Working together – the role of packaging

Packaging Professional magazine
12 Mar 2010
Innocent smoothies

Christopher Simms, Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth,
UK, presents research results on the role of packaging in new product

The FMCG industry is important to the packaging sector. Similarly, for
FMCG, packaging forms an integral and inseparable part of the product
offering. For example, the bottle forms a large part of consumers’
perceptions and the effectiveness of roll-on deodorants and perfumes,
among other products, likewise, success has been achieved by packaging
innovations, such as Tetra pak, PET bottles and in-can systems (known
as widgets), all of which have achieved high levels of success. But how
do FMCG companies develop packaging for their new products, and how
does this impact on the packaging industry itself? These are the
findings of the first stage of a three-year project. The study
consisted of thirty interviews with managers in FMCG brand owners,
product and packaging manufacturers, packaging design firms and
marketing agencies.

The findings of this research project reveal that, despite the
importance of packaging to the FMCG sector, it does not put significant
effort into R&D for new packaging, and does not fully exploit the
potential inputs of external packaging companies. Packaging is regarded
primarily as a commodity and the manufacturers, with their R&D
centres, are seen purely as suppliers. When creativity or new product
development is required, the brand owners typically seek the views of
external marketing and design consultants, rather than that of the
packaging industry. This approach has a number of implications, in
particular, it can result in pack development that is not optimal,
either for the product itself or for large-scale production. This
raises questions concerning the effectiveness of the relationship
between the two fields.

The study results indicate that many FMCG firms have a closed view of
packaging, and see it as a cost, rather than as an opportunity to add
value. This means that opportunities for development and innovation are
overlooked. In some cases, it also means that companies look to
employexisting packaging, with only minor adaptations to the graphic

The myopic view of packaging means that there is an emphasis on cost
cutting, as well as reductions. While the latter is partly justified
given environmental pressures, the focus on reduction, rather than
improving the overall environmental impact and sustainability of the
offering, is of concern.

Small change

While it is concerning that chances for innovation are not actively
being sought, it is even more worrying that many FMCG firms only make
small and incremental changes to their packs. This seems to be because
of concerns over the risks of damaging their brand, and ultimately
product sales. Thus packaging is not used as a driver of new product

The situation is even more complex when dealing with a supermarket’s
own brand products, as they generally do not source packaging directly
and instead rely on partners. In this case, there is little incentive
for partner organisations to seek innovative packaging, as it will have
little benefit to them, and so opportunities for innovation are again

The product development process of FMCG firms is largely focused on the
development of the core product, and extensively uses consumer research
to drive the development and evaluation of ideas, with a tendency for
using focus groups.

The lack of recognition for packs as a central element of the product,
means that it is considered late in new product development. As a
result, it is created around the existing product concept, rather than
ideal product/pack combinations being sought from the beginning, as
would have been the case with the first ‘in-can’ systems and
microwavable meals, which rely on the product and packaging to deliver
the core benefits.

Managing relationships

The long-term implications of this distant relationship are that
packaging manufacturers do not know how to direct their long-term
technological development, as they lack strategic insight into
customers’ long-term needs.

The research is ongoing and aims to develop further insights into new
product development within the FMCG industry, as well as packaging’s
role. Another goal is to give insight into why these issues exist and
how they can be overcome.

Further information:

Christopher Simms