In the U.S. market, flexible packaging formats largely comprise refill packs for household cleaners, where product is transferred from the flexible pouch into the original bottle or plastic container. While refill packaging continues to grow, touting material and cost savings for both the manufacturer and end consumer, few brands have positioned the flexible refill pouch as the primary package.
While flexible packaging receives fairly high marks from consumers for portability and ease of use, consumers do not readily identify flexible packaging as environmentally responsible. The format is largely out-performed by cartons and ranked similarly when compared to plastic bottles. Despite significant reductions in plastic, consumers are widely unaware of the format’s material efficiency.
Flexible packaging also faces the hurdle of being mostly non-recyclable due to its multilayer structures; a trade-off that can be perceived negatively by consumers. While the industry pushes toward recyclable flexible substrates, brands looking to introduce flexible packaging formats will need to educate consumers regarding material reductions and how it is more efficient compared to other packs on the shelf.
Among environmentally responsible perception challenges, flexible packaging also faces the hurdle of being associated with lower quality. While the pack type is considered to be more modern, only 9 percent of consumers associate flexible packaging with “premium.” With more than one third of household shoppers saying they can judge the quality of the product by the look of the package, flexible packaging may be considered inferior to products retailing in rigid plastic containers. With only 13 percent of consumers finding flexible packs to be visually appealing, it will be crucial that graphics and branding speak for the product and grab attention at point of purchase.
While flexible packaging formats will require sufficient communication as well as attention-grabbing graphics or shapes to garner consideration from consumers, the pack type has sizeable potential within the household category. With consumers already seeking out environmentally responsible options, flexible packaging can win with strong positioning and enhanced functionalities.
Falling well below squeezable bottles and spray bottles for perceived ease of use, flexible packaging must evolve beyond the material reduction message and provide functionalities on par with plastic bottle offerings.
Dispensing features, especially those that prevent waste and improve usage, can elevate flexible packaging beyond the standard pouch offerings now on the market.