Packaging's role in product development: Gaining a foothold (sidebar)

Lost opportunities in consumer and market research

Focus groups are still the consumer-research workhorse where consumer packaged goods companies are concerned. Techniques such as store audits and tapping retailers for their insights, on the other hand, remain underused.

These are among the insights gleaned from reading respondents’ answers to the open-ended questions contained in the survey. The term “focus group” appeared most frequently among the verbatim comments. “In-home

use testing” and “feedback from the sales staff” were other methods mentioned by multiple respondents to the survey.

While the focus group is relatively inexpensive and does offer some insight into consumer reactions to packaging ideas, many market researchers question the validity of the focus group as an effective research tool.

“Companies tend to do focus groups because it’s all they know,” says Brian Wagner of Packaging & Technology Integrated Solutions (PTIS). “We’ve known for a while that focus groups are not the best way, but they are the recognized way to do qualitative research early on.

“Consumers don’t know how to tell us what they like and what they don’t like,” Wagner continues. “There are examples where focus group research said an idea was bad, but the concept went on to be a major seller. Among the research tools available to use, focus groups just aren’t the most sophisticated.”

Some survey respondents pointed to research that involved the needs of retailers. “Our customers relate their needs and we produce desired packaging,” said one. Others pointed to “in-store surveys” as research techniques.

“What surprised me was the lack of in-store audits,” says Michael Richmond of PTIS. “Today with the emphasis on how well a package attracts attention at the store level, I’m surprised there aren’t more packaging people and innovation teams out in stores. Understanding the retail environment and how a package compares to competitors in its category is a key to its effectiveness on the shelf.”

For research, like other activities, the emphasis on costs emerges. One respondent said that his company’s research preferences were for the “cheapest way possible.” Another respondent cited perhaps the lowest-cost option:

“Gut feeling.”

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