Online growth and packaging reconsidered

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

2019 looks like another big step forward for e-commerce, across categories. The final statistics might not quite in yet and the growth rates might not be as huge as a few years ago but the share of all retail is definitely growing, with consequences for the entire value chain.

One estimation is that, globally, the total growth of e-commerce in 2019 was 21% taking the online share of total retail sales up to a staggering 14%. The numbers vary strongly between categories and we are looking forward for the dust to settle and to get the final numbers for 2019.

As brand owner you respond to this shift in purchase patterns and adjust the offer, products and packaging to online shopping. One main consequence from a packaging/logistics point of view is that products are no longer shipped neatly stacked on pallets protected by secondary packaging.

Online shopping means the opposite for a shipped product. It could be sent alone to be delivered at a doorstep or be dispatched together with random products to a pick-up point, probably both. In any case the product will need more protection than the standard primary packaging can provide.

The situation is improved either by adding more and protective packaging, changing material from glass to plastic or why not design the packaging and product for e-commerce, or omnichannel, from the beginning.

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

Unilever has decided to make all their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To get there they are, among other things, offering shoppers refillable containers. This also works well for online shopping where the smaller sized refill units are saving weight and cost.
Cif household cleaning products are offered as concentrated refill capsules for the original spray bottle. Just add water and hey presto the product is ready for use. Unilever is also part of the Loop initiative where a whole range of products are offered online in refillable containers.

Another similar product concept from a leading brand owner is Pepsico’s Drinkfinity, also an example of a concentrated product sold in shipping friendly containers. The concept consists of juice-based pods and a reusable water bottle. Just add some H2O. This is probably also a move to meet a shift in consumer demand for more healthy products. Nevertheless Drinkfinity was launched online where the product has an e-commerce site of its own, just like any other direct-to-consumer brand.

Perso is a L’Oreal concept that takes this a step further. Perso is a device that actually makes personalised skincare products for you, in your home, and is powered by Artificial Intelligence. From the three cartridges contained in the machine it makes unique skincare, lipstick and foundation products, just for you. All personalised as you have fed the thing with pictures of yourself, location and your preferences. This is what you can call reusable and smart packaging.

The concept of concentrated, space saving, light weight products has many positive sides. It saves cost, it is a great way to streamline online sales logistics and maybe it even gives the consumer the satisfaction of a “homemade” product.

Small is great

Small scale production seems to always face the same challenge. What to do for packaging? The alternatives are expensive with inflexible conditions and hard to find. That is for starters.

anitas balm

Is 3D printing technology one of the answers? Yes, says Anita Redd who chose to 3D print a unique packaging solution for her product Anita’s Balm. She was having trouble finding a suitable jar and came up with the idea of making one herself. Using 3D technology and a biodegradable material she came up with a unique jar for her product. This gives her product an edge at POS and solves her problem to find a supplier of suitable packaging. As a small scale producer you simply don’t need as many units as the full scale producer.

It might not be for everyone but it will sure be helpful for some.There are no shortcuts for the small scale producer that only needs limited quantities of packaging material. 3D printing is a solution and digital printing is another useful technology for the scale challenged producer. It opens up for personalized packaging or at least unique labels at a reasonable cost.

Can packaging persuade you to eat more insects, bugs and creepy-crawlers?

Now that’s an interesting question. I would say yes it can and if you throw in a better word for these creatures you will increase your chances to build a market.

In a FAO report from last year it’s made clear that we need to get used to the idea of getting protein and nutrition from insects. As a matter of fact crickets have more vitamins and minerals and as much protein as chicken. And that with a much smaller carbon footprint. Not bad.

This sounds great but is still in most consumers eyes, appalling. It is however estimated that as many as 2 billion people are already into the habit of eating insects. The challenge is to get a foothold with insect based food on the markets in the developed world.  There are a few brave suppliers but without a general distribution it’s hard. To build up the demand I think you need to leave the packaging design often used today. That is with illustrations of what’s inside. A picture is worth a thousand words… so be careful with the message.



I think that the best example I have seen so far, from a packaging point of view, is what they are doing at SexyFood i Paris. They are using the good old food can but smarting it up with a label that communicates luxury and gourmet food. Black is the colour and some gold added for effect. No illustrations of the worms, crickets and bugs you will find inside. They are even playing down the content by naming their products with numbers rather than names. Stewed worms with added cockroach or number 9. Which sounds better?

I don’t think their products yet has made a big difference but they do show the way when it comes to packaging design. Use the power of packaging, but aim before firing.




Making stupid packaging smart…?

A bar code reader is not quite breaking news but it can still be used in interesting ways. I think that already in the early 90-ies that Electrolux had a concept fridge where bar codes were scanned and the fridge content was updated and made available. The result could be used for inventory (first in, still here?), cooking or shopping lists.

HikuHiku wants to support your supermarket experience by making the tedious preparing of the shopping list a bit more swift. Now this is an app that reads the bar codes of your empties at home and translates to product names to add to your list. This doesn’t make the packaging smarter but it makes smart use of packaging. This must be second best and is not a bad idea when you think of it. There are so many brilliant concepts and ideas for smart and intelligent packaging out there. Very few of them actually happen. There are many obstacles, cost is one. Then this could prove to be an example of a way to smarten up packaging by introducing and using parallel tools that adds functionality to products. It could even be that you empty the content from a pack into a jar or similar with a built in function. It can be an actual best-before-use time/temperature indicator or anything really. You would avoid the unit cost aspect as you can use my imaginary jar over and over again.

Another app using the barcode in an interesting way is recently introduced by EWG under Ewgthe name Food Scores. This is a bit more controversial as they have rated 80,000 food and beverage products according to what’s inside the stuff. You can with the app scan a product and get, via a very neat interface, a rather detailed analysis of the content and a number between 1 and 10. This might sound all good but is in my view a highly debatable approach. I think you risk over simplifying and worrying people for no reason. There are many ingredients that might sound more harmful than they actually are and then there are several ingredients that are uncertain and hard to classify.

Always remember that in an apple you will naturally find 9 E-numbers, all “added” by nature…




Innovation shortcut

I see that 60% of the people in the UK only drink one glass of water a day and only 20% drink more than two. Source: Kantar Worldpanel. As a rule of thumb we need to get 2 litres of fluid a day to stay happy and in balance. It has then rather to be two proper jugs to meet the required amount. I don’t think the British, in this aspect, are very much different than the rest of at least north Europe.

Life is luckily not all water but water drinking could be made more interesting. For Green Sheepinstance by using more exciting packaging that gets your attention and also makes sense. I think that Chicago based Green Sheep Water are making an interesting move by launching an aluminium water bottle. Half a litre is the size and it quite stands out in the shelf, or wherever you find it.

Their point is that this is a more sustainable packaging solution as aluminium is indefinitely recyclable compared to PET and other materials. That is as long as people return the empties…  Besides that it catches the attention at POS and could maybe even prove practical to refill.

I very much like the idea of an innovation shortcut by using an existing idea from another category and apply it on your product. Voila! You have a new and innovative product. Just by being inspired from another field.

Private Labels & the Increased Importance of Proper Packaging

Private labels are still growing fast and nonetheless have a great growth potential, after all these years. And private labels will be using the leverage to get there. Why not? Only upsides. 

Keep Calm 2PL success is obviously scattered both by geography and by category. In Europe the UK and Switzerland are often mentioned as the mature PL markets averaging around 50% in a supermarket. This can be compared to shares below 20% in markets like Italy and the US.

Private label products are said to be available in 9 out of 10 FMCG categories and average on a price point 30% below national brands. This is a serious challenge for any brand owner. The recent economic downturn has also further driven the demand for PL and retailers are building strong brands that are changing the balance in the eco system.

Brand owners are meeting the threat with all they have got. But my view is that few are to the full using the most powerful weapon available at POS – the primary packaging.

Use the packaging as the superb marketing tool it is. Invest in strategic packaging design, think through what you want to communicate.  Put in a budget for developing increased packaging functionality. Add value to the product with a pack that is easier to open, re-close, pour from, store, dispose of, etc.

Make it easier for the consumer to determine the difference between products, use the packaging! It works.

The consumer is king

Bouteille_Wattwiller_a_personnaliser-ea5ffThe consumer is the final POS decision maker, now also made able to put the final touch to the label according to mood, need or whim. That is what I call an individual water bottle.

Wattwiller, French mineral water brand, made labels with left out space for the consumer to add their own text or draw pictures.

When making creative packaging it isn’t always you that have to be the creative one. Sometimes you can apparently get off the hook by letting the consumer do the job.