Being awarded the Légion d’Honneur has led me to take a closer look at over 30 years dedicated to everyday design. What a journey! What changes there have been! Widely recognised for the value it creates, branding and packaging is increasingly important for the consumer and must confront new societal and environmental challenges. Let’s take a closer look.
Humans have always stored and transported food. For millennia, they have designed solutions to meet this basic need. Global development has led us to standardise the storage of food, to transport it but also to identify it, highlight it and package it. Packaging is strategically important to satisfy the 21st century consumer.
We discovered primitive pottery in China which shows that 20,000 years ago, humans designed a reusable solution to store and certainly transport food or goods intended for different uses. This solution continued to develop through the use of new materials, new formats but also by adding decoration over time. The aesthetic aspect became increasingly important and refined to meet customer needs. Technological developments led to the creation of new containers, clay pots, amphora, bronze and glass bottles, each meeting specific needs. These were the basis of modern packaging. It needed to contain items but also create emotion and seduce the consumer!
With industrialisation, storage techniques continued to develop. However there were increasing demands for information on the product content, producer information and product authentication. A few decades ago, packaging was still seen as something to protect the content and provide information for the consumer. It was only after the Second World War that aesthetics became commercially important to not only seduce the customer but also to highlight the product on an increasingly crowded shelf.
What is the current situation?
Nowadays, packaging must fully reflect and anticipate the product life cycle. Initially, when leaving the factory, it must hold and protect the product, and ensure that it is transported in optimal conditions. Did you know that 30% of cereal production and 45% of fruit and vegetable production is lost globally due to improper storage (broken bags, insects, rodents, etc.)?!
Once at the point of sale, packaging must ensure visibility and identification of the product to be able to grab the consumer, create emotion, seduce them and gain their loyalty. Once at the consumer’s home, it must be easy to store and use. Once the product has been consumed, it must be easy and quick to dispose of and recycle.
In a globalised world, both large groups and PME entering the international market need to give their product a global identity and also respond to local constraints and requirements. This is the challenge that packaging must face. A consumer in India or China does not have the same requirements as a consumer in an ultra-developed country. And a fit and healthy adult does not have the same expectations as an elderly person. One might plan to buy a 6 or 12-pack of bottles. Another might only want to buy a litre or even less.
Good packaging creates value. When a product sells well, factories can operate at full capacity and jobs are created. It’s as simple as that! Companies understand this and packaging design has become strategic to the point where it is a key part of product design.
And in the future?
Branding & packaging meets the needs of all consumers, makes their lives easier and provides increasingly effective solutions to respect the environment. Packaging must be innovative and long-lasting. In India, the packaging of certain products, such as powdered milk for infants, is designed to be reused to store other foods once the milk has been used. It therefore helps to improve the daily lives of disadvantaged people who would not be able to store their food without this design.
Reducing waste is also a daily struggle. Packaging has a role to play. It is not always easy to read a product’s expiry date (smudged characters, too small, hidden by a label, etc.). Soon, technology will allow us to include a chip in the packaging which will change colour from green to orange to red based on the product’s expiry date. A retailer could hold promotions to shift products before the expiry date to limit their losses, boosting turnover and improving customer loyalty.
Environmental constraints mean that, in the long-term, we will no longer be able to use certain materials or we must at least make it easier to recycle them. As packaging design is a key part of the product design & manufacturing cycle, it helps design solutions which meet consumer needs and uses whilst respecting the environment due to ease of recycling.
Future packaging is linked to changes in technologies and consumer needs. Therefore, by becoming ‘smart’, packaging will be part of these new methods of communication and consumption. Curious and talented people will continue to design brand identity. Therefore branding & packaging will continue to innovate to create value both for companies and consumers, whilst still protecting the environment.
Sylvia Rotta Vitale CEO & Founder TEAM CREATIF GROUP