Packaging that facilitates easy opening, preparation and cleanup is appealing to the needs of older Americans
Baby Boomers' pleas for greater convenience have been answered.
Manufacturers are creating packaging that's not only easier to open, but resealable and adorned with heart-healthy logos, osteoporosis prevention icons and ease-of-opening messages designed to appeal to members of the aging demographic.
Oven- and microwave-friendly containers are also making food preparation and cleanup virtually effortless for members of the generation, retailers told SN.
Tim McGovern, grocery manager for two-store Orchard Market, Spring Lake, Mich., has seen a wealth of new convenience-focused containers moving into Center Store in recent years.
“Kraft mayonnaise is a great example, because it comes in rectangular plastic jars with pop-open lids that are very easy to open,” he said. “In the past few years, most of the 64-ounce non-refrigerated juices have also changed from round shapes to containers that are square with rounded edges so they fit better in refrigerator doors. Manufacturers are calling the new shape ‘squ-round.’ Many of the new jars also have a textured, indented section on one side so they are easier to grip.”
For consumers who don't want to clean pots and pans, Orchard Market merchandises Uncle Ben's and Zatarain's rice pouches and Betty Crocker's microwavable Bowl Appetit pasta and rice bowls and Warm Delights desserts, as well as Taco Bell microwavable bowls. People can simply heat, eat and throw them away, said McGovern.
For the most part, the need for can openers has also been eliminated.
“Almost every brand of soup in a can has a pull-tab top, and coffee manufacturers, like Folgers and Maxwell House, have come out with plastic containers with handgrips and resealable lids,” McGovern said. “Even chicken broth has resealable lids, and some brands now come in rectangular boxes instead of round cans.”
Having multiple convenience features is important to the Boomer demographic, said Mona Doyle, president of Consumer Network, Philadelphia. Earlier this year, Doyle's firm conducted a study on brand and package likability.
“Baby Boomers have a perceived need, not just a preference for packaging that offers convenience,” said Doyle. “They want food in an ovenable package so they don't have to pull out another pan to cook with. They also like packages that are easy to pour, easy to carry and items that are in square or rectangular packages.”
Shapes like these benefit this age group because most members have disposable income, they tend to stock up on goods, and items like these make the best use of limited shelf space.
“Squares and rectangles also mean less wasted space on retailers' shelves,” Doyle noted.
Consumer Network recently fielded another study called Opening Barriers. Of the 2,500 consumers surveyed online, those age 55 or older were three times as likely to switch from or avoid certain brands because they are difficult to open, said Doyle.
Some categories, such as juice, milk, ice cream and shampoo, weren't a concern. But snack chips, batteries and cleaning products — particularly cleaners with small caps — were definite problems for older shoppers.
“Products that come in blister packs, like batteries and cosmetics, are especially difficult for people in this age group to open, especially women,” she said.
Other barrier items revealed by the study include office products like tape, which is hard to get “started,” and over-the-counter drugs in childproof vials.
Soup wasn't an issue for most people who participated in the study, probably because most brands have pull tabs now, said Doyle.
Silgan Container Corp., Woodland Hills, Calif., is responsible for Campbell's and Progresso's tab tops. The packaging company is also the inventor of Dot Tops, which facilitate the opening of vacuum-sealed glass jars and metal cans.
“With Dot Tops, the lid is still vacuumed onto the container,” said Heidi Slocumb, marketing manager for Silgan. “To open, the consumer peels back the plastic dot on the lid, releasing the vacuum seal, and then they can simply lift the lid to remove it, so there's no twisting required. The ease of opening makes Dot Tops ideal for seniors and those with arthritis, and it also provides the functional benefits of being reclosable and safe, with no sharp edges.”
Dot Top technology is currently available in the U.S. on Hirzel's pizza sauce. The company expects more domestic food makers to adopt it in upcoming years as the industry increasingly caters to Boomers.
“The senior segment is such a huge generation of people, and they spend a disproportionate amount of money in grocery stores, so it's vital that we stay on top of their specific package needs,” said Slocumb.
Indeed, this is a group that shouldn't be ignored, said Sheila McCusker, editor of Chicago-based Information Resources Inc.'s “Times and Trends” report. Some manufacturers are leading the pack, developing elaborate merchandising campaigns that put their products directly in the path of their core consumers.
“One of the most interesting products made for this generation, especially those encountering arthritis, is Maxwell House's trademarked EZ-Grip lid,” said McCusker. “Maxwell House has cross-merchandised the new containers of coffee in the over-the-counter remedy sections of some retailers' stores.”
The company even incorporated a tie-in with the Arthritis Foundation, which has honored the EZ-Grip lid design with its “Ease-of-Use Commendation.” Folgers' Aroma Seal Canister, with similarly styled packaging, is also listed on the foundation's website as an easy-to-use product.
Along with easy-open technologies and more efficient shapes, Boomers are also interested in on-package marketing messages related to health, said McCusker.
“Low-sodium icons are big right now and are showing up on items like Campbell's soups, which are currently our No. 1 products to watch in the coming year,” she told SN. “Heart-healthy icons are also important to this segment, and they are on everything from bread to cereal.”
Adults, and Boomers in particular, are concerned about getting enough fiber in their diets, a concept that has prompted the appearance of “whole grain” logos on products like cereals, noted Ted Taft, managing director for Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn.
“The package is becoming just as important as the contents,” he said. “I expect these symbols to appear on more packages in the future.”
General Mills has been touting its use of whole grains for the past few years, said Mark Brase, vice president at Dahl's Food Markets, the 12-store Des Moines, Iowa chain.
Some brands, such as Cheerios, also boast a heart-healthy logo.
“I think it's interesting that Cheerios started putting heart-healthy and whole grain logos on its packages, because the company hasn't actually reformulated the product,” said Brase.
Some consumers who fall under the Baby Boomer heading also qualify as empty-nesters. According to McCusker, because of their suddenly smaller households, portion size is a big concern for these shoppers, and food makers are starting to recognize the growing market for single-serving sizes or, at least, reduced portions.
“Bertolli has a frozen pasta line called Dinner for Two which targets this segment,” she said. “The ingredients are upscale, which appeals to the sophisticated tastes of Baby Boomers, but the size is just right for a couple whose kids are all grown up and out of the house.”
Other manufacturers are realizing that food spoilage is an issue for empty-nesters.
“We've started carrying Birdseye's frozen single servings in our stores in the past six months or so,” said Anthony Gigliotti, vice president of sales and marketing for Boyer's Food Markets, Orwigsburg, Pa. “These are perfect portion-controlled products for Baby Boomers, but they can also be marketed to young single consumers.”
In nonfood aisles, the chain's aging consumers also gravitate toward easy-to-open, easy-to-use products, such as cleaning wipes, said Gigliotti. Compared to the tiny twist caps and spray levers on their traditionally packaged cleaning cousins, Windex, Clorox and other wipes are simply peeled open and are then ready to use. And because the packages are resealable, consumers get the portion control they're searching for, he said.
Baby Boomers even expect private-label products to come in more convenient packages, said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. The firm is in the midst of a Center Store study focusing on private-label products. Findings so far reveal that 44% of consumers rate packaging as an important factor in the canned private-label products they purchase.
“Approximately two-thirds said that pull-top lids, microwavable containers and single-serving size are ‘somewhat important’ or ‘very important’ when deciding which products to buy in canned ready-to-serve meals,” said Wisner. “Pour spouts, wide-mouth, nondrip, scoopable, shatterproof and other characteristics are also extremely important and transcend price for many items.”
Like Gigliotti, Wisner sees the parallels between Baby Boomers and young single adults. The similarities between the groups are growing as people wait longer to get married, and once wed, couples aren't necessarily having kids right away, so their households tend to remain small for longer than in the past, he said.
“These singles and dual-income couples fall into a similar category as empty-nesters in many respects, so the convenience packaging movement shouldn't be solely geared toward one or the other,” Wisner said.