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Team development approach results in packaging concepts that consumers ‘eat up.’
Dairy processors sometimes spend more than a year formulating a new product. In the brand-oriented atmosphere of today’s consumer goods market, the package is just as important as what is inside.
DF recently spoke with representatives of dairy processors that have undergone the packaging design process with innovative results.
Don Messer, associate principal engineer at Minneapolis-based YoplaitColombo USA, helped develop squeezable Go-Gurt yogurt as well as the company’s newest package, Spoon-in-Lid Colombo yogurt. The company is a division of General Mills.
Marlene Weaver, community services specialist for Turkey Hill Dairy, Conestoga, Pa., helped with the Kroger Co.-owned dairy’s shift from paper to plastic in its fluid line and from plastic to paper in its ice cream line.
Darryln Leikauskas, director of restaurant marketing and an integral member of the packaging design team at Boston-based Brigham’s Ice Cream, was part of the Big Dig ice cream packaging and marketing design team.
Bolswessanen USA, St. Augustine, Fla., is parent company to a diverse group of dairy processors. Randy Eronimous, marketing manager for both Crowley Foods, Binghampton, N.Y., and Heluva Good Cheese, Sodus, N.Y., offers insight into the company’s philosophy on fluid, cultured and cheese packaging. Meanwhile, Dave Garber, marketing manager for Crowley’s Kemps Foods, Lancaster, Pa., offers the packaging development view that led to Kemps new Green’s Maximum and Green’s Special Selection lines of ice cream. (The name was recently changed from Green’s Extreme to Green’s Maximum.)
The recent introduction of ultra high temperature-processed Moovers milk in plastic bottles by Smith’s Dairy Co., Orville, Ohio, has intrigued the dairy industry with its extended shelf-life capabilities. Chuck Diehl, manager of Smith’s Wayne Division, was part of the packaging development team.
DF: Tell us about the packaging development process at your company.
Don Messer, Yoplait-Colombo: With products like Go-Gurt and the spoon-in-lid Colombo, we try to look for opportunities to meet customer needs that are unfilled. In general, we focus pretty heavily on trying to figure out what those needs are. Both of these products really have found a niche.
It’s a team effort both within General Mills and with the suppliers for both of these products. We have a cross-divisional, or cross-functional team that’s pulling together marketing operations, product development, package development and consumer insight and finance to really speak to each of the requirements of a project like this. After the team defines the concept, the value of the concept and the technology of the concept, they begin to pull in the expertise required and start to develop the relationships and identify the right vendors that can pull this off.
All of those things have to happen, or the packages are just figments of the imagination. These are products of Yoplait-Colombo as a business, not purely packaging R&D.
Marlene Weaver, Turkey Hill: We use an ad agency for our designing. We make two segments of products that are very different, ice cream and tea, and we want to strive for a consistent brand image. We really work back and forth with the agency, almost as one department. The agency comes up with about 20 concepts, and we say, ‘well, this one matches our brand, this one doesn’t.’
Our feature ice cream flavors were in plastic half-gallons, and we’ve just switched over to paper half-gallon nestyle tubs. Last year we started scaling back on plastic containers. Instead of every single feature flavor in plastic, we scaled it back to about half in paper, especially for flavors that are recurring favorites because people already have the collectible package.
Darryln Leikauskas, Brigham’s: We’re a pretty small company, even with our retail business and our 30 ice cream restaurants. It’s a team effort. I handle the packaging end, and the director of marketing for the brand and the sales director get involved.
The most recent project was Big Dig ice cream. Generally, we don’t do special packaging for one flavor. We have a r group of flavors on one cup and we just change the lids depending on the flavor. Our nutrition panel usually encompasses three to four flavors on the side panel. It gives us much more flexibility production-wise, less inventory, and makes it easier to handle operationally.
But for this new flavor, we couldn’t do it all on the lid. The Big Dig is the largest road construction project in Boston, expected to be complete in 2004. Commuters are cursing that project every day of their lives. We hired a creative consultant to help us with billboard concepts. He came up with “The Big Dig, Brigham-style.” The billboard featured a giant ice cream scoop extension. It generated a lot of attention. Then we developed the ice cream flavor, and knew it needed its own package. We hired the same consultant to design the package for us.
Randy Eronimous, Crowley Foods: All product packaging development is developed through cross-functional teams that include manufacturing, purchasing, marketing and usually a sales person. We can develop the ideal consumer package, but if it will not run through the channels of distribution effectively, it’s not going to make it in the marketplace.
Dave Garber, Kemps Foods: Our package development process combines our package design and our crossfunctional new product groups. Our newest product introduction is an ice cream co-branding project with Hershey Foods. The group consists of representatives from operations, purchasing, finance, sales, marketing, research and development, advertising agency, legal and Hershey Foods. The result is a line of five Green Supreme flavors all containing Hershey Candy Ingredients, scheduled for introduction the week of May 31.
Chuck Diehl, Smith’s Dairy: The extended shelf life Moovers milk in plastic bottles was a team effort involving sales, marketing, production, quality assurance, transportation and senior administration.
DF: What types of considerations are involved in determining product packaging and materials? (i.e. cost, extended shelf life, environmental aspects, graphics capability, product integrity, ability to reseal, supplier relationship, branding efforts)
Messer: We start with the consumer concept and that forms a basis of what we’re going after. On Go-Gurt, we did a lot of work with focus groups with consumers about portability and convenience and another way to eat yogurt.
We start with consumer functionality. Can we provide some equity on this for consumers, some differentiation? Can we support high-quality graphics? Does it give product protection? Does it give product usage, the way it’s conceived? Does it give the appropriate barrier in shipping and handling integrity? And then, where does it stand in terms of recyclability or resource reduction?
Then we had to bring those concepts back to some key questions: What technologies are available? What can be done? What are the cost ramifications? What are the capabilities of some of the vendors that could do this kind of thing? Do we have a technology that both our vendors in-house and our filling/converting operations have confidence in? The ultimate package that you see is a combination of all those factors.
Weaver: The first would be cost. Of course you need to stay competitive. The second is graphic capabilities, because our brand image is very important to us and we need to be able to maintain that.
We offer two to three new flavors each month in our feature flavor program in packages with unique designs. Our suppliers need to have that ability to be able to print these designs and in doing short runs, because those flavors are only offered for a short time. The third is the package needs to be reliable.
Leikauskas: We’ve always done paper packages, and we recently switched to plastic lids. As a small company, we look at the cost. The buyer relationship plays a big role in that we use what they can offer.
Garber Our primary goal in packaging is to communicate clearly to the consumer the features and benefits of our product, and at the same time be consistent with the positioning of our particular product line. We are always focused on strengthening our brand equity. Considerations such as environmental aspect, reusability, supplier relationship and cost go into every project.
Eronimous: Extended shelf life is always one of the high priorities. Any graphics capability is a consideration, a tool to develop the brand equity. The convenience covers areas like resealability and product integrity. Environmental aspects are less important now than in the past. Recyclability is still an important factor, but we’re seeing fewer concerns for the environmental aspect. Almost all of the containers now have been light-weighted or reduced to a point where they’re about as environmentally friendly as they can be and still be functional.
Diehl: For the Moovers product in particular, in prioritizing those areas, product integrity is No. 1; shelf life is No. 2; graphics is third; ability to reseal is fourth; branding efforts come in fifth; environmental aspects in sixth. Believe it or not, cost is seventh.
DF: What does your company consider value-added packaging?
Messer: One way to deliver yogurt is in a 32-ounce tub. When you go to single servings, that’s value-added packaging.
We’re taking it to the next level, delivering the spoon with the package or a package designed so the product can be consumed without a spoon. Both these products can be eaten anytime, anywhere. It’s a way that packaging can give the consumer a reason to buy the product in addition to the quality and taste of the product.
Weaver: We have a false bottom on our paper tub. It gives the package stability. When you’re scooping your ice cream out, getting to the bottom of the package, the package is still sturdy; it’s not going to fall apart. Consumers have actually told us they consider the window extremely valuable. They like to see what they’re getting. We also consider our use of the tight re-seal instead of a flap added value.
Garber: Value-added packaging in our business offers the consumer convenience, better product protection, longer shelf life or reusability. A perfect example of this is our new Milk To Go plastic single-serve pint milk bottles. The package makes milk competitive with other non-dairy drinks. Another example is plastic containers for frozen desserts and the reusability aspect.
Eronimous: Value-added to us is anything that delivers a value to our consumers, whether it is extended shelf life, ease of use or product differentiation. We ask what the packaging development offers to our consumers that our competition doesn’t currently have. For instance, a spout pack on a UHT item, certain sizes of yogurt containers with resealable lids versus foil lids and multipack yogurts.
Diehl: In one word, convenience. The single-serve fits in the cup-holder. You can take it with you, it’s resealable, has high-impact graphics and then we added extended shelf life. The movement on convenience is dramatic.
DF: What types of leading-edge technology, packaging materials and design ideas are your company seeking?
Messer: Convenience is a trend that we think is important, and it’s particularly appropriate for the yogurt. This is a snack item that is already very convenient, and we think we can continue to push that boundary. We do it in ways that don’t cost the consumer a lot of money, but that offer a better delivery. At the same time, we try to minimize the impact of added packaging on the environment.
Weaver: We’re always looking for suggestions. Suppliers come in and pitch to us. One of the things we’ve always had an interest in is tamper-evident packaging. It was available when our ice cream was in the paper square. At this point, no one has shown us a cost-efficient way to have a tamper-evident seal on the tub.
Garber: For frozen products we will investigate any new packaging idea, but is must be financially justifiable. We like the idea of forming our packaging inhouse.
Eronimous: We entertain almost any technological advance as far as packaging materials are concerned. Anything that will provide a barrier that improves shelf life is extremely important to us.
Diehl: We’re seeking to continue to extend our shelf life. There are some product composition-type issues that are keeping us at 60 days shelf life right now. We want the product performing on the last day of code the way it is on the first day.
We will continue to refine and define production speeds. We are out in the market against the beverage guys right now. We’d like some beverage guy-type production speeds.
DF: What does your company look for in a packaging supplier?
Messer A high level of customer service, a quality product with the technical capability to stretch. Capability is No. 1. We want suppliers that can consistently deliver for us in quality and have the fundamental capabilities to do what we need. The other part is having the technical know-how to be able to stretch that capability to do some unique things for us. That’s a tough trade-off right now, between cost and technical assets. But we need to have that technical capability in our vendors to do value-added stretches. Like everybody else, we’re running a tough race. We need to have what we want when we want it.
Weaver: Our brand image is very important to us, so we feel that a supplier who’s aware of that is able to help us. We want them to say, ‘this other type of design or this type of printing would really go well with what you’re trying to accomplish in your brand.’ Reliability is important, and of course, we want an honest and fair price.
Leikauskas: I have short lead-time on product, because we like to do things on a quick turn-around basis. On-time delivery is very important. We want everything to be exactly the way we expect it, with quality printing and graphics. If they print it flat and form the cups, we want the stripes to be all lined up. Also, feasible minimum runs in order to take care of a lot of the private label customers.
Garber: In frozen desserts, colorful, impactful graphics is becoming extremely important. The consumer must be drawn to your package and see at a glance what your product offers that is different from your competition. Another trend is plastic milk and drink packaging, especially single-serve milk.
Eronimous: Obviously cost is the major consideration, then reliability and innovation. We are not experts in developing plastic containers – we rely on suppliers to bring us the latest technology.
Diehl: We look for people that have a total commitment to the program. We are looking for true partnerships. Unfortunately, the idea of a partnership is sometimes, `hand it over partner.’ That doesn’t work so well. We enjoy it when we see people as concerned as we are, as committed as we are, as involved as we are who understand the dairy industry is seven days a week.
DF What trends are developing for packaging in various dairy categories?
Messer: There’s a tremendous amount of development going on in packaging fresh dairy products such as yogurt in Europe, Japan and in this country. There are all types of different forms of doing that, to find the most value-added single serving. We work hard to find good fits between technology and consumer needs. Opportunities are being generated in material converting with barriers and multiple barriers. There will be more and more valueadded packaging and less and less commodity yogurt in a cup.
Weaver As far as ice cream goes, the two-piece package with the resealable lid as opposed to the square package is a trend. Premium brands are all going to a two-piece package.
In 1997, we converted our tea and fluid milk lines from paper to plastic. Our teas had a 32 percent unit sales increase and our milk line had a 62 percent unit increase. It has attracted a younger crowd – the C-store person that walks in to get something to drink.
Leikauskas: As far as ice cream, the rounded rectangles look nice. The trend is upscale, new shapes. Many of the case dispensers in the supermarkets are the gravity fed. For us, the lid is taking a predominant view over the package itself.
Garber: We’re always looking to do something graphically that helps our product jump off the ice cream shelf. Our Maximum and Special Selection lines are a perfect example of going beyond where we used to go. With all the computer graphics and capabilities available now, you can be as wild as your brain will allow you to be, probably even more so.
You’re really seeing a whole lot of new and different types of packages and package graphics. Ice cream is a fun product. Graphics should be fun too. Everything about it should be fun.
Eronimous: Different ways to deliver our products to the point of consumption is going to be critical. For cheese, resealable packaging continues to be a very important factor, as are convenience items, which include smaller package sizes, shredded products.
For fluid milk, the single-serve, plastic pints are going to continue to grow. Within fluid milk there are opportunities for growth in the sectors of yogurt beverages.
Single-serve containers are one of the biggest, hottest, continuing trends for cultured products, like the single-serve cottage cheeses that are popping up and the different sizes and configurations of yogurt packaging.
Diehl: We’ve had some interesting conversations about the Moovers line with customers. We walk in and make a presentation and want to talk about the PET bottle, the UV light-resistant bottle, the double-plug style closure, the extended shelf life and the graphics. We’ve had some folks tell us that people will never pay for that. And we say, ‘Well, why not?’ And they say, ‘Because that’s milk!’
So we’ve changed our approach. We tell them that traditional milk packaging is not portable, and we remind them of today’s consumer attitude: ‘I want the product how I want it, when I want it and where I want it.’ And people will pay for that product.
DF: What packaging innovations will be developed in the dairy industry over the next ten years?
Messer We’ll see new forms of dairy products that will be eaten in new ways and in new places.
Weaver: This is where we look to our suppliers and say, `What have you come up with? Where are you at? Where are your competitors?’
Garber: People’s lifestyles don’t seem to be slowing down at all, so convenience as far as dairy products go, even as far as ice cream goes, will be increasingly important. There will probably be some technology changes that will allow dairy and frozen products to be more easily incorporated into home meal solutions.
Eronimous: It’s going to take all different shapes and sizes to deliver that convenience to consumers, but as the demographics and the eating habits of the country change, our products are going to need to evolve to meet those needs. Anything that delivers convenience to the end-user, the consumer, is going to grow that.
The share of stomach that home meal preparation occupies right now is going to continue to shrink, and foodservice applications are going to continue to grow. Anything that delivers convenience to the consumer is going to be a winner, even if it carries a premium. Diehl: I see people asking for more shelf life or even shelf stable milk products. We have to continue to get dairy products where the people are and when the people want it.
Copyright Stagnito Publishing Jun 1999
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