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April 17, 2017

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Package design matters in deciding what we buy

CONSUMER good fads come and go at a surprising fast pace, and one of the surest signs of that trend is the role product packaging has come to play in marketing strategies.

Buyers are fickle. What they embrace one month may be old hat three months later. They constantly need new things to spur their buying interest.

In the past 12 months, as many as 58,250 new consumer products have hit the shelves in China’s mainland, according to market research firm Mintel. Personal care products, cosmetics and snacks comprised more than half of the new array.  Companies are resorting to packaging changes in shape, graphics, product information, logos and color to define products and capture consumer attention.

That is particularly true when new brands or product lines are introduced. Packaging itself sometimes becomes commercial “white noise” — sitting in the background but nonetheless influencing what we buy and how we perceive brands, according to Mintel’s Global Packaging Trends report. My friend Violet Pan said she became a fan of Suntory’s Qin Lemon Water after buying the product at a convenience store near her workplace last summer. She said she was attracted by the transparent, minimalist package design.

“The design reminds me of the natural taste of crisp lemon water,” she said. She’s not alone in being swayed by how a package looks. Consumer decisions are directly influenced by package format and design, Mintel food and drink analyst Beth Bloom said in the report.

Clever marketers know how to use packaging to create image, touch sensibilities and excite the imagination. In a sense, products become billboards advertising themselves. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of icon creation is Christian Louboutin’s red-soled high heel. When the French fashion house extended into the beauty products realm, the image followed, with a long nail polish cap reminiscent of a high heel. Its lipsticks are shaped like a little bottle of precious elixir resembling the tips of high heels. For more commonplace consumer goods, like snacks and ready-to-drink beverages, price margins are much smaller and loyalty more fickle.

“Beverages and snacks are usually purchased impulsively, and it’s important to catch the eye of the consumer standing in front of a packed shelf of choices,” said Steve Lin, research director of innovation and product development at Kantar TNS China.

Image in the snack and beverage segments is especially important when new products appear on shelves. “The younger generation pays more attention to appearances and looks beyond just function and flavor,” Lin said. “They want to a product to resonate with their own values and ideas.”

Classmate Xiaoming is a cold brew tea beverage launched by Uni-President Group in 2015. Each of its four flavors is presented in a different color of packaging. Interesting catch phrases are used to communicate with young buyers.

The shifting of purchasing power to online channels, where competition is rife and price matters, means that vendors may need to either drive packaging cost lower and to ensure products arrive in good shape, or to offer individualized package design for online shoppers, he also noted.

“It’s crucial for consumer brands to launch new products to expand their existing base,” said Jason Yu, general manager of Kantar Worldpanel China. “Our data show that only 2-3 percent of new products in China are truly successful in creating incremental sales.”

He added, “This requires more sophisticated thinking about packaging design. Brands need to appeal to many buyers who care more about value than money.”

When Zhejiang-based Nongfu Spring, a giant in bottled water, launched its new Tea Pi in early 2016, the product became a hot topic on social media. The fruit-flavored tea is aimed at health-conscious consumers.

Tea Pi came up with four flavors suggesting an intriguing drink: grapefruit jasmine, peach oolong, citrus green tea and lemon black tea. Each square bottle is enclosed in distinctive transparent plastic and accompanied by a cartoon illustration.

“Consumer fads come and go at a much faster pace than before,” Yu said. “Some popular products that might have remained in fashion for five or 10 years in the last decade now have a shelf life of less than three years. Companies that are bold and innovative will be the ones that grab consumers.”

The popularity of online shopping creates new challenges or packaging designers. Digital consumers often have less time to consider their choices. Packaging has to be clear and immediate in the message it wants to convey.

New technologies such as QR codes have already found their way onto packages for Master Kong’s instant noodles and dozens of health food products. Buyers need only scan the code to connect with online campaign sites.

Last year, expansion in the consumer-goods market hit a near decade low of 2.9 percent growth. That puts pressure on producers, who will need to deploy ever more sophisticated methods to ring up sales.


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