Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Insipid shelves

Published in Nov-Dec 2014

Package design needs to be more efficient and enjoyable.
Real innovation: Engro was content to simply update the design, stopping short of actual innovation until the recent introduction of the Ecolean format.
Real innovation: Engro was content to simply update the design, stopping short of actual innovation until the recent introduction of the Ecolean format.

My name is Adnan, and I’m a browse-aholic. And browse-aholics are probably the worst nightmare of packaged goods manufacturers and retailers, because we spend hours in the aisles without buying a thing! We love (man)handling or (mis)handling the merchandise, messing up the display, crowding the shelves and blocking access to legitimate purchasers anxious to get at the merchandise themselves. And we often spend ages reading all the fine print.

I, however, also happen to be a browse-aholic with a very low self control threshold, and usually end up with a shopping cart full of unwanted stuff, simply because I cannot resist the lure of attractively packaged goods, which is why I find the robotic way people shop so bizarre. Walk into an Imtiaz or Metro and observe the people around you; for them sauda shopping is so obviously a chore. Which makes me wonder why, for this vast majority of people for whom buying stuff off the counter is not an idle pursuit but a weekly or monthly necessity, is this process not made more efficient, easier and enjoyable?

Manufacturing efficiencies can be gained, firstly by judiciously selecting the raw material (from an admittedly limited range of options available); secondly, by optimising the amount of man hours required to dispatch the product from the packing line to the loading bay and thirdly, by understanding the challenges in the retail environment, from shelving restrictions to unwanted daylight exposure for light sensitive material. Easier in terms of being able to quickly identify a product either because it visually stands out or is ergonomically designed and makes one want to pick it up, or it clearly communicates the ingredients and composition for customers who want to know more. Enjoyable to use, from the moment the product is selected, to taking it to the place of consumption, opening, consuming and disposing of it.

For products that have a long storage life, the quality of the packaging becomes even more crucial and the user’s lifestyle preferences suddenly take on a lot of importance (unfortunately this is where most locally produced packaging fails to deliver). If one were to walk into a supermarket with our eyes open and truly ‘see’ the merchandise on the shelf, we would see pitifully few examples of packaging that even begin to address the points above. In fact, making a product easier to spot on the shelf, given the limitations of material and costs is an ongoing challenge faced by local brands.

Engro Foods introduced a vibrant addition to the milk shelf with the launch of the distinctively red Olper’s pack and started a welcome tradition of refreshing the design at frequent intervals. However, like most other brands Engro was content to simply update the design, stopping short of actual innovation until the recent introduction of the Ecolean format.

The standard Tetra Pak shape has become stale. Innovation has been confined to juggling with the proportions to make it shorter, taller, or squatter. The introduction of a screw top may be considered an innovation, although as most people will vouch, pouring the milk from a full carton is rather impractical, with the milk splashing out if not handled with care. Although the splashing may look very effective in a TVC, it can be a messy experience.

Sadly, these are limitations imposed by Tetra Pak and unless brands have the means to look abroad, they will have no option but to live with those. The quality of printing is also weak, especially compared to the detailed and vibrant designs seen on foreign produced UHT packaging. Tetra Pak have a stringent technical process to adapt a design and if the designer is unaware of the printing limitations, the result may end up a far cry from the original design approved by the client and the agency.

From Tetra Pak’s point-of-view it may be argued that local brands are unwilling to pay a premium for customised requirements involving richer graphics which the company may be able to accommodate at their production facilities abroad. Tetra Pak, probably because of the monopoly it holds over beverage packaging, is in a position to dictate inflexible formats that restrict innovation, while remaining disinclined to make the investments required to upgrade its packaging proposition.

The introduction of Olper’s Ecolean format, in contrast to the standard Tetra Pak, is a far more enjoyable consumption experience, not to mention the fact that it can be popped into the microwave. The graphics too are a marked improvement compared to the original design. Hopefully, with the introduction of Ecolean option one may get a breath of fresh product on the shelves.

A category that is very active in introducing new SKU formats is cooking oil. Be it a tin, a PET bottle or a pouch, dispensing oil in the kitchen is always a challenge, especially with the large volume containers, hence the ongoing search for a convenient and practical design. The latest innovation came from Soya Supreme in the shape of a format that resembles a water cooler. However, it looks so bulky and ugly on the supermarket shelves that I wonder how happy housewives are to have such an ugly looking container in their kitchen. Although a lot of effort goes into the technical production of these bottles, I wonder why an aesthetically designed one cannot be produced.

It is ironic that while we see the sleekest and trendiest of kitchens on our TV screens, the merchandise we are made to put up with on our kitchen counters are so tacky and bland. With packaging innovation limited to the availability of the material, manufacturing facilities and costs, one is forced to fall back on the ubiquitous cardboard box. Yet, even with a bland object like that, much can be done to bring the enjoyment to the consumer, however subtle the design intervention may be.

A few years ago Tapal introduced Jasmine Green Tea bags in an attractive and practical box that doubled up as a tea bag holder; it was also not an embarrassment when displayed on a kitchen counter. Although there were mistakes in the design that would not have withstood close scrutiny, the packaging did break clutter on the supermarket shelves. This SKU is now gone and has been replaced by a packaging format similar to a matchbox. One may argue that the new packaging was cheaper (a design made up of two piece versus a single piece of cardboard) and perhaps easier to use (slide out mechanism versus a drop down one), however any change in a logo should be an improvement. In fact, a reasonably distinctive logo should not be tampered with unless something stronger emerges. And while it is perfectly acceptable to be influenced by global trends and opt for a less visually cluttered design, certain conventions remain more effective; tea leaves have a distinctive shape – the trefoil tea-leaf-bud being the most commonly used. As for the colours I don’t know how successful having white as the dominant colour will prove to be in a retail environment where products attract dust like crazy.

Rio went through a series of visual changes and it was disconcerting at one point to see three different versions of the packaging on the shelf at the same time.
Rio went through a series of visual changes and it was disconcerting at one point to see three different versions of the packaging on the shelf at the same time.

Other brands have been less successful in breaking visual clutter. In the biscuit category, Rio recently went through a number of visual changes and it was disconcerting at one point to see three different versions of the packaging on the shelf at the same time. Sadly, the latest version was the most cluttered. The packaging for Wheatable, on the other hand, was a definite improvement over the previous version, at least visually – I mention say this pointedly, because, irrespective of which brand it is, the quantity of biscuits inside a box is becoming woefully meagre.

In terms of what is found in the freezer, the battle between the frozen foods may be attracting an increasing number of participants, but the clear winner is K&N with their distinctive packaging and beautiful graphics. No other brand has been able to maintain the same visual impact across their product range. As for the format, all these brands need to do a lot more exploring in terms of developing more practical containers that do not fall apart after a few days in the freezer.

One may argue that only premium priced products can afford to innovate in design and format. However, packaging innovation can also be done at mass market level. Almost a decade ago, Tapal carried out an innovative experiment with the sachets they used to launch Tezdum. In this case the metallic finish of the packaging material was used to create a design that stood out distinctly from among the strings upon strings of sachets hanging in small corner stores.

The Tapal example goes to show that all it takes is a close look at the limitations (and opportunities) in the market, the visual and material possibilities at hand and a close and proactive collaboration between the packaging house, the manufacturer, the brand and the design teams to make the aisles in our supermarkets or the display shelves at the corner shop more aesthetically pleasing for both shopaholics and browse-aholics alike.

Adnan Syed is Chief Innovation Officer, Adcom.