Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Emerging design and packaging trends to meet changing consumer values

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

With only one shot to make a first impression, it is essential that images and messages on product packaging clearly communicate companies’ principles and meet consumers’ evolving values.

For many companies, though, this may be easier said than done, according to Jacques Rossouw, the creative director at the design and branding firm Voicebox Creative​. He explains that a successfully designed package and brand not only takes into account consumers’ ever-changing whims but also requires companies to look inward to identify their own values and evaluate the best ways to communicate them succinctly on limited real estate.

As if this weren’t hard enough, the finished product must do all this in about three seconds, the average amount of time a consumer spends looking at packaging before making a purchasing decision.

To help ensure packaging and branding hits its mark, Rossouw explains in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast what companies need to consider when they undertake the design process. He also outlines several long-term shifts in consumer values that are changing the way they evaluate branding and packaging as well as a few short term trends that can help companies catch shoppers’ attention now and in the near future.

Designing packaging is more than a visual exercise

The first thing that Rossouw says companies need to think about when they decide to rebrand or design new packaging is that the process is not merely visual.

“The biggest mistake we see is that some brands treat rebranding as a visual exercise, and certainly the end result is very visual … but really branding, especially for us, is not merely a visual exercise. You have to link it back to what consumers are actually telling you,”​ which means involving them in the design process, Rossouw said.

He explains that brands must consider in their redesign process “what is the consumer’s lifestyle, what are their potential medical concerns, what are their values, what are they buying and how is your product actually addressing that specific need from your consumer and how are you aligning yourself with that and communicating directly to it.”

Packaging plays a pivotal role in transparency

So, what are consumers looking for? Rossouw said consumer desires can be broken into two main categories. The first are foundational values that influence consumers in nearly all aspects of their life – these are not likely going to change any time soon. The second set are faster moving fads that might last only a few years or less.

Potentially the most influential foundational value for consumers today is a transparency. And for package design this can translate in a very literal sense, according to Rossouw.

For example, he said, consumers want to see the product through clear packaging. And if that isn’t an option, they want to see photos of it – not abstractions and drawings which could cause them to cast suspicion on what is inside the package.

Demand for transparency also is changing the language companies use on packaging, Rossouw added.

“Language is changing in terms of branding. So, you know, a few years ago we saw the rise of what I would call aspirational, fanciful language. So, a lot of brands used words like harmless and innocent or kindness and honesty or love or radiance,”​ Rossouw said.

But now, he added, consumers want “straight talk”​ about what a product is, resulting in language becoming more factual and less fanciful.

QR codes are not the answer

One way brands are trying to balance transparency with simplicity is by using QR codes on packages as a way to save space while still providing additional information to those who want it.

Unfortunately, Rossouw says this strategy may be misguided.

“The way that most brands use QR codes is a little cumbersome. I think also tied to honest and transparent … is simplicity,”​ and QR codes are not simple to use because they require a phone and app and the Internet, Rossouw explained.

He added that other technology may be more useful, such as virtual reality or other digital technology in stores that explains where products are sourced.

Sustainability concerns cannot be ignored

Sustainability is another lens through which consumers are evaluating packaging and branding.  

“The Pacific Trash Vortex is becoming something a lot of people know,”​ making it so that “we have to tackle sustainability,”​ Rossouw said.

However, he added, there is no one answer. Some possible solutions, however, including packaging from plant by-products, edible packaging, packaging that is beautiful and functions so it can easily be reused as well as tried-and-true recyclability.

Rossouw warns that consumer concern about sustainability currently is on a collision course with another major trend in packaging: the desire for portion control through individually wrapped products.

“I don’t think we will just get away with creating more packaging just because people want to indulge. At some point we are going to have to tackle that issue and figure out how to give people portion control and indulgence and yet also minimize the amount of additional packaging that is created,”​ he said.

Keep an eye on short term trends

In addition to navigating these macro shifts in how consumers are evaluating packaging, Rossouw says companies also should take into account several shorter term trends, which might not be around for long but can have a significant impact in the present and near future.

The first, he said, is a consumer desire for products that appear handmade and aren’t too “slick.”

Colors are another fast-moving target that companies should track because of their potential impact on brand blocking on shelf, but firms also don’t necessarily have to react to each pallet shift that occurs.

A new set of packing rules for ecommerce

And finally, an emerging trend to watch in packaging that might not be as important now, but will be in the near future, is designing with an eye towards ecommerce.

Rossouw explained that unlike in brick and mortar stores where consumers experience packages and brand from 10, three and one foot away so that they can slowly absorb more information, on digital shelf they often only see a mid-range photo. This means details, such as fine print, can be lost – therefore favoring shorter, physically larger messaging.

Ecommerce packaging also likely will favor shipping bulk orders and the unboxing experience at home, rather than attention to detail on individual products, he said.

While all of this is a lot to consider, Rossouw noted that a well-designed package and brand should survive the market between five and 10 years – making the return on investment worth it.

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