Private Label Buyer: Packaging Trends – Vive La Difference!

Aug 05, 2009

By Kathie Canning

Through a special
arrangement, what follows is a summary of a current article from Private
Label Buyer
, presented here for discussion.

An old saying
insists you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the right product “cover” —
that is, unique or innovative packaging — certainly can help spur a sale.
And packaging that helps differentiate a product from the rest of the
pack is becoming increasingly critical to the purveyors of store brand

That’s a huge
change from private label’s traditional unobtrusive positioning, noted
Linda Carroll, color insight manager for Ampacet Corp, which studies
color trends.

“I look to
the [private label] market and say, boy have they evolved into a mindset
of packaging with ego,” she said. “Now I’m seeing strength and personality
coming through.”

Dan Abramowicz,
president of Crown Packaging Technology, says packaging differentiation
essentially has two key dimensions: functional and visual. The functional
dimension consists of any value-added feature that makes a positive difference
to the consumer, while the visual element encompasses features such as
shape, color or décor.

As for functional
features, Mr. Abramowicz pointed to anything that makes a package easier
to open and/or close.

Crown recently
launched an improvement called EasyLift, Mr. Abramowicz noted, which
is a technology that gives the consumer better access to under the tab
on easy-open soup and other cans.

“Although the
opening forces aren’t any different, the consumer finds it’s much easier
to open because they can leverage the force they apply better,” he said.

On the visual
side, shaping technologies are becoming a popular means to make both
national brand and store brand items stand out on the shelf. Mr. Abramowicz
pointed to the Heineken keg-shaped beverage can, which used Crown’s proprietary
shaping technology, as an example of a departure from the traditional
metal cylinder.

shapes might represent the best way to differentiate a product on the
shelf, said Brian Ksicinski, marketing manager for Silgan Containers

“They act as
a billboard by providing instant visual clues, and they bring out a product’s
intrinsic character, quality and value,” he said. “We’ve found that shaped
metal cans actually improve taste perceptions despite no change to the
product formulation.”

Color also
can make a huge visual statement, and can be just as vital on the value
side of private label.

“It’s an extension
of [the consumer’s] financial capability,” she said. “They don’t want

Going hand
in hand with differentiating color are gradation effects, stripe effects
or textural elements, Ms. Carroll noted.

“Anything you
can do to engage all five senses must be done,” she added.

Moreover, advanced
graphics technologies really can boost color and grab the eye. Mr. Abramowicz
said Crown recently created a beverage can with such high-quality graphics
for Polar Beverages’ Black Jack Tea.

“Beverage cans
start in the round, and we decorate them in the round,” he said. “The
quality of the graphics in the beverage can is much lower than we can
get on a nice aerosol can. But this technology is closing the gap.”

Discussion Questions:
What impresses you most about advances in private label packaging
over the last few years? Does one particular feature – color/graphics,
shape, function (easy to open), etc. – particularly stand out? Where
does private label packaging still have to improve to catch up with
national brands?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Private Label Buyer: Packaging Trends – Vive La Difference!"

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David Livingston
11 years 9 months ago

The only real difference I see between private label and national brand packaging is that national brands are advertised. The only catching up I see that needs to be done is advertising. Anybody can design a label. I don’t think the national brands have better looking labels. What they do have is the ability to advertise on prime-time television.

Joel Warady
Joel Warady
11 years 9 months ago
Finally, retailers are starting to treat their Private Label has a real brand, and because of this, the product packaging is starting to evolve into a branded look. For years, most retailers (not all) treated PL as a way to sell product at a lower price, featuring a product that was slightly lower quality. They were focused more on gross profit margin than they were on branding and customer satisfaction. But today, retailers better understand how important it is to have innovative products, both in packaging as well as in the product itself, if they are going to raise the awareness and the customer loyalty in their corporate brands. We are starting to see some retailers move into innovative packaging even before the brands do as a way to set themselves apart, and create a premium looking product. That said, only the best retailers are doing this, and only those retailers who are willing to take risks. Packaging can absolutely help set the PL products apart from the brands. More retailers need to understand the… Read more »
Joan Treistman
11 years 9 months ago
The trends in private label packaging illustrate how retailers have come to realize that “cheap” is not what stimulates purchase. Consumers are looking for “value for their money.” However, in order to pick up a package and buy it, they must first see it on the shelf. In this regard private label packaging has to work quickly (on sight) to engage and communicate, before the national brand takes over. The criteria for effective package design apply to private label as they do to national brands: shelf impact, readability, differentiation, desired imagery, functionality, aesthetic appeal and purchase stimulation. Private label has the same latitude as the national brands to use structure and material to enhance shelf presence and consumer appeal. Our package studies within product categories show how various graphic and copy components can trigger desired feelings as well as inform the shopper. For example, a cartoon depiction of a dog on a dog food package does not generally convey the nutritional value achievable with a quality photograph. Seeing a dog’s clear eyes and shiny coat… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
11 years 9 months ago

During the past five years, perhaps much longer, private label packaging has become competitively conceived and timely designed. Retailers have become more determined and sophisticated in food and non-food environments. And inside the packaging of PL the product is comparable to national brands, sometimes even better. The next step for PL is to become full-fledged marketers and finally rise above letting themselves being considered just copiers.

Len Lewis
Len Lewis
11 years 9 months ago

There are some private label marketers that still don’t get it in terms of visual impact. I’ve seen some packaging out there that, with little change, could pass for the old generic packaging. Some retailers, and others, continue to equate high impact packaging with strong visuals to higher prices–and they think consumers see them that way too. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Another aspect to this that wasn’t mentioned is sustainability. Consumer awareness of environmental issues is driving the trend to reduced packaging in terms of down-gauging and weight–without impacting the integrity of the product.

David Biernbaum
11 years 9 months ago

After some very slow changes in the private label landscape over the past twenty five years, I firmly believe that examples set by Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and others that market a premium side to store brands, have led the way to convince the mainstream retailers that store brands can indeed be treated as “real” brands (to a degree). The degree varies by category, the store’s own image, and what the goals are for any given retail chain where private label is concerned, but what finally has come into being is the fact that store brands play a role in defining any given retail chain’s own points of differentiation.

Package designers, however, need to exercise caution: an over-dressed store-brand package can be as deadly as an under-dressed store-brand package. Over-selling what’s inside the box even through imagery is not a good practice and yet I do see this happening in some instances.

Carol Spieckerman
11 years 9 months ago

I launched a discussion about the “white spacing” of private label in LinkedIn that brought on some lively discussion after addressing it in my blog

To me, this return to minimalism is the most interesting development in private label as exemplified by Target’s Up & Up brand (the red bulls-eye’s controversial replacement) and Walmart’s Great Value relaunch (finally rolling out in a big way). Some sniff that this movement is all about reducing photography and design costs at the expense of aesthetics while others see it as a refreshing change. I’m somewhere in the middle since the packaging doesn’t fare well in context. One facing of either brand sandwiched between national brands makes a strikingly dull comparison. Pared-down packaging design begs for ramped-up facings and/or brand-blocked presentations.

Herb Sorensen
11 years 9 months ago

Whether private label or major brand, the fact remains that the package is the number-one medium for communicating with the shopper. But communicating in-store is mostly NOT about conveying information, but visually creating responses to the product by identifying the contents; and the associated brand with colors, shapes and iconic images.

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
11 years 9 months ago
Packaging is a key driver of retail sales–and remains a major missed opportunity for many. While some retailers are starting to understand the power of consumer insights in package design, many rely on “adapting” designs for a retail shelf set that is anchored by a category leader. Retailers are offering more than one tier of products, moving into natural, organic, premium and other specialty areas, but often miss on creating on the packaging that could differentiate. Retailers like Whole Foods with their 365 Brand have moved ahead–no matter what category you are in, the 365 logo tells you it is organic and represents the Whole Foods commitment to health for people and the planet. Loblaws President’s Choice branding still delivers the message of unique taste and quality across categories with its iconic packaging. We still see store brands without EZO and reclosability features or even worse, they are clearly printed but rip or tear. The package is the brand message that sits in the pantry or freezer, and comes to mind as you use the… Read more »
W. Frank Dell II
11 years 9 months ago

Improving Private Label packaging is something I have been preaching for the last 10 years. We are now starting to see the results. A big factor has been the retailers starting to understand they must use the marketing methodology to be successful with Private Label going forward. It takes not only new innovative products, but good packaging to sell products. I believe we are only seeing the beginning. To be competitive and on the edge, Private Label suppliers will take greater chances than the National Brands. Good packaging reflects well on good products.

Sandy Miller
Sandy Miller
11 years 9 months ago

Private Brand (PB) (not “label” now) packaging has improved and one reason is the better product inside and fresh new types of Private Brands. The next step is PB systematically using effective Direct Selling Media messages on the shelves and on the Fresh Perimeter. Most shoppers regard the retailers fresh products as retailers brands. And this is the PB advertising exactly where and when shoppers make their buying decisions.

William Passodelis
11 years 9 months ago

I think the packaging in many aspects has improved but this is very retailer specific and dependent.

Over-all though the private brands of today are really great and I think that the retailers are starting to realize this and take some pride in their branded product, as they should

Publix private packaging is really nice; Kroger is also really good. I must say I think the new Great Value Wal-Mart packaging is very disappointing. I awaited it with interest and I think what they replaced (not fantastic) was better. The new is too reminiscent of old “generic” labeling; a little too plain. Trader Joe PB’s are smart and interesting. Wegmans is good.

This IS important because if you can get the customer to TRY your product and they are happy, THEN the packaging will not matter as much BUT the packaging can also turn off the customer to even trying it!

Aman Nanda
Aman Nanda
11 years 8 months ago

I agree with pretty much every opinion here. The addendum to packaging also is how the private label product is being treated. Along with better packaging, there has also been a trend for certain successful retailers–especially Wegmans–to actually also PLACE their own products in prime locations. This only accentuates the effect of special packaging. When you place your own soda and chips in the lobby during key holiday weeks like 4th of July, not only are you generating incremental sales but also acquainting more consumers with your own packaging.


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