The challenges of designing packaging for commoditised food products.
Like any other category, packaging is pivotal to food products; the proverbial fifth P of marketing (assuming you don’t count it as a part of product). Fifth it may be, but it has been proven time and again that packaging can make or break a brand.
Food packaging has its own intricacies. Food grade material has to be used, shelf life and ingredient preservation is a major concern and often design space is limited due to regulatory requirements of food associations with regards to labelling and packaging. Having said this, globally and even locally, many brands have played it smart and created brilliant package designs.
Here, I will focus on three major agri-food categories and their packaging.
Many people do not believe in packaging when it comes to rice. The problem with most agri-based categories is their commoditised nature (khulla chaawal, khulli patti and so forth). As a result, the emphasis on packaging is reduced. Considering that rice is packaged for export, the need to print in multiple languages clutters the packaging. Most brands have not put much effort in their designs, opting for a more generic formula. For example, Guard, Falak, Royal and Ideal have kept their design basic. Falak has a farm visual on the pack, making it slightly different from the others and Ideal has a transparent side panel which is a new trend in the international market. Jazaa, however, (a relatively new entrant) has worked on both the design and the packaging material. Their self-standing re-sealable pouches with their premium look have helped position the brand as a high-end one. In terms of colour, Jazaa have moved away from the traditional red and green and included black in their range.
The good thing about Pakistan’s milk category is that brands have owned their colours and made them a differentiating factor. Green for Milkpak, red for Olper’s and blue for Haleeb. New entrants too opted for different colours; grey for Nurpur, white for good milk and black for Day Fresh.
Given that Pakistan is among the top five largest dairy producers of the world, we should be defining packaging standards for milk. Yet, perhaps due to the need to control pricing, the milk industry has had to rely on alternatives.
The fact that UHT milk cannot be packaged in pet bottles further limits the options available to manufactures. As a result, packaging is dominated by TetraPak, although recently some players have moved to formats such as EcoLean or cheaper packaging sourced from China. EcoLean, with its self-standing pouches, is a good alternative and is used by Olper’s, Dostea and Nurpur. To compete with these new formats, TetraPak has introduced new package formats such as Tetra Edge (Olper’s and Dairy Fresh) and Prisma (good milk and Haleeb packs). This in itself is a major departure from the brick pack still in use by Nestlé Milkpak and Asli Milk and some tea whiteners. Experimentation in design is rare, especially with TetraPak packaging. Most brands, even internationally, opt for a splash of milk, grass or glass/jug elements. The good thing about Pakistan’s milk category is that brands have owned their colours and made them a differentiating factor. Green for Milkpak, red for Olper’s and blue for Haleeb. New entrants too opted for different colours; grey for Nurpur, white for good milk and black for Day Fresh.
What Jazaa did for rice packaging, Onaaj tried to do for flour. At 25 million tons and valued at Rs 900 billion, flour is mostly sold as a commodity even by brands. Fine, Ashrafi and, to some extent, Bake Parlour position their flour as a commodity at retail level, rather than engage consumers with a marketing proposition. Onaaj, with its distinct packaging, took a leaf from Indian brands Rasoi Bhog Aata and Hathi Brand. Unfortunately, Onaaj went out of business. Sunridge, another new entry, launched their flour with a design that is a cross between Bake Parlour and Onaaj. How the brand will do has yet to be seen.
Fruit is another commoditised agri-based product that requires branding. However, like milk it has maintaining freshness issues and regulatory challenges and unlike milk, fruit cannot rely on TetraPak; hence it remains a largely unbranded category, even globally.
Sami Qahar is a Dubai-based Pakistani looking for excuses to write. Aurora gives him a few.