Consumers Go For Good Looks — In Packaging

Talk about “the total package.” The key ways to get consumers to grab your beverage over a competitor’s is to have a good looking, functional package — but also to pay attention to recyclability. That package’s “green” qualities will be important a little ways down that line. At least, that’s the conclusion drawn in a recent study by technical research firm Pira International.

Pira examined the functional, differential, ethical, financial, and visual roles that packaging plays in brand strength. The study utilized the findings from an online survey of brand managers in 30 consumer product markets who were asked to rate key packaging performance attributes on a scale of 1 (least important)  to 10 (most important).

While those different package attributes that were polled on work together to build brand strength, it’s those visual and functional attributes such as recognizability, label color, ease of use and recyclability that were found to be most importance across all market categories.

“With the wide range of products on the market – and places to buy them – the shopping experience has changed.” said Chris Barela, a co-owner of 3 Line Design, a creative firm based in Irvine, CA that specializes in food and beverage packaging. “People are acquainting quality of design with quality of what’s inside.”

“Consumers are drawn to a visual first. In aisles with a potpourri of colors and buzzwords screaming on the front of labels, it’s better to just keep it simple and appealing,” Barela continued. “You’re much better off having an actual picture of a fruit on your package than to describe it [in words]. Once consumers actually pick up a product, that is when they can start looking for specifics.”

Take the coffee fruit beverage start-up, Bai, which has received acclaim for its simple, but sharp, packaging. Bai’s basic white label focuses on its company logo and for each flavor, an artist’s rendering of the respective fruit infused with the beverage.

But when it comes to packaging innovation in the beverage industry, the study found that sustainability and cost constraints will be key goals in the coming years. Need an early validation of this research? How about the recent introduction of several eco-friendly bottles – like PepsiCo’s 100 percent plant-based PET bottle and Naked Juice’s 100 percent post-consumer recycled bottle – both designed to reduce carbon footprint through cost and sourcing efficiency.

Still, the overarching conclusions of the study indicated that differentiation is key a brand’s ability to transcend its category and competitors.

“You have to stand out.” Barela said, and as an example cited work his firm has done on behalf of a new brand of organic coconut water. “We told them, ‘Don’t have blue in your packaging.’ If you see a section of coconut waters in a grocery store, [you’ll notice] that every single product is blue. Why not be green or white, both elements of organic and healthy living? Of course there is a risk there, but you have to do something to differentiate yourself.”