The State of Packaging – 2015 (Interview 1)
A few years ago I interviewed a group in the packaging industry to get their viewpoints on the state of packaging. There were some varied thoughts and opinions and I felt that now would be a good time to revisit the subject with some new questions.
So to start the interview I present Matt Barnes, the designer who did the first interview last time. Here are the new questions with Matt's take on them.
1. If one significant factor in packaging has changed in the last 3 years, what would it be?
I'll use the word "simplicity" because that pretty much captures the trend going on in packaging right now. Under that umbrella resides many characteristics such as packaging that is efficient, reusable and/or easily recyclable, but also includes graphics and branding that is dialed back a bit. A genuine brand with trust-worthy products and simple marketing make them more relatable than the brands whose entire marketing approach relies on creating a false reality that is unattainable or unwanted.
2. Do you see pouch packaging (flexible packaging) as a viable replacement for folding cartons?
Depends on the product that is being packaged as well as the brand that would implement this style of packaging. For such a long time pouches and bags have been looked at as just an inexpensive way to pack goods with the expected trade off of consumers perceiving the product of brand to also be cheap. With the simplicity movement, though, I think there's a shift in that perception because consumers are viewing that packaging format more today than ever as being simple and efficient. And premium brands utilizing the flexible packaging format for some of their products helps further blur the line and make it more acceptable as a packaging format.
3. Among the various forms of laundry detergent packaging there are plastic containers with small colorful pods containing detergent. Recently these have been ingested by children and pose a serious health risk. Should the package be redesigned with stronger security measures in place?
As both a parent and a packaging designer I probably view this from more of a middle ground stance. I think the solutions to the problem require both the product companies that produce these pods as well as the parents to take necessary steps. From a product side, I understand how the use of vibrant colors can help tie into a company's brand, but I disagree in it's importance when they already have the primary packaging doing the brand's work. Add in the incorrect visual connection kids are making with the pods in confusing them as candy and that's enough reason to dial back or even remove colors from the gels inside the pods. I'd even go as far as suggesting they discontinue the use of clear pods and instead use opaque colors, which I think would further help remove young children's interest in them. One final measure packaging companies must do to ensure this issue becomes null is to implement any and all tamper-proof features on the primary outer packaging that are truly child-safe. As a parent, though, I do think it's incredibly important that mom and dads accept some responsibility with this issue, as well. Parents make important choices daily in what we should buy and bring into our homes. Most of us have a pretty solid grasp on following our instincts when choosing food, toys and other products that our children can or will interact at with at home. And if that's not good enough we still have instant access to product reviews via today's mobile information highway that can help shape our final decisions. Products as simple as even laundry detergent should still pass through the parent filter and if a red flag comes up for any reason then it's best to move on.
4. We see chewing gum go from simple wrappers to bigger packaging with more stylish graphics. With the product basically still the same, how does simple and basic packaging compete?
From my perspective, I think the packaging style shift for chewing gum brands was done for two reasons: 1) use uncommon rigid packaging to differentiate themselves from the blue bloods of the market, and 2) solve the age old issue of gum becoming damaged while still in the typical thin wrapper packaging. For simple packaging to find it's place it needs to address one or both of those. Will a simple brand refresh and an overload of marketing help? Maybe. To pull off the 2nd attribute of better protection would definitely be more challenging, but I think the answer may lie in what is being done in flexible packaging already. A slightly more rigid and protective wrapper or pouch could do wonders for maintaining the gum inside pockets or purses, and overall it could also tie into the trend already mentioned of packaging simplicity.
5. I see a number of juice boxes and pouches competing in the children's category. Do you see winner in this market?
Switching into parent mode on this one, and the clear winner in our house is Apple & Eve brand juices. It's of course more about the contents on the inside than the packaging, but I do think their use of Tetra Pak packaging is well done. And their branding is easily recognizable on shelf and through any of their product offerings.
6. Now that vapor, or non-smoke tobacco products are taking off, what role do you see packaging playing?
I feel like I'm still on the outside looking in when it comes to "vape" e-cigarettes. I really know very little about it, but it's undeniable that it's a huge movement with plenty of marketing everywhere you look or listen. For all brands in this growing new product segment it's incredibly important to find a visual identity that can be maintained through this initial transition into becoming mainstream period. Become a recognizable brand through branding, graphics, marketing and especially on shelf at retail for consumers who use vape products. This will help build and maintain brand loyalty which help ensure survival while others fall by the wayside. In order to maintain a consistent visual identity the packaging will need to be trend-proof or at least somewhat flexible to fit within trends as the consumer market for the product shifts. That may mean taking a more conservative approach versus a design that is already on the edge of trends.
7. Today’s electronic market is flooded with smartphones and some of the packaging has gotten fairly complex. Why is it then that Apple’s iPhone packaging has become simpler and more minimal? Does their packaging not play a key role anymore?
I really just think other companies are trying to hard in an attempt to create this overwhelming box-opening "experience" with consumers. That trend does still exist, however it's all about execution and people can see through the circus act if a package is trying too hard. The thing with Apple's packaging that sometimes gets overlooked is is just how genuine the package is. It doesn't try too hard to compete for the consumers attention or try to be more than what it is.
8. With all the coffee we consume through venues like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, should we expect these companies to look into more permanent drinking cups and lead the way in doing away with disposable cups? Or charge more for such?
Since my wife works at Starbucks, I decided to ask her opinion on this before I added my own. Afterall, this is her reality almost daily. We both agreed that of the coffee businesses out there Starbucks by far makes the most effort to give reusable options to its consumers. They've had multiple strategies and goals to address this issue for years with mixed results. Starting in 2011 they've had a goal to serve 5% of their in-store beverages in personal tumblers by 2015, although previously their goal was 25%. It does appear that 25% was a bit ambitious even by Starbucks standards, and they have implemented new strategies such as attaining 100% recyclable cups, which itself is met with numerous challenges. Even a small shift in the percentage of cups used from disposable to reusable does make an impact and should be applauded, though. And it's hard to deny Starbucks offers the best quality and most diverse reusable cups options compared to Dunkin and others. From the $1 reusable cup option to more expensive tumblers, those reusable options allow you to have your cup of coffee further personalized and usually at a discount. But at the end of the day it all resides on the end user's ability to make a socially responsible choice. Instead of choosing the convenience of a disposable cup, keep a reusable tumbler handy. It's a personal choice and does require some new habits to be formed, so the question then becomes what role can Saturbucks and other companies play in helping that change. I don't believe adding a "cup tax" would do it, at least for Starbucks drinkers as they're already accustomed to paying more $$$ for a cup of coffee. It may be as simple as a targeted marketing campaign to promote the use of reusable cups and what kind of impact that will have on our environment. It's a tough call as to what further steps a company can make, but in the end it's still very much dependent on the everyday coffee drinker to make the right choice. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."
9. What material do you see that is on the forefront in the packaging industry?
Plastic + bio-resin blends are really intriguing. Consider how much a consumer uses and then disposes of plastic packaging daily. It's overwhelmingly the material of choice for so many products. And despite the growth in awareness and implementation of recycling plastics, there's still so much that is placed in our local landfills daily. Our plastic dependency is something that needs to be addressed sooner than later. At some point we're going to have to find a different way to do things while not jeopardizing the protection of our products before and during use by consumers. I think the answer to the problem lies in bio-reinforced polymers where the materials act like plastic but bring ecological benefits that our current plastics don't provide. One of the leaders in bio-reinforced polymers is an innovative company I've worked alongside on projects recently called Footprint. Their Core + material has the ability to reduce the amount of plastic in an existing package by as much as 70% while also reducing overall material costs. And then there's the story behind the material itself that is genuine and can be shared as a positive attribute with consumers instead of the typical green-washing we see nowadays. For more information on Footprint's Core + check here: http://www.footprintus.com/what-we-make/bio-reinforced-polymers/core-bio-reinforced-polymers/
10. What is the least desirable package you have seen or experienced?
Pretty much any toy packaging today. Since Christmas is still fresh on the mind I can definitely say that the pilfer-proof techniques being implemented by toy companies for any and all toys has gone over-the-top. I know it's primarily being driven by the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world, and to a point I guess I can understand because theft affects their bottom lines more than the everyday consumer knows, but I would really like to see some attention focused on the negative benefits it is also causing. The security measures on even a cheap $10 doll are beyond ridiculous. For kids, it's removing the joy of opening a package and immediately being able to play with a toy. For parents, it's adding unwanted stress and frustration as we spend an absurd amount of time hunting down tools and then intricately having to remove every little thing that is securing the toy to the inside of the package...all while having an impatient kid lurking over our shoulders anxiously waiting to have the toy in their hands. Every minute saved counts. Trust me. How about toy companies stop acting like they've got Swarovski jewelry inside their packaging and start caring a little more about the box-opening experience kids and their parents have during the initial interaction with a toy. Simplicity in practice.