The population may be maturing, but package design seems to be suffering from a case of arrested development, some observers say.
"Not much has been done to make packages easier to open, read, hold, handle for mature consumers," said Frank Conaway, president of Primelife, a consulting company based in Orange, Calif., that specializes in senior marketing. "There's still a tendency to emphasize younger consumers from 18 to 35," agreed Herbert Meyers, managing partner of Gerstman+Meyers, a New York City design firm, which recently completed a survey of the senior market.
What few seem to realize, said Conaway and Meyers, is that a package that works well for the senior market will benefit everyone else and generate increased sales. Yet senior friendliness seems to be a low priority if it is considered at all. For many designers and marketers, it was said, there seems to be little recognition that for most people eyesight and hand strength and dexterity decline to some degree as they age. As a result, Conaway estimates 85% to 90% of all packages have one or more of three major deficiencies: visual, structural/ergonomic and use. Often, print is too small and has insufficient contrast with its background color, packages are too big for grocery bags and medicine cabinets, and tools are required to access the product. The Gerstman+Meyers study, a follow-up to one done eight years ago, reveals similar concerns. (See tables.)
"As design consultants, we have to take a proactive attitude," said Gerstman. "We feel this is one area we should draw to marketers' attention." Gerstman attributes the disinterest in the senior market to a lack of understanding of its size and purchasing power. However, U.S. demographics show the over-50 population is a huge, rapidly growing $900 billion market:
Currently, 26% of all Americans are 50-plus; by 2020 the percentage will jump to 39%.
Senior Americans hold 50% of U.S. discretionary income and 77% of total financial assets
Today's average 65-year-old man and woman can expect to live to 80 and 84, respectively.
Senior Americans base purchase decisions on quality, value and price, not just price. The costs involved in making packaging changes also are seen as a deterrent. The investment can be significant, especially if production line alterations are required. "Improvements can be made without spending billions of dollars," said Conaway. "Most existing packages can be modified to address specific issues like legibility or handling," agreed Gerstman. It just requires marketers to pay some attention to the needs of seniors and do some research. "All [a marketer] has to do is ask 15 people over 65 and they will tell you 80% of what you need to know," said Conaway.
Most activity in senior-friendly packaging seems to be related to child-resistant requirements.
In June 1995, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to change test protocols. To ensure what it terms "special" packaging is not only CR, but also "not difficult" for adults
to use, the age group designated for the adult test panel was changed from 18- to 45-year-olds to 50- to 70-year-olds (BrandMarketing, Aug. 14, 1995, Page 10). One closure that meets the new protocol is a custom Squeeze-Lok design from Rexam Closures, Evansville, Ind., used by Warner Wellcome, Morris Plains, N.J., for Listerine. (See photo.)
Other new senior-friendly CR options include a folding blister card designed by Toren Consulting Pty. Ltd., Sydney, Australia; a flip-top dispensing closure from Seaquist Closures, Mukwonago, Wis., and the Virtual Hinge closure from VH Technologies, New York, which won a judges award of merit in the 1995 Ameristar Competition sponsored by the Institute of Packaging Professionals. Another Ameristar winner is a CR/non-CR design used by Lederle Laboratories, Pearl River, N.Y., for prescription and over-the-counter drugs and food supplements. In non-CR closures, the most well-known senior-friendly design, and the only one to receive the Primelife Advisory Network Seal of Approval, is the Fast Cap. Used initially for Tylenol by McNeil Consumer Products Co., Fort Washington, Pa., it now also can be found on three of the four Pain Relievers in the Arthritis Foundation line. Meyers and Conaway aren't sure what it will take to make marketers and designers pay more attention to senior market needs. But, with the baby boomers beginning to hit 50, the issue is sure to assume increasing importance.
Senior Market Packaging Hate List
Small tear tapes and pull tabs that are too small to grasp.
Shrink wraps that are hard to open and remove.
Gabletop milk and juice cartons that are difficult to open the first time.
CR closures that resist every opening attempt.
Caps that require complicated opening procedures such as lining up of tiny arrows.
Hard-to-see tamper-evident features.
Heat-sealed cereal inner bags and potato chip bags that are hard to open and reseal.
Pump nozzles that do not identify open and closed positions.
Tiny, condensed type on pharmaceutical back labels.
From 1995 Mature Market Packaging Survey by Gerstman+Meyers
Senior Market Packaging Wish List
Easy-to-read back labels.
Large, visible easy-opening instructions.
High-contrast text (e.g., black type on light background).
Maximum color contrast.
Icons that aid understanding of opening, closing and use instructions.
Stand-up squeeze tubes for toothpaste.
Freshness-preserving inner wraps for cookies/crackers.
Portion packs for coffee, tea and baked goods.
Bigger, easy-to-grasp opening tabs.
Large handles on large bottles.
Improved opening and resealing features on pouches.
Closures on pharmaceutical packages with equal attention to child resistance and handling by the elderly.