CHICAGO -- To remain successful in coming years, brand marketers must select packaging that takes two major forces into account: the changing face of retail merchandising and environmental concerns. That was the consensus of speakers at breakfast sessions at the Pack Expo show in Chicago.
A study conducted by Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., for Pack Expo's sponsor, the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute, Alexandria, Va., shows supermarkets account for a declining percentage of food sales due to competition from superstores, warehouse clubs, no-frills groceries and a wide variety of restaurants.
For the first time, U.S. consumers now spend more money on food eaten away from home than on groceries, the MSU researchers told the audience at the "Retail: Packaging Changes for the Year 2000" session.
Consumer demands, once centered on convenience, now focus on quality, which frequently translates as fresh. This preference, said the researchers, will encourage continued growth in the chilled food category and lead to increased opportunities for shelf-life-extending technology such as controlled/modified-atmosphere packaging.
It also will require improvements in handling and distribution so chilled foods are maintained at the proper temperature. Temperature control is critical with these new products from both a quality and safety standpoint.
Studies show, for example, that exposure for one hour at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit can reduce chilled food shelf life by a day. In addition, half of all shoppers reject precut and packaged salad mixtures due to deterioration resulting from improper storage and handling.
Despite emphasis on quality, convenience requirements haven't disappeared. For example, a growing number of supermarkets are testing home delivery services and recording double-digit sales increases. One store in Orlando, Fla., is even experimenting with mail delivery.
In addition, although currently the smallest segment, food is the fastest growing home shopping category.
Other trends influencing consumer spending include a desire for variety and excitement, as witnessed by increased interest in ethnic foods, a focus on safety, nutrition and health, plus concern for the environment.
"It's important for companies to demonstrate a 'we care' attitude [about the environment]," John Reid, director of corporate environmental affairs for Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, said at the "Eye on the Environment" session.
"Many of today's consumers feel guilty about being a part of a disposable society and have a deep, almost primal concern about the survival of themselves and their children," explained Deborah Anderson, vice president of environmental quality-worldwide for Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, at the same session.
"The environment is a basic and critical business issue that's not going to go away," she added.
Insisting that environmental needs should be met through science, Anderson believes there must be a "coordinated multifaceted approach to waste handling, customized to locality needs including economics."
The appropriate strategy for brand marketers, she continued, is to seek all opportunities for source reduction; encourage use of post-consumer recycled, or PCR, content; make all products/ packages compatible with composting or recycling, and help build composting/recycling infrastructure.
At P&G, source reduction has been achieved through development of concentrates; two-in-one products, such as Tide with Bleach and shampoo/conditioner combos; refill packages, and elimination of secondary packaging, such as cartons for deodorant and toothpaste.
As a result, P&G uses 24% less material today than in it did in the period from 1989 to 90. P&G also increased the percentage of PCR content it uses to a companywide average of 37%.