consumers, while keeping our trademark pink and blue gradient background that our customers have known for a dozen years. For a segment of Hispanic consumers, we find that bilingual labeling generates a positive emotional connection with the brand because it signals inclusiveness.'


That signal must spark a connection between the product and the prospective buyer, notes Joe Pirc, director of retail channel marketing for Tetra Pak (Vernon Hills, IL). The company, which specializes in paperboard carton packaging, aims at environmentally conscious consumers, particularly in its work with the juice industry.

Educating customers is a key function in creating that spark in this market segment. Says Pirc of the consumer's purchasing decision: 'I think a lot of it depends on the functionality of the product.' The industry, which traditionally sold juices in circular PET containers, has shifted toward square packaging, 'which helps print functionality, and at the same time helps support cube efficiency on the shelf,' Pirc notes.

The square shape 'allows you to put more products on the shelf.' It's there that an 'eye-appealing uniqueness'-some element that adds 'pop,' as Pirc puts it-captures the customer's eye. 'The shelf is important,' he says.

Tetra Pak has determined that 'when you educate customers on the benefits of packaging, whether it's social, environmental, or functional,' it leads to positive trial and repeat purchases, Pirc says. A recent launch of Kroger (Cincinnati) tomatoes in Tetra Pak packaging involved the use of a 'talking media device to educate the consumer' as part of the marketing campaign, he points out.

Strong elements to use may include a recycling symbol 'or something that has meaning and that draws attention to the package' such as a 'visual label stamp of approval,' Pirc says. Tetra Pak market studies show that consumers are particularly drawn to packaging that denotes taste, freshness, and convenience.

'One of the challenges we're looking at overall is how do you educate the customer that's been buying canned foods for 60 or 70 years?' Pirc says. 'That comes back to taste, convenience, quality, freshness, and the whole sustainability factor.' Pirc believes the latter attribute can be a selling point because Tetra Pak's packaging is made from a renewable resource in contrast to PET, for example, which comes from fossil fuels.

Anthony Gentile, director of art and marketing for Xela Pack (Saline, MI), asserts it's very important for nutritional product packaging to display ingredients, calling it an idea that 'lends credibility to the company.' Xela Pack specializes in environmentally sensitive product sampling and trial packaging and has done a lot of samples for supplements and unit-dose packages as well as POP items. Gentile notes: 'If something doesn't look professional, even in sample form, I don't think the consumer is going to be quick to ingest a product that they feel is coming from a company they can't trust.'

Gentile says 'it's always good' to display distinctive logos that set your company apart from others, particularly information showing that a product is 'USDA organic.' He's observed that successful products 'have very eye-catching graphics that draw attention to the benefits right off the bat, like 'Super Energy Booster!' Or they use words like 'energy' and 'health.'' Xela Pack works with many vitamin supplement manufacturers, and Gentile's impression is that technical information appears to add credibility to the package.

As an example of hitting your target market, Gentile recalls a recently completed sample promotion for an energy supplement manufacturer. 'They had a photo of one of the Detroit Pistons on it. I think their target market was busy younger men who were physically active in sports, so obviously they were going for that demographic, and they fit it.'

Without doubt, there's a bit of psychology at work in designing nutraceutical packages that sell, says Marny Bielefeldt, marketing manager for Alpha Packaging, which specializes in blow-molded PET and HDPE bottles and jars. From the standpoint of ingredients 'there is usually a high degree of consistency and a high degree of quality,' she points out. Certain packaging requirements are standard as well. Light-sensitive products, for example, require a bottle of white, amber, or some other opaque color.

'Then, when things are all even,' Bielefeldt says, 'that's when you have an opportunity to snag them with a better-looking package.' The goal is to grab the attention of customers with a product that looks as though it's of a higher quality than others on the shelf but is 'essentially at the same price point.' Among the options are elements that 'might add a significant amount of perceived value when they don't add a significant amount of cost.'

For example, some Alpha Packaging customers use silver packaging, or they draw attention to a tablet of an interesting color. One customer highlights its red-and-black tablet with a clear bottle and a corresponding label of the same colors as the product. Shrink-wraps using a stock component or metallic closures are other options. The latter, in particular, 'can dramatically increase your shelf presence.' Bielefeldt says.

Special closures can increase your costs, however, Bielefeldt points out, adding that manufacturers should always balance the cost-benefit ratio. She warns that going overboard with extra colorants or a proprietary packaging style can add to costs and 'kick you out of that level playing field.' Using color for small product runs may not make good business sense because there's usually a surcharge of approximately 10% to purge the production line unless a certain quantity is reached, she says.

There are ways to keep costs down. One method is to modify stock components with the aforementioned shrink-wrap, for instance. Bielefeldt says one customer wanted the look of a proprietary design that Alpha Packaging had made for a personal care company. The packaging company was unable to sell it to others once the personal care client was done with it but created its Tuscany Jar from a version of the original customer's molds. Creating new tools for Alpha Packaging's equipment line could represent 'a substantial investment' requiring a run of 'several million pieces' in order to amortize production costs, Bielefeldt says.


From a blow-molding perspective, bad package design primarily centers on form and function, Bielefeldt says. The bottle may be too top heavy and fall over, or the container may have an opening that makes it hard for the consumer to get to the ingredients. Alpha Packaging meets regularly with 300 or so of its top distributors' sales reps to find out 'what's selling and why,' she says.

Le of Hyland's notes it's important to 'make all pertinent product information legible from a distance of three feet from the shelf.' In addition, copy on products marketed for senior citizens should be legible. 'Very small fonts frustrate and turn customers away,' she emphasizes. Scherer of CL&D Digital agrees with Le's latter point. Noting that he turns 51 in August, he jokes, 'I like bigger type.'

Scherer praises Clif Bar (Berkeley, CA) packaging as an example of good nutritional product design, calling it a 'beautiful package. It gives you the feel of buying nature.' One design flaw to avoid is the misuse of the fin-seal package that runs down the spine of a wrapped product 'like a fish.' The seal is designed to fold one way, but if the fin is too big on the back the product looks sloppy, he says.

Another design mistake occurs when images are reduced from 8 × 11 in. to fit on a label. 'The inner parts of an apple pie shrunk to 2 × 2 in. don't nearly look as good as 12 × 12 in.,' Scherer notes. Packaging with these types of flaws commit the cardinal sin of actually repelling the consumer instead of reaching the Holy Grail of creating or retaining brand loyalty.

'Once in a see this design and say, 'my God, what were they thinking?'' says Scherer.

Allen, the industrial designer, bemoans a lack of creativity in package design and says the packaging industry 'is very conservative. Most people who come to me say, 'Give me something different but don't make it too different.'' However, certain production methods, materials, and equipment lines limit what designers can do, such as place handles on bottles, Allen points out.

Tetra Pak's Pirc says there are 20,000–30,000 products introduced annually in the United States. Only 15% of them succeed, he adds. Can customers of the nutritional product segment of those tens of thousands glance at that ginseng bottle and say, 'You had me at 'hello'?'

'A distinctive design sets a product apart on a crowded shelf of competitors,' Le emphasizes. 'Packaging design must communicate a product's function as well as elicit an emotional connection to the brand.'

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