Safeway brings a custom package shape to private-label--with cost savings

Are store brands on the cusp of bringing a new dimension to store shelves? Structural innovation largely has been the domain of national brands.

SHAPELY DESIGN. Safeway Foods has brought a distinctive shape to the table in the new design for its ice cream containers. Custo
SHAPELY DESIGN. Safeway Foods has brought a distinctive shape to the table in the new design for its ice cream containers. Custo
Could Safeway Foods’ new 48-oz container for its own ice cream brands signal the beginning of a fundamental shift in retailers’ approach to private-label package design? Safeway has introduced a custom carton shape that works together with mouth-watering photography to create product differentiation on shelf.

This is significant because private-label packaging generally features stock components and typically relies on strong photography and vivid color reproduction to ramp up the graphic intensity while also minimizing costs.

Conversely, popular thinking has been that national brands therefore could gain a marketing leg up on private-label products by investing in custom package shapes. But Safeway’s new ice cream container is one sign that the playing field might be on the verge of leveling out, because the retailer found a way to achieve a custom shape while also delivering production efficiencies and cost savings.

Flexibility is enhanced
Along with a defining shape, Safeway can form ice cream containers on-demand and switch flavors or sizes quickly to meet changes in filling line requirements. Beyond that, the containers use Huhtamaki’s in-plant forming machines, which provide the additional benefits of production changeover speed and flexibility.

“This in-house system, and our partnership with Huhtamaki, allowed us to respond to marketplace conditions with ease, speed, and relatively little expense,” says Ed Olivero, Safeway Vice President of Dairy Manufacturing. “From start to finish, package design, as well as tooling, installation, and production, was accomplished within six months. Actual conversion of five forming units in both of our ice cream plants was completed within a week, and we were feeding new containers directly into the filling lines.”

Safeway is marketing more than 60 ice cream SKUs, in a variety of product lines, in the new paperboard container with a poly coating. These include its Safeway Select and Lucerne brands, sold in each of its 1,750 stores, and the regional Eating Right and Jersey Maid brands.

When Safeway’s Strategic Sourcing Group requested a new ice cream package, Huhtamaki’s engineering department began developing container design options, ranging from tall and narrow to shorter.

The container is 6 3/8 in. tall with a 2-degree taper, and the package structure that was selected minimally affects downstream manufacturing. Once the new package design was chosen, simple modifications were made to the forming machine already operating in Safeway production facilities. Minor changes to the production line followed, and then package production was ready to begin.

“Once the tapered package shape was approved, we could build the precise tooling to form it and complete all other steps necessary to produce it,” says Allison Vande Kieft, Huhtamaki sales account manager.

The tapered shape also was designed with an eye toward efficiencies with on-pack graphics. The graphics required only slight modifications to fit the new package, compared with the previous round, straight-wall package, and they maintain the premium brand image of Safeway’s range of ice creams. The containers are litho-printed, die-cut, and then sent to Safeway for forming.

Inventory build-up is avoided
“What’s more,” Vande Kieft adds, “Safeway doesn’t have to build inventories and stage them for production. The in-house formers feed directly into filling lines. And because flat container sidewalls take up so much less space than a preformed option, they can keep some components on the floor and can change packaging on-the-fly, literally in minutes.”

Elsewhere, Safeway’s new carton design reduces transportation, inventory, and warehouse costs. Preprinted and die-cut package sidewalls are shipped flat, allowing for about 10 times as much packaging per truckload, compared with a preformed container. As a result, transportation cost savings are approaching 90%.

Are private-label brands knocking at the door in leveraging structural innovation in their quest to level the playing field with national brands? Safeway’s ice cream package suggests that the scales are tipping in that direction, especially if defining shapes are accompanied by production efficiencies and cost savings.

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