April 10, 2014 – Consumers buy products on the basis of relative perceived quality. Packaging makes the first impression of a product to consumers, so packaging greatly impacts sales, noted Kenneth Marsh, Ph.D., Kenneth S. Marsh & Associates, Ltd., as he began his presentation. Packaging contains and protects products, but it also promotes distribution, presents the product and offers information through the label. For a new product, the package determines the initial sale of the product. Product quality influences subsequent sales.
Distribution of grocery products can occur through two basic systems. Traditional grocery product manufacture has limited manufacturing and distribution facilities, and products travel long distances to reach consumers. This requires longer shelflife, achieved through a combination of ingredient choice, processing and packaging. Alternatively, distribution can take place through many regional manufacturing and distribution facilities. This is exemplified by Frito Lay, in which products travel shorter distances; experience a more rapid turnover; and require shorter shelflife and less protection.
“Packaging for a food depends on how it is processed, formulated and distributed,” stated Marsh. “Packaging should be considered as the product is developed, not as an afterthought. During product development, shelflife and distribution options need consideration, along with formulation and processing options, in order to increase
choices for a viable product with increased profitability and chance of success.”
Consider a snack product that goes rancid in a glass container in a dark room. Options to save it include antioxidants, a barrier package with nitrogen purge, and refrigerated distribution with many manufacturing and distribution sites. Preservatives, antioxidants, humectants or encapsulation can make the product less sensitive.
Barrier packaging can protect the product during transport, and refrigeration can slow down the degradation. These steps, combined with more rapid distribution, can make
an otherwise not-viable product acceptable.
Packaging also represents the company image. It gives impressions from the aisle and shelf; thus, material, shape, texture, label and graphics are important. Brand identification is promoted by package graphics that tie the product line together, such as the spoon on Betty Crocker cake mixes, or the red and white label for Campbell’s soups. Individual varieties and flavors can then be differentiated as the consumer looks directly at the products.
“Fresh” can be suggested through open-air markets and often simple packaging, such as plain plastic bags often used for bulk spices, nuts, etc. Matt bags, such as those used for many potato chips, give a fresh, deli look and yet compete with grocery items with laminated structures that offer better barriers than paper bags.
Packaging is often based on expected conditions, but one is not always certain. Climate in the U.S. varies in time and locale. Environment affects shelflife. If distribution is not temperature- and humidity-controlled, then shelflife is influenced by where and when it is produced and warehoused, and any abuses inflicted along the way.
Depending on timing and abuses, shipments may need adjustment from normal FIFO (First In-First Out) order. If conditions are recorded, then shelflife calculations can be made for quality attributes and shipments made based on basis of available shelflife (i.e., product quality). Marsh suggested, “Computer-aided distribution is a tool that utilizes temperature probes, recording devices and a database consisting of all shipments with dates and distributions. Computer calculation of quality impacts of high temperature experienced in a truck delayed on a hot day, for example, can modify pull dates to allow mildly temperature-abused products to be shipped first.”
New options for efficiency include matching distribution to turnover rates; varying packaging for cost efficiency; packaging for the total market, not just the worst; and determining needs for new markets. For example, products regionally produced in the Northern states could require less barrier protection than the same product produced
and distributed in Southern states. Profitability results from the least costly system to deliver quality products which sell.
Kenneth Marsh, Ph.D., Kenneth S. Marsh & Associates, Ltd., email@example.com, +1.864.888.0011, www.drkenmarsh.com
April 10, 2014, Global Food Forums — The summary above is an excerpt from the “2013 Clean Label Conference Magazine.”