Billions of consumers peruse an array of products on a daily basis, meaning brands are faced with the challenge of making their products stand out in a sea of competition. Adding to the difficulty of this challenge, today’s consumers want to be recognized as individuals and seek out products that fit with their specific lifestyles.
Though consumer desires are constantly evolving, a product’s packaging remains the platform many brands rely on to make a strong first impression. The technology being used to print, convert, embellish and even digitally connect packaging is more advanced than ever. Brands are looking for a competitive edge to reach their target consumers and convince them to select their product over a rival’s. And converters, more than ever, will need to rely on the latest technology and their own creativity to help brands take their packaging to the next level.
As packaging becomes more individualized and high-tech, expert indications point to the design shifts being implemented this year as more than just trends – but the next evolution in the packaging experience.
Fitting the Lifestyle
With more information at their fingertips than ever before, consumers no longer rely on packaging to be a flashy billboard of information, jammed with details about the product. According to Taylor Getler, business development associate for Works Design Group, consumers can expect to see packaging transition from bold to muted tones, with callouts that are not as showy as they have been in recent years.
Getler, who tracks and reports on design trends for the Pennsauken, N.J.-based packaging design agency, explains that pronounced colors and dramatic callouts were trends in 2018, but in 2019, brands will be taking a different approach.
“Bold colors tend to now have an association with artificialness and fake ingredients,” Getler says. “Whereas earth tones or nude tones kind of suggest something more natural – something with more integrity, something that’s more craft. You’re starting to see brands moving a bit more towards that because they don’t want to be associated with fake ingredients and artificial colors. They want to be able to show on the outside more of what they’re doing now on the inside with the actual product.”
While the shift into a “clean label” design strategy is logical from a consumer communication perspective, David Luttenberger, global packaging director for market intelligence agency Mintel, explains that it is not always an easy transition for brands to make. Luttenberger says that the clean label movement has been in effect for a few years now, but brands need to be wary of what he refers to as “clean label creep.” This on-pack messaging pitfall, he says, stems from brands initially scaling back the noise in their packaging design, but then adding product claims back into the design, counteracting their initial strategy.
Across multiple market segments, including food and beverage, health and beauty, and household items, Luttenberger says he’s seeing brands begin to resist the temptation of attempting to outpace the competition by adding several claims about the product’s benefits. Instead, he says brands are now realizing they need to pinpoint the few claims that are most relevant to their target consumer’s lifestyle and focus on those.
“We saw a lot of brands beginning to pull back to just those essential elements,” Luttenberger says. “With consumers continuing to have an interest or preference for foods that are less processed and foods that are better for them, we’re going to continue to see graphics on packaging — and particularly illustrations — rather than four-color process pictures of foods and of ingredients. [There will be] more pictures of ingredients than finished or plated products and illustrations that really depict that clean, natural, less processed food look.”
Getler says that Works Design Group has also pinpointed the use of illustrations on packaging as a key direction in which graphic design is trending. In addition to connoting a craft or natural appearance, illustrations can be strategically implemented to showcase how a certain product fits into a consumer’s lifestyle and can be customized to match the lifestyle image being targeted.
“Illustrations open you up to more storytelling avenues that way,” she says.
Packaging Gets Smarter
Packaging has long represented a physical touchpoint between brands and consumers in an increasingly digital world. However, as technologies such as near field communication, augmented reality and image recognition take the torch of what QR codes started, packaging is becoming increasingly digital.
Though smart, or interactive, packaging is hardly a new phenomenon in 2019, the ways in which brands plan to implement it are expected to change. According to Vicki Strull, an expert in packaging design and branding, changes in consumer demographics are becoming key influences into how brands approach a digital strategy for their packaging. For example, she says that more than half of consumers interface with a store’s online presence while shopping. Meanwhile, she explains that 80% of Generation Z, which includes consumers in their late teens and early 20s, are using their mobile devices while shopping.
Strull explains that their mobile usage may include texting, posting on social media platforms, or other forms of connectivity. But brands that are able to leverage their packaging to become part of that mobile experience will have a significant competitive advantage within that demographic.
“When you look at the journey to get consumers to connect, there’s all these different steps and the holy grail with websites was ‘one click,’” she says. “[With Generation Z] the phone is already in their hands, so you’re a little closer. I think packaging, point of purchase display and retail experiences will start to leverage that.”
When considering smart packaging, Luttenberger stresses that brands should develop specific goals for what they want to accomplish with the technology. In particular, they should consider how the use of smart packaging will improve the user experience for the consumer. In smart packaging’s early phases, many implementations of the technology were largely based on novelty. And while having a character come to life via augmented reality, or sending consumers to an online contest entry form extended the brand experience, they did little to further educate the consumer about the product.
Instead of providing an element of novelty, Luttenberger recommends that brands study the specific pieces of information that will drive a consumer toward a brand or product. For example, in the food segment, many consumers have indicated a preference for natural or sustainably sourced ingredients. So implementing connectivity to provide educational elements about a product’s ingredients on a mobile device will be of significant value.
One brand Luttenberger says has been successful with this strategy is Foster Farms, a poultry company that emphasizes its natural ingredients and humanely raised meat products, and offers multiple organic options. Recently, Foster Farms implemented QR codes into its packaging, but embedded them within a graphic of an approachable character it dubbed DORI. By scanning the QR code connected with DORI — an acronym for Deals, Origin, Recipes, Info — consumers receive background information about the origin of the chicken they purchased, along with other pertinent information.
“Everyone says, ‘I hate QR codes and I don’t want to use them — they’re useless,’” Luttenberger says. “And you know what, in the past, I would say they were right because they really didn’t offer consumers a chance to do anything more than get to a brand’s website … But what [Foster Farms] is doing now is recognizing consumers want greater transparency.”
The Printer and Converter Connection
In addition to the shifts in colors and graphic designs expected to emerge this year, consumers can expect to see increases in product versioning, tactile embellishments, creative structural designs and other advancements made possible through the latest developments in printing and converting technology. As brands seek out new methods of differentiation, printers, and converters that not only offer these capabilities but can explain their value, will be at a competitive advantage.
Strull explains that as craft and boutique brands continue their rise to prominence, they represent an avenue for package printers to make the most of their digital printing assets. Because many of these brands provide small batches of a variety of products, versioned packaging at reasonable prices is highly valuable, and these brands are less risk-averse in their packaging than some of their larger counterparts.
“[Versioning] has the biggest chance of expanding in smaller or more boutique brands,” Strull says. “I think they’re more agile. I think it’s easier to do when the supply chains are a little more flexible in terms of getting the distribution out. I also think it’s a huge opportunity for these disruptive direct-to-consumer brands. We’re seeing a lot of growth in that area.”
At Works Design Group, one of the trends that Getler has pinpointed is the increased experimentation brands are taking on in structural design and packaging shapes. As printers and converters continue to seek ways they can add value for their brand owner customers, she says that prototyping services will be increasingly important as brands flex their structural creativity.
Because changes in structural design can impact how a product and package move through the supply chain, she recommends that printers and converters partner with brands at the prototyping stage to help them develop interestingly-shaped packaging that can be feasibly produced.
“[Converters] can be the one to lead the conversation because they know what innovations are happening,” Getler says. “It’s always going to be to their advantage to be the ones controlling the conversation and being the ones to make the brands aware. They’re the experts on it and they’re the ones that know this is something [they] can do that five years ago was a lot harder and a lot more expensive.”
Overall, Luttenberger explains that printers and converters should stay true to their mission of serving as a partner to their brand owner customers, and finding creative ways to help them solve packaging problems. But where improvements can be made, Luttenberger says, is in printers’ understanding of why the latest packaging trends are occurring, and the reasons behind consumers’ reaction to various types of packages.
“We need to dig deeper to understand not just that [consumers] like brighter colors and that they like to feel materials, but why?” Luttenberger says. “What’s the driver behind this? Bring [them] a solution, but to be able to do that, you need to understand the driver behind it and need to be able to explain it to [them] in a way [they] can then market that printed or converted packaging attribute.”