17 October 2017

Shelf Appeal

In a bid for simplification and efficiency, the supermarket giants are emulating the discounters by reducing their number of SKUs.

Here are five packaging tips which will help squeezed grocery brands avoid being delisted - helping food manufacturers stand out, stay on-shelf and thrive in this competitive marketplace.

The UK grocery sector is arguably going through its biggest shake-up in history. With the continued success and growth of the discounters, the big four supermarkets need to take more aggressive action. In this challenging climate, it is the brands and the shoppers that are at greatest risk. It’s about price and the quality of the experience. A key part of the grocers’ efforts to date has been to move away from expensive in-store aisles and shelf promotions. Copying the success of Aldi, Asda and Tesco have now taken another step down the road to simplification and limited their number of SKUs. This not only simplifies the shopping experience but also is much more efficient and effective to manage, thus reducing time and costs. Fewer supplier relationships means that grocers can focus on the established monopoly or duopoly of branded players (think Heinz Baked Beans, Coca-Cola and Pepsi), sitting alongside their own-label business, the true key business they want to work with and win – why wouldn’t they want to back their own horses? But for the brands – particularly those that don’t have a clear and established love affair with shoppers – there is a real threat of being delisted and potentially becoming lost forever.

All is not lost. Brands can fight to stay on-shelf and prosper; but they need to invest in finding a sustainable role in shoppers’ lives and reflect this through every element of the brand. It sounds simple, but how can brands – especially those getting squeezed in the middle – reinvent themselves and offer something truly different to the branded monopoly or duopoly players in the market?

Food manufacturers need to look to empower their brands with design that works. Below are our five top tips for brands looking to thrive, not just survive.

1.Get up close and personal with your audience

The most important role of brand packaging is to connect a shopper with an occasion and need. The old adage for success, was that you just needed to stand out on-shelf and be different. Therefore, Designers just busily went away and changed the colour of the packaging to ensure it stood out against the rainbow of colours on fixture.

Brands looking to get closer to their audience with emotive designs must trigger the ‘pick up and purchase’. to stand the best chance of becoming a top brand in the market and demanding to stay on-shelf.

2. Become iconic

We identify and derive meaning from iconography. The advertising industry has now moved further away from the copy-laden ads of the ‘Mad Men’ era towards those with short, sharp headlines and more emotive imagery. Icons are now key to capture consumer attention.

For example, an alcohol brand with a harp, or a snack brand with a man’s moustache and bow tie make up Guinness and Pringles, respectively. However, there is still room for brands to find new meaning and create new icons.

3. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Brands lacking clarity in their core ideas struggle to believe in one key message and litter their packaging with too much wallpaper that people don’t bother to read. Brands should be looked at through a traffic-light lens: Red – which graphical elements can be thrown away because nobody cares about? Amber – graphics that have some equity but can be leveraged further. Green – Graphics that must be kept and strengthened further. With fresh eyes, try the traffic-light test.

4. Have a unique packaging structure

Consumers walking down the aisles scan the fixtures and their eyes first see structural format before anything else. Brands like Coca-Cola, Toblerone, Pringles, Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Orangina have all invested in structural form, creating packaging that stands out visually. However, it’s not always possible to have a unique shape, so how else can you innovate? Italy’s famed San Pellegrino drinks brand made its soft drinks cans stand out by simply adding a foil top, invoking memories of peeling fruit. It takes you to that natural place the brand wants you to be in when buying a fizzy orange or lemon drink. It’s not difficult, but it’s hugely effective.

By looking to extend the product above and beyond, the core packaging format is critical and is key to bringing innovation to the category. It’s not rocket science, but too few brands truly innovate packaging structure, and with packaging waste being a key consumer bugbear, it’s time brands took note and made a difference.

5. Innovate or Die

As already highlighted, branded players that aren’t first or second in their category must step out of the shadows and reconnect with their audience. One of the best ways for them to do this is – invest in relevant innovation that brings their brand and their chosen audience closer together.

Usually, there are three clear paths to innovation. First, invest in consumer insight to understand what ideas would work, as well as spending time in the kitchen. Following trends is also a clear path to innovation.

Second, a great deal of our trends come from multinational businesses that transfer successful products, often from the US, into the European markets. Get out there and see what’s working abroad, what can be learnt and then apply here in the UK.

Third, successfully innovate with packaging structure or new extensions such as Mondelez’s Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations (a brand that didn’t exist a decade ago but is now worth almost £95m). Or simply mash brands up, as Mondelez has done with its Cadbury Dairy Milk Oreo Bars.

The buyers in grocery retail are on the hunt for the relevant innovation that will make a commercial difference and quickly drive their category forward. It’s up to each manufacturer to decide just what they have in their arsenal to leverage, and then follow their own unique path to innovation to make a commercial difference.

There is a set of principles that can be applied to your food brand. Principles that should help to give your product a fighting chance to stand up, be seen and ultimately make a difference in people’s lives.

Richard Taylor