From a packaging perspective, convenience is a matter of lifestyle, values and habits. Functional, customized packaging is playing a bigger role than ever.
Everyone appreciates packaging that’s easy to carry, hold, open, pour, shelve, and keeps the contents inside safe and fresh. But that’s where the similarities end.
When it comes to convenience, different things matter to different people. While American families often buy milk by the gallon, western European families prefer one-liter cartons. The concept of buying a quarter of a watermelon, which is standard in Germany, would seem strange in Turkey. The list goes on and on.
“A good convenience indicator for consumers around the world is the phrase: If the package did X, it would fit better into my lifestyle,” says Mondi packaging expert Bill Kuecker.
For every lifestyle and situation, there can be a different X. The most insightful brands work with packaging specialists to figure out X and design for it. "Families with children often identify the key convenience factor in terms of ‘How fast can I get a meal on the table?’" says Kuecker.
"Some people say, ‘If I could keep the product fresher longer...’ – resealability and easy-open features are a big deal. For others, easy-to-carry matters – especially for large packages. So, we build in a handle,” he adds. That’s what Mondi did for a watermelon brand in Turkey.
For some consumers, especially in the US market, convenience means being able to buy items in bulk. Packaging features such as non-tip pouch designs and zippers ensure that products are easy to store, easy to use, and stay fresh longer.
In the industrial segment, convenience may mean lightweight sturdiness and water-repellent packaging that can stand up to rough handling and extreme weather. Mondi’s SPLASHBAG, used for moisture-sensitive products such as cement powder and other building materials, is such an example.
For some, convenience is connected to sustainability
Sustainability-driven consumers demand “products that are also virtuous” according to author Paul H. Ray, who wrote the book Cultural Creatives. These consumers, also referred to as LOHAS – the acronym stands for Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability – value renewable energy and e-mobility. Studies estimate that this group is a substantial and growing market segment in many countries, ranging from 12% in Japan to 20% or more in the US and Europe.
Sustainability throughout the entire supply chain is as important to LOHAS as is ease of recycling. These consumers may look for recycled or chlorine-free office paper, and paper and packaging made from certified, sustainable materials. Likewise, a brand's efforts to recycle, use water responsibly, and reduce waste and CO2 matter a lot to LOHAS. They are also highly aware of greenwashing – that is of companies branding themselves as eco-conscious, when they aren’t.
Sustainability may not necessarily mean recycling the packaging, though. It can also mean reusing it in creative ways that give it a second life. One example is a packaging solution Mondi created for a discount baby diaper brand in Poland. Thanks to the perforations in the box, one can create a doll’s house, a Punch and Judy show, a mini circus, a mini football table, or a cat’s house – without additional gluing. The innovative, reusable packaging helped the brand overtake the diaper market-leader in Poland.
A good convenience indicator for consumers around the world is the phrase: If the package did X, it would fit better into my lifestyle.
Rise in one-person households and single-use packaging
Then, there are consumers who define convenience as single-use packaging – being able to use the contents all at once, and then recycle the packaging.
Single-person households have risen to 25% in the US from 13% in 1960 (source: US Census Bureau, 2016); this market segment is expected to become even bigger in the future. Similar statistics from Europe (source: Eurostat, 2015) show that single-person households account for one third of all households in the EU now. As a result, single-use packaging has become a retail standard.
Changing eating habits are also making way for multiple single-serve portions, something a person can carry in their backpack or their purse for a snack at school or a mini-meal at the office.
Looking beyond demographics, what is seen as ‘convenient’ can change depending on the situation. Doting pet owners usually buy high-quality pet food in bulk. But they may also appreciate flexible, single-serve packaging for when they are on the go with their furry friends.
Flexible packaging benefits brands
Over 70% of Americans prefer flexible over rigid packaging options and almost half of them would pay extra to get their preferred product in a flexible package, according to a study by the American Flexible Packaging Association. The three main advantages cited by consumers are resealability, easy storage, and easy opening – factors that again point to convenience.
Within the first five years after switching to flexible packaging, 57% of brand owners cited lower production costs, 37% reported an improvement in their competitive positioning due to higher consumer appeal, 39% saw sales increases, and 16% were able to price their product at a premium, according to the study.
Packaging must communicate
High-quality graphics and clear, easy-to-read labels are useful for marketing purposes, but can also add convenience for the end-user. Brands around the world today are increasingly using graphics and logos in ways that help consumers quickly identify the right product on the shelf.
Visual directions that can be easily understood by anyone may help consumers feel more comfortable about choosing a product they’re not familiar with. Large, clear print is particularly important to senior citizens age 65 and over, a group that is expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2050.
Digital printing and functional combinations of high-grade papers and recyclable films that allow for see-through windows enable packaging to ‘communicate’ visually with consumers about what’s inside the package.
Co-creation and customisation are key
Because convenience is so individual, packaging companies today co-create with brands to meet consumers’ very specific needs and make brands stand out.
Beyond any demographic clusters, consumers are human beings with diverse lifestyles and values. Behaviors that apply to today’s trendsetters sooner or later become pervasive – millennials are already influencing other groups and elder citizens are becoming increasingly tech savvy. Brands that are in constant dialogue with their customers know that packaging must deliver on several levels at once: Convenience and functionality, as well as eco-friendliness.
“At the end of the day, convenience is about what we can do in packaging so that consumers will say, 'This product fits into my life better,'” says Mondi packaging expert Kuecker.
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