A Marriage of Convenience
By Pauline Tingas
Smart marketers offer innovative packaging that simplifies consumers’ increasingly busy lives.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. But these days, on the packaging front, it’s convenience that gives birth to most innovation. The makers of food, beverage, personal care and other household products are pushing harder than ever to make their products more portable, easier to use, ultra space efficient and less of a time drain on busy consumers.
The result is growing numbers of packaged goods—from spray-on foundation to single-serve coffee pods—that are entering the marketplace with the objective of selling consumers on convenience.
It’s a smart response to larger lifestyle trends. Increased single-person households, greater numbers of women in the workforce, longer work hours, increased commuting times and greater ranks of empty nesters (along with their need for ease of use) all have brand owners scrambling for new ways to simplify their customers’ increasingly on-the-go lives.
Experts say packaging that successfully responds to the call holds incredible value, with the potential for it to drive purchasing behavior, enhance loyalty and distinguish or revive a brand.
“The basic commoditization of everything has taken away differentiation that products used to be able to contribute on their own,” says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a New York-based research firm specializing in customer loyalty measurements. “People are now looking to internal values for satisfaction.”
He says convenience as a consumer value has grown tremendously in recent years, pointing to a recent Brand Keys survey that found it currently contributes 18 percent to product adoption and loyalty. “Convenience has all of a sudden grown to a point where marketers can’t overlook it,” he says.
Though for some categories, convenience is nothing new. From the days of TV dinners on through to juice boxes, water bottles and the current slew of ready-to-eat, ready-to-heat packaging, food and beverage makers have been simplifying the way Americans live (and eat).
Take WP Beverage Partners’ new line of coffees for example. Just launched in January through Kroger stores, the Wolfgang Puck-branded coffees are housed in a 10-ounce plastic self-heating container—what creator OnTech Delaware says is the first of its kind in North America.
The container, which is manufactured by Sonoco, activates at the touch of a button, heats to 145 degrees in six minutes and stays hot for a half-hour. A plastic “comfort cap” keeps sensitive lip tissue from coming in contact with the heated metal top.
According to Jim Berntsen, OnTech’s vice president of sales, the container’s portability, ease of use (it’s a one-touch operation), and cupholder-friendly structure make it simple for consumers to incorporate it into their daily lives—at home, in the car or at work; while traveling or camping; and even during outdoor sporting events. “It’s going to be an easier way to anytime, anywhere drinking,” he says.
And while the self-heating coffee line looks like it’ll fare well (WP Beverage’s CEO Bob Groux says they are sold out through April), it’s not the same story for every brand that puts out a convenience shingle.
Ask the Campbell Soup Company. It learned a hard lesson with its launch of Soup for One single-serve packs in the 1980s. Though the packaging concept was on-trend, experts say the positioning and copy points reminded consumers of their solitary status and, as a result, the product failed in the marketplace. Campbell’s got it right, though, by targeting and speaking to the on-the-go consumer with its more recent Soup at Hand line ($75 million in first-year sales says it’s so).
Diana Twede, assistant professor of packaging at Michigan State University, says packaging innovations sometimes only need to enhance consumer perceptions of “convenience” to significantly impact a product’s success. “It’s amazing how easy it is to make soup,” she says, “but Soup at Hand has become its own trend.”
Instead of soup, cereal is the target for hand-held consumption with Kellogg’s new Drink ‘n Crunch, offered through the “grab and go” foodservice industry, convenience store retailers and convenience store distributors beginning this April.
The concept is simple: a rigid plastic cup houses the cereal, while an outer cup is what the consumer fills with milk; snap the two together and the product is ready to consume. Cereal and milk only mix in your mouth, preventing the combination from getting soggy.
Commuters are the obvious targets here. And Metaphase Design Group, who is credited with the structural design, gave lots of thought to the specific needs of drivers: the outer cup is shaped so consumers can see over it while motoring; and an ergonomically designed mouthpiece ensures a good fit that prevents spills through minor bumps on the road.
Food and beverage packagers aren’t all designing for on-the-go consumption. But even for meals enjoyed at home, the packaging trend is to simplify and speed preparation times. Jennie-O’s Oven Ready Whole Turkey is one such offer. Packaged in a carrying bag converted by Curwood, the freezer-to-oven product makes slippery, shrink-wrapped turkeys a thing of the past. Along with easier carrying capabilities, the package offers a quicker preparation time with its inner cook-in bag, which eliminates the need to wash the turkey and delivers oven heat evenly to the frozen bird.
Beyond food and beverage
Convenience packaging, however, is not just a food and beverage play. The personal care industry is also making a go of it with introductions like Aquafresh’s Floss ‘N’ Cap, which likely caused competing brands one of those ‘why didn’t I think of that’ moments when it launched last summer. By integrating a floss dispenser into the toothpaste tube’s cap, Aquafresh was able to differentiate its product and add a convenience element for consumers trying to follow dentist recommendations to floss each time they brush.
Cosmetics packaging has reflected a similar “bundling” mindset. There are eye shadows packed in multiples and lipstick/lip gloss 2-in-1 combinations. But Urban Decay’s Hot Box Mini Makeup Kit takes a fresh approach to the concept. Just 1.5-inches tall, the kit houses a mirror, lip gloss, eye shadow, mascara and concealer in an all-in-one pack designed to pass as a cigarette lighter (a metallic silver finish adds to the illusion).
“Consumers love that the packaging is small and discreet. They can fit it into a tiny purse, stick it in a pocket or tuck it in their bra,” says Wende Zomnir, executive creative director for Urban Decay. “I think the idea of providing a lot of different items in a portable, micro package is definitely an industry trend we led.”
Like a Swiss Army knife for the beauty set, Hot Box incorporates pin hinges at the lid and base so users can flip each component to access the essentials inside.
Household cleaners are also getting into the convenience mix with innovations like S.C. Johnson & Son’s Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner.
Designed as a time-saver, Scrubbing Bubbles’ new package goes one step further than the current range of scrub-less shower cleaners by bringing the process down to a touch of a button. The unit, which hangs from the showerhead, activates a sprayer that spins 360 degrees to cover a six-foot shower/tub with cleaner. A convenient time-delay start ensures that it’s the shower getting sprayed, not the user.
About those problems...
Regardless of the category, it’s likely that most brand managers would appreciate the boost that comes from a convenience offer. But there are challenges to consider.
Development costs, for one, are almost always higher for convenience packaging, though industry experts say the investment shouldn’t hold a brand back.
“The key is to find that ‘sweet spot’ where the added cost doesn’t overpower the convenience factor for consumers,” says Peter Clarke, president of Fairfield, Conn.-based Product Ventures.
How a convenience-specific package plays out, though, may have something to do with the brand’s position in the category. John Lombardi, founder of Strategic Retail Development, says mass brands tend to be more creative with packaging because they have the advantage of the mass market. “If you’re going to be innovative, you’ve got to sell a lot of units,” he says. “You almost have to be a mass brand.”
Another challenge in developing convenience packaging is the aggressive push by retailers for pilfer-proof packaging. “Because of shrinkage concerns, they make you over-package a product, which can be frustrating for the consumer to open,” Lombardi says.
Manufacturing limitations can also put a cap on innovative thought. That’s why Javier Verdura, vice president of design for Product Ventures, says his firm always recommends visiting the manufacturing plant so they can view line efficiencies. “Then there’s no risk of having ideas that can’t be manufactured,” he says.
Sooner than later
Despite the challenges, it’s evident that more and more consumer packaged goods companies are embracing convenience packaging as a strategic element in the product marketing mix. And the slew of recent success stories only goes to demonstrate that those who understand the impact of “convenience” on consumer purchasing decisions will see opportunity for increased market share and stronger loyalty toward the brand.
But like anything, industry sources say, the time to act is now. According to Passikoff, “The window of opportunity is open for increasingly fewer moments in time.” BP
The author, Pauline Tingas, is the Senior Editor of BRANDPackaging magazine.
Where to go for more information...
Customer loyalty metrics. At Brand Keys, contact Robert Passikoff at212.532.6028 x12 or email@example.com. Self-heating container technology. At OnTech, contact Jim Berntsen at 858.486.1945 or www.ontech.com. Handheld product design. At Metaphase Design Group, contact Bryce G. Rutter at 314.721.0700, x123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Flexible on-the-go packaging. At Curwood Inc., contact Melissa Schumacher at 920.303.7300 or email@example.com. Retail/product consulting and design. At Strategic Retail Development Corp., contact John Lombardi at 516.797.2121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A NEW ERA IN FOUNDATION
A package doesn’t have to go to great lengths to offer convenience. Sometimes, it’s a matter of thinking about an existing package type in a new way. Consider Classified Cosmetics, which set the beauty industry abuzz when it introduced ERA Face as the first spray-on foundation in 2002.
Company founder Yolanda Halston says ERA’s aluminum aerosol can cuts the 15-minute application time of traditional foundations down to just seconds. “With this spray-on technology, it’s a two-second mist that offers an easy polished look without fuss,” she says.
According to Halston, ERA’s 2004 sales increased 200 percent over 2003, and the line now consists of 18 unique products, with an unnamed launch planned for this spring.