In the world of packaged health and beauty care products, what's on the inside counts for much, but consumers may never discover it if the outside doesn't capture their attention.
Through the efforts of package designers and many manufacturers, retailers are presenting a brighter and more attractive selection of health and beauty care products to their customers.
in HBC continuing to proliferate, brands, whether national or private label, are looking to eye-catching package graphics to call out to customers from the shelf. Fresh approaches to tried-and-true lines also help manufacturers maintain in-store real estate.
Meanwhile, many supermarket chains are repositioning and remerchandising their HBC departments to take advantage of these goods. Some, like Kroger and Giant Eagle, are going with angled display units and large graphics to complement this trend.
"Premium packaging, historically the standard for fine fragrances and department store cosmetics, is finding new applications among mass-market personal care products," said Maria Brous, spokeswoman, Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla.
Among the many brands setting the pace in HBC packaging: Garnier Fructis, Dove, L'Oreal Vive Pro, Speed Stick, Alba, Crest Pro-Health, Listerine, Ban, Axe, Gillette Fusion, and natural products like Tom's of Maine and Burt's Bees. Even everyday needs like Crest and Oral-B flosses have seen fresh designs.
While many of these, like Garnier Fructis and L'Oreal Vive Pro, have gone with bright colors, Dove has embraced a simpler, white design that also serves to differentiate.
"Several vendors have repackaged or brought out line extensions in the past six to 12 months," said Roxanne Brodheim, national category manager, body care, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo. "It reflects the more luxurious marketing trend."
Marketers realize consumer preferences are changing, so over the past few years, "you are seeing new-product introductions as well as the redesign of older brands," said Jerry Johnson, president and founder of Voltaggio Johnson Design, St. Paul, Minn., a package design and branding firm that works with various consumer product companies, as well as Target Corp., Minneapolis.
"With the short amount of time a customer stands in front of a section, attractive packaging is critical to gaining that customer's attention," said Jack Serota, vice president, GM/HBC, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y.
Much like supermarkets' position between specialty retailers and supercenters, many mass-produced HBC products are feeling a mid-market squeeze, manufacturers and industry analysts told SN.
"National, mass-produced brands are facing the tough decision to either go up-market and look to high-end retailers or go down-market and seek growth through value pricing and mass market retailers," said Tom Verhile, director of Productscan Online, Naples, N.Y., a database of new products, owned by Datamonitor, N.Y.
"The answer is to innovate," Johnson said. Consumer preferences are for a style of upscale packaging that communicates function and tradition, retailers, manufacturers and designers told SN.
One style that has emerged as a "positioning concept" is nostalgia, Johnson said. "It is about finding a true product that conveys simplicity, authenticity and quality."
This is exactly the position taken by newcomer brand Thomas Pharmaceuticals, New York, and 138-year-old J.R. Watkins Apothecary, Winona, Minn.
Thomas Pharmaceuticals' product, Acid & All, launched in March with what founder and President Tom Thomas described as "an old-school formula in a pill box, the original format for apothecary items." Since then the product has made its way into about 1,200 stores with purchase orders waiting to be filled for Publix and Kroger in September.
J.R. Watkins Apothecary products are carried in Hy-Vee, Meijer, Price Chopper, Wal-Mart and Target, and the brand's personal care line has seen triple-digit growth in the past year, spokesman J.R. Rigley told SN.
"This lends itself to the older consumer through trust and the younger consumers through comfort with efficacy," Rigley said.
"Nature's Gate and Jason were two major vendors with a significant package change this year," noted Wild Oats' Brodheim.
Over the past year, Nature's Gate, Chatsworth, Calif., has repackaged its entire line and launched 29 new items, spokeswoman Casi Hudson told SN. She cited new fragrances housed in Italian frosted-glass bottles.
Meanwhile, some older brands that have kept the same look for decades are maintaining or receiving new interest. One example is Gold Bond Powder from Chattem, Chattanooga, Tenn. "Our customers are very loyal because we have strong brand equity," said Laurie Hodge, director of marketing.
As another example, the new Gum-brand products by Butler have Crayola packaging to make some of the toothbrushes look like crayons, noted Sue Vodika, HBC buyer/category manager, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. "The packaging stands out because everyone knows Crayola."
One thing everyone knows about Crayola is color. Simple, bright colors can make a strong statement in package design. Color also is a main component of Unilever's recent launch of its Sunsilk-brand hair care products.
Now that these looks are available, it is up to retailers to merchandise them in such a way that consumers are drawn to them, industry observers told SN.
"A display that is illuminated does wonders," said Gary Grossman, chief executive officer and founder, Innovations and Development, a marketing and design firm in Edgewater, N.J., that is currently developing new structural packaging for a leading deodorant brand.
Referring to a new Stop & Shop store in Stamford, Conn., Grossman said, "They have a 20-foot aisle with their own illuminated display where specialty bath products stand out aesthetically."
HBC carries with it a huge emotional component, Johnson said. "Women from all social and economic levels have told us that these products are for 'my five minutes a day,'" based on research his company has done for Wal-Mart, Grossman said.
"Many of these women will use these products in the bathroom and show them off on the counter or even outside the bathroom on their bureau," he said. "The great benefit is that the products are personal."
Sleek, luxurious packaging is becoming a trend among national health and beauty care brands, making it something private-label brands should also take advantage of, industry observers told SN.
"Supermarkets can leverage this trend by paying attention to the development of their own private-label products," said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. "Something should be developed that competes functionally and from the standpoint of packaging ambiance."
Among those that have done an especially good job with this are Ahold USA, Braintree, Mass., with its CareOne line, and Kroger Co., Cincinnati. Private-label cooperative Topco Associates, Skokie, Ill., also is making great strides in design with its Top Care products, Wisner said.
Consumers do not evaluate products strictly based on performance, he said. "Consumers ask, 'How does this product fit my lifestyle and how does it connect with me?'"
Traditionally, private-label branding presents a value proposition for consumers and good margins for retailers, but the packaging usually appears "down-market," said Jerry Johnson, president and founder of Voltaggio Johnson Design, St. Paul, Minn., a package design and branding firm.
Voltaggio Johnson has been a design vendor for Target Corp., Minneapolis, for over 13 years, Johnson said, and in that time, "the relationship has taught us that private label, if done correctly, can be pushed out of the commodity box and compete with the national brands on more than just price."
"Private label doesn't need to look like a commodity; it can be whatever you want it to be," Johnson said. "Design is a missed opportunity for retailers in private-label HBC."
Even with an eye on design, product assortment should not be ignored, Johnson said. "Private labels could be pushed a bit more in assortment. With added choices and marketing, customers will get excited and be drawn in."