Does perceived product blandness owe to the value chain or a poor understanding of customization?

One author makes the case that economies of scale largely are to blame for the lack of remarkable products. But an educator who’s been in the trenches has another view.

A posting on Design Sojurn laments that store shelves today largely are devoid of truly remarkable products. The reasons, the author says, range from bland mass manufacturing that chases economies of scale to a “race to the bottom” in terms of retail product pricing.

Though there’s no denying that the value chain today is as much about optimal repeatability and logistics as it is a quality packaged product, consider some counter points as well.

• Observe operations in a host of contract packaging facilities today and you can watch line workers empty master shipping cases of individual varieties of product and assemble them into PDQ trays, P-O-P displays, and pallet displays, all built to a single retailer’s merchandising specifications. There is both repeatability and customization going on.

• Smart marketers know how to make slight changes in a product and in easily changed-out components, such as the label, of the package to create new products that change often. This is not uncommon in the coffee aisle.

Some retailers and consumer product companies understand the strategy of customization, but the rest “don’t have a clue,” says John Helferich, a former vice president at Masterfoods USA and now a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia’s School of Business.

So are companies that manufacture and package products for the nation’s consumer product companies to blame for the blandness we see in stores today? Helferich, for one, doesn’t think so. Key is for brand owners to understand what they’re chasing elsewhere in their category, rather than just react for reaction’s sake to new developments on shelf, he says.

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