"Green communicates a better-for-you image," said Barry Seelig, president of Apple Designsource Inc., a Manhattan-based design firm.
As the color of choice for a mushrooming array of low- and no-fat foods, it's almost to the point that no copy is needed, said Jerry Harbauer, principal of Harbauer Bruce Design, Chicago.
To remove any doubts, however, "Everyone is adding 'low-fat' and 'no-fat' violators," said Brad Curtis, account executive at Curtis Design, San Francisco.
Today, "green" packaging also means environmentally friendly, another driving force in package design. Designing for the environment eliminates nonessential packaging like some secondary cartons, down-gauges material, develops refills and uses recyclable and/or recycled-content.
In addition, we're starting to see what environmental marketing consultant Jacquelyn Ottman, president of J. Ottman Consulting, New York, terms "permanent" packaging. This is a "mother" package with superior performance qualities intended for long-term use with refills. For example, Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, offers a reclosable plastic canister to consumers who use refill bags of its powder laundry detergents.
Another major influence on packaging comes from club store requirements for larger sizes and packaging that works in pallet load displays rather than single units, said John Pardo, managing director of Deskey Associates, a New York design firm.
With shoppers paying close attention to price and private-label products more prevalent and viewed as higher quality than ever before, brands live and die through differentiation.
"We're seeing more specialty inks, metallics and holograms," said Gwen Granzow, vice president/creative director, Design North, Racine, Wis. "In many categories, illustration styles have become more funky, with outrageous type and impactful color."
She predicted differentiation also will encourage more brand managers to explore the use of nontraditional shapes like the goldfish carton used by Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., for goldfish crackers. Unusual packaging also appeals to kids and teens, an important niche that controls an ever-increasing portion of family spending.
As scanner data from the checkout has made it possible to identify purchasers, package design is increasingly targeted to a specific niche -- kids, elderly, Hispanic, etc. For example, Granzow says, photography used for frozen and convenience foods has become very dramatic to appeal to the working moms who want a nice, good-tasting meal without spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
But graphics and an unusual shape without a real functional benefit can't always provide a strong enough brand message in today's competitive market. That's why David Pressler, vice president at King Casey, a marketing and design consultancy in New Canaan, Conn., advocates going beyond graphics to include value-added functional and proprietary features. Qualities like reclosability, dispensability, pourability, shelf-life extension and selection/usage information provide benefits that support brand strategy, he explained.
The manufacturer often can cut costs and increase volume. The retailer profits from improved handling and category management and consumers receive the convenience they want.
Finally, package design has been taken over by the computer. It not only speeds up the process, but makes some far-out collaging and other techniques possible. However, there's some concern that it has been a mixed blessing.
"The computer is a great tool," said Harbauer. "It's really expedited the process. But," he warned, "it's not a designer. When manufacturers and design firms rely on the computer to do the design, it's limited by the program being used. That can lead to mediocrity and a sameness of design."
Over-reliance on the computer also can result in uninspired type font selection plus poor letter and word spacing, he says.
Nevertheless, said Ted Holloran, principal in F.V. Holloran & Associates, Needham, Mass., a packaging consulting firm, for today's multinational marketers especially, the computer simplifies execution and management of designs and helps ensure packaging materials are consistent regardless of where they are produced.