As food packaging designers, we generally focus all our brilliance and ingenuity on creating food packaging that gets the consumer’s attention and convinces them to put a product in their shopping cart. But our job doesn’t end there, and other elements of the package’s design must be equally considered.
On a basic level, the package design must ensure that the product remains protected and preserved until it reaches the consumer. There’s a reason we don’t buy a dozen eggs loosely packed in a plastic bag, secured with a twist-tie. That little cardboard crate serves an obvious purpose of protecting the product, and this results in happier customers who can realistically get home with twelve eggs intact and skip washing the floor mats in their car. Pretty simple, right? But how else is food packaging important? Some elements of package design focus solely on preservation. Many beverage manufacturers have recognized the effects that light can have on the flavor of certain drinks. Many breweries now distribute their beer in darker bottles to protect the integrity of their brew’s flavor. Over on the dairy aisle, white plastic milk jugs are replacing the old-school clear ones.
On a fancy schmancy, high-tech note, radio frequency identification (RFID) is branching out beyond garage door openers and toll passes and finding a purpose in food package design. By incorporating RFID technology into food packaging, a manufacturer improves quality control by allowing an individual product to be tracked throughout the entire supply chain and all the way to the consumer’s shopping cart. This technology also gives consumers more insight into the quality of products they buy. Imagine being able to scan a package of carrots with your smart phone and immediately know what farm it came from and what date it arrived at the supermarket. Excited? Stalker.
Ultimately, our clients are business owners interested in improving their bottom line, and the user-friendliness of a product’s packaging has a lot to do with its profitability. For example, a customer might purchase a bottle of vodka and find that it’s difficult to grip and pour with one hand because of the bottle’s girth or shape. Or, maybe a customer buys a jug of orange juice that doesn’t fit into their refrigerator’s in-door shelves making it inconvenient to store. In both cases, the company probably lost what could have been a repeat customer, and it had nothing to do with the quality of their product. Getting the customer to reach for your item on the shelf is one thing; getting them to reach for it again in the future is another. The lesson here, boys and girls, is that the importance of food packaging design goes beyond how sexy it looks on store shelves.
Fear not, soft-hearted humanitarians, it’s not all about the evil, corporationey fat cats turning a huge profit while roosting in their luxurious, penthouse office suites. There’s also a warm and fuzzy element to all this focus on food packaging design. Efficiency is defined as a state of maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. Usually, making a product package more economically efficient also means increased environmentally friendliness.
We’ve seen this happen extensively in the beverage market in recent years. Plastic water bottle manufacturers continually find ways to make the same size bottles using less and less materials. Soda and beer producers have made similar strides by making cans that use less aluminum without sacrificing volume (well, except for the 0.7-oz smaller Budweiser can redesign). The benefits of these innovations are two-fold. Clearly it reduces overhead; less materials equals less cost. But a lighter product also translates to lower shipping and distribution costs. The trickle-down effect of a more lightweight product goes on to include ecological benefits. Less fuel is needed for distribution and less waste ends up in landfills. Over all, woodland creatures everywhere are left happier, and tree-huggers are jumping for joy in their Birkenstocks. In all seriousness, efficiency is a win-win situation. And brilliant package designers, like ourselves, are essential in achieving optimal efficiency.
So, what have we learned today? We’ve learned there’s no limit to what creativity and craftiness in packaging design can do. We’ve clearly made a case that efficiency in package design can boost the world economy by creating successful businesses, making consumers giddy with their purchases and save the planet by limiting the environmental footprint of consumer products. We’ve also learned that a package design should not be inconvenient for a customer to use, and most importantly, it should never come between people and their ability to easily pour their booze.