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'Packed with opportunity'

06 May 2010

With packaging playing an increasingly important role in the marketing mix, the significance of exhibitions like Total is becoming clear, says exhibition director Ian Crawford

Packaging helps define a brand. Think of a top brand and the image you conjure up is invariably of its pack. Some food and drink brands have such iconic packaging shapes that they are easily identifiable without the label - the Coca-Cola bottle and the Marmite jar are just two such examples.

Packaging provides a window on the way we live; many packaging developments - such as ready meal and snack packs to meet the growth in convenience foods and 'on the go' eating, or larger sizes and multipacks to meet the trend to buy in bulk - are the result of changing lifestyles; and innovations such as easy opening systems, tamper-evidence and efficient dispense are all about enhancing the consumer experience.

Significantly, packaging's role in the marketing mix is growing in importance as media becomes more fragmented. With so many channels through which to convey a message - TV, online and printed media - it's increasingly difficult to reach a mass audience through advertising. The one common factor where consumer interaction can still be guaranteed is the packaging.

At the same time, this proliferation of media in recent years has been accompanied by a correspondingly significant reduction in the availability of different retail outlets, with the number of independents continuing to decrease while the big supermarkets exert more power and influence. Packaging remains one of the areas where the brand owners can retain some control and thus it is becoming even more important.

Creating differentiation through packaging can therefore be a vital element in establishing and maintaining the success of a brand, but this is no easy task. The increasing standardisation of packaging demanded by optimising the supply chain can make it harder for brands to create that differentiation. At the same time, designers and manufacturers are for the most part working with the same materials and production techniques and this creates a huge challenge to come up with a point of difference.

There are also other demands that need to be satisfied in the creation of the perfect pack. Because a pack's appearance on shelf is our first encounter with the brand, there is a tendency to associate packaging design with attractive shapes and graphics but this is only half the story. Whatever the image created by the pack on shelf, it's vital it can live up to this during usage, making sure the product gets to the consumer in the condition they expect. There is nothing like a difficult-to-open pack or spoiled product to undo all the goodwill created by the design on-shelf.

There is another critical element to the practicality of any design - the manufacturing process. However attractive the pack may look on shelf, whatever user-friendly innovations it can offer, the idea is effectively dead in the water if it cannot be manufactured cost-effectively or run efficiently down a factory's filling lines.

Equally true, the brand owner may have different requirements depending on which department you are talking too. The demands of marketing may not tie in exactly with those of procurement or production - and the financial director is going to want to have his say as well in terms of the amount of investment and financial commitment required.

And of course today one can't ignore the significant influence of the environment in pack design - both externally as consumers vote with their wallets and look to purchase products that demonstrate their 'green' credentials and internally as companies strive to meet the environmental requirements of customers, shareholders and national and international regulations.

What is clear is that ongoing dialogue between all parties is vital to the development of a successful pack design. This is where exhibitions such as Total Processing & Packaging, which will be held at the NEC in May, can play such an important role. The exhibition is not just about packaging companies displaying their latest innovations and developments; an equally important element are the discussions that take place between exhibitors and visitors, examining latest trends in the market, new production requirements and most recent legislative implications. This type of feedback helps to sustain and progress the pace of pack development.

In particular at Total Processing & Packaging, our Design Challenge provides a valuable opportunity for major pack and machinery manufacturers to share their latest material and technological developments with leading design houses in order to explore and develop ideas for the creation of new products, market applications and consumer experiences.

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