Smart & Simple  


Brands have many opportunities to engage with consumer needs, interests, and concerns and packaging play a vital role in differentiating products on the shelf. Using research from GlobalData, Eloise McLennan examines how brands are using smart and simple packaging to appeal to consumer demands

Smart & Simple Packaging: 

Packaging innovations that are reshaping consumer perceptions of brands and products

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Packaging is a key differentiator for consumers both in the aisle and in the home. It is a critical tool for establishing a positive perception of a product and fostering brand loyalty, as well as enticing new consumers to make a purchase. Incorporating novel packaging designs can help manufacturers to stand out from competitors and position products as either innovative or environmentally friendly. 

Smart and simple packaging designs stand out as ways to connect with consumer interests and concerns. As associate analyst Peter Hays identifies in the GlobalData recent report, ‘Smart and Simple Packaging’ , these styles of packaging can add value to a product by giving consumers more information about the brand or by directly expressing sustainable values through simple and environmentally friendly packaging. 

These packaging innovations are especially appealing to younger consumers who view standout packaging as more favourable. To find out how brands can use smart or simple packaging to their advantage, we take a look at packaging innovations that are reshaping consumer perceptions of brands and products.

Smart and Simple Packaging: 

Packaging innovations that are reshaping consumer perceptions of brands and products

View Report

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The demand for greater interactivity in packaging stems from the consumer desire for in-depth information

What is driving demand FOR SMART PACKAGING?

Smart packaging can be a useful tool for brands looking to improve the user experience through increased information sharing and interactivity. The demand for greater interactivity in packaging stems from the consumer desire for in-depth information about the product they choose to buy.

Smart packaging allows brands to build a relationship with their consumers, and allows shoppers to better engage with their purchases, enhancing the overall user experience by helping them to gather information on ingredient sourcing, product freshness, brand heritage or enabling them to share the product online.  

The information that can be incorporated onto smart packs far surpasses what can be accommodated on a typical the physical packaging format. Whereas traditional packaging is limited by the surface area, smart packaging can connect consumers to supplementary resources, such as a website, which can provide users with a wider array of product and brand information.

Consumers are increasingly accustomed to getting granular information about products and brands online and smart packaging acts as a vehicle for consumers to access that same information while standing in a store aisle. 

This can be key for differentiating products in highly saturated markets. Using interactive packaging, brands can encourage shoppers to engage with a product in novel and unconventional ways, such as social media. Many consumers share images and information about themselves and the products they purchase via social media on a regular basis.

With smart packaging, brands can encourage consumers to share brand driven images and links, which can extend the reach of the brand and encourage brand loyalty and further sales.  

Communicating brand information

Good packaging designs can clearly convey both product benefits and brand values, but with smart packaging, brands have an opportunity to take this to a new level. While consumers may be accustomed to finding granular information online, they may not be used to accessing it from a store aisle.

Smart packaging is perfectly positioned to target this opportunity through features such as QR codes or embedded near field communications (NFC) chips, which can connect shoppers with online platforms containing information about the brand, brand values and company heritage. 

Packaging is an important tool for relating to consumers. At retail level, shoppers are often faced with a myriad of products containing similar or identical ingredients, which can be overwhelming. When consumers are given too many choices and insufficient information to differentiate between products and help them identify the product which best suits their needs, it can lead to choice paralysis.

In this scenario, it is especially important that brand values are communicated, but the limitations of physical pack sizes make it difficult to clearly convey the message to a browsing consumer. Offering consumers a QR code or NFC chip which redirects them to a site highlighting a brands sustainability or product quality messages can help create that key point of differentiation. 

The demand for greater interactivity in packaging stems from the consumer desire for in-depth information

Communicating product information

Smart packaging can also convey information about the product that is difficult to express on the physical pack, for example, the freshness of meat, fish or dairy products. Opening the packaging of a product impacts its freshness as it exposes the contents to air, which increases the chance of bacteria growth.

Traditional ‘use-by’ labels are static and cannot adapt to important factors, such as opening the product, and this inflexibility can push consumers to create unnecessary waste.

In contrast, smart labels can convey freshness of a product based on when it has been opened, as well as other environmental factors, including temperature, with labels that clearly and more accurately display how much longer the food will remain fresh, encouraging more efficient usage and reducing unnecessary waste.

Adaptive labels don’t need to rely on text to communicate information. Colour changing labels can be an effective way to convey product freshness and make freshness labels more intuitive. 

Traditional ‘use-by’ labels are static and cannot adapt to important factors

Traditional ‘use-by’ labels are static and cannot adapt to important factors

Using simple, recyclable, and biodegradable packaging materials helps consumers to feel less guilty about shopping

What is driving demand for simple packaging?

Consumers are growing increasingly knowledgeable about climate change issues and the impact that packaging has on the environment. Armed with this awareness, consumers seeking more environmentally friendly products are starting to pay close attention to packaging and many now consider packs as a vital component of a brand’s environmental values. As such many shoppers are consciously choosing to purchase products that fit in with their eco-friendly ideals. 

Simple packaging taps into this desire for comprehensively environmentally friendly and transparent offerings. Using simple, recyclable, and biodegradable packaging materials helps consumers to feel less guilty about shopping as they believe the products that are purchasing are honest and ethically produced.

Simple packaging is important for recycling. Packaging that uses a combination of metals, cardboard and plastic is very difficult to recycle, whereas using a single material makes it easier to recycle the pack.

In addition to using environmentally friendly materials, visual cues can reinforce the trustworthy perception of brands and products. Some brands choose to convey an honest image using transparent packaging that allows the consumer to view the contents of a product before making a purchase, however, using unbleached paper and earth tones can also imply that the contents inside are free of chemicals.

As consumers become more aware of the vast quantities of waste that are generated through product packaging, these packaging strategies are likely to gain more traction.

Recyclability in simple packaging

Recyclability is often the top priority for consumers when they seek simple and environmentally friendly packaging. There is good reason for this – recycling is product packaging is the simplest and most convenient way for consumers to reduce their environmental impact. But despite the demand for recyclability, many products and packaging is still unrecyclable or difficult to recycle. 

Coffee cups are a notable example of unrecyclable packaging. They are designed with a plastic lining, which makes them resistant to water, but this lining has to be separated from the outer cardboard before it can be recycled.

According to a 2016 BBC report, it is estimated that up to seven million coffee cups are thrown away every day in the UK and awareness of this impact continues to rise. Finding ways to reduce the number of materials, using single materials or making materials easy to separate can greatly increase how recyclable the product is. 

Such packaging should appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and those who feel guilty about the impact of their shopping habits on the environment. This is especially true for common products that are unrecyclable, such as crisp bags and coffee cups.

Using simple, recyclable, and biodegradable packaging materials helps consumers to feel less guilty about shopping

Beyond recyclability

It may be more visible to consumers, but recycling has less of an environmental impact Thant reducing or reusing packaging. Recycling packaging requires energy, which increases the carbon footprint of the product, and in many instances packaging is not recycled because of the cost of that energy. Environmentally conscious consumers may look to more impactful ways of reducing their environmental impact. 

Some of the most innovative manufacturers move beyond recycling by reducing the amount of materials used, developing biodegradable materials that will be less harmful to wildlife if they are disposed of incorrectly and using reusable packs to eliminate disposable packaging.

As consumers become more knowledgeable about the environmental impact of their product and packaging choices, they are likely to hold brands to a higher standard, which makes these solutions arguably more important because they reduce the amount of material that has to be extracted from the environment.

The impact of plastics ending up in water systems and waste created in the production process are also concerning environmentalists. Most plastics are not biodegradable; instead they break down into micro or nano-plastics, but don’t fully degrade, which can have a serious impact on oceans, lakes and waterways.

Innovations in bioplastics, which are biodegradable, aim to reduce this burden on the environment. These materials are best used to replace single use sachets or goods which are most prone to ending up in the environment.