Knowing what package designers and packaging line operators can – or can’t – produce is vital for setting realistic expectations in the retail buyer’s office.
A sales rep who is educated on packaging issues is in a better position to direct the buyer toward practical custom-packaging packaging solutions.
Spec machines for plant flexibility: Meeting every customer whim may not be possible, but when possible, producing retailer-specific packaging can be profitable if the plant producing those packages is flexible and efficient.
To achieve that efficiency, packagers must redouble their efforts to optimize machine speeds and line throughputs to maximize plant capacity. In addition to sheer speed, extra minutes or even hours per day can be gained by speeding changeovers by specifying machines with tool-less disassembly and reassembly for fast, easy changeovers as well as access for cleaning and maintenance.
Put primary emphasis on secondary packaging: Changing decorative aspects of a package can be costly in terms of time, labor, inventory, vendor ordering channels and shipping logistics. Secondary packaging may be easier to tweak. Custom case counts, multi- pack shrink/tray variations, floor and shelf and displays and various retail-ready options may help the retailer store and stock your product while improving your package’s shelf presence – and the retailer’s willingness to do business with your company.
When shelf space shrinks, try smaller packages: One CPG source notes a trend toward major reductions in shelf space for branded products over the past few years. This has results in more product labels competing for consumer attention. This has led the company to find ways to be more creative and innovative with limited space. One solution has been to move to smaller packs for higher unit counts on the shelf.
Greet the seasons: Another way to plan for customization is to think seasonally. Seasonality is a big driver for retail sales and is planned well in advance. Naturally, custom films, labels and containers can entail advance planning and machine modifications, however, secondary packaging and displays can easily give retailers a custom solution, too. Kitting, even outsourcing gift packs, can be a source of incremental sales gains as well.
Be ready for the challenge, however, of the added complexity that adding SKUs brings. One packaging pro says his CPG firm, in its effort to please retailers, added 70 seasonal
SKUs without planning for the work involved. As a result, his department had to “shoehorn” custom changes into existing packaging, which he says resulted in sub-par brand image and lackluster shelf impact.
Power-up with bright ideas: For many years, Big Box stores have been coming-up with ideas for new and custom packaging requirements. But today’s thin margins and still- uncertain economy are affecting retailers, who occasionally surprise packaging departments by asking for new ideas to help them differentiate their products –your products – on their shelves. Even chains as big as Walmart, who “used to push their own designs,” says one pro, are now asking their suppliers for new ideas, especially if sales have been flat or trending downward.
Why the humility? Perhaps open-minded wisdom. Or perhaps because if sales are down, no chain buyer wants to make a decision that costs his company money – or costs him his job. In any case, says the packaging expert, buyers who ask questions are those who have found that “dictating packaging didn’t really work all the time.”
While big retailers still command the lion’s share of power in the supply chain, there are still opportunities for smart brand leaders, flanked by talented packaging professionals, to make competitive inroads.