In addition to the notable change in product mix is an equally notable change in product packaging. Collectively, these changes are indicative of a key shift in consumer buying behavior:
Consumers are seeking solutions in the grocery aisle, not just food. Now more than ever, vendors must present their products in a way that aptly tells the narrative of the lifestyle, activities, and values that their products support.
Given the recent hype on fresh and nutritious foods, it would probably surprise a lot of readers to learn that the center store still comprises the overwhelming majority of sales for a grocery store. It is also contributing to growth; according to a Nielsen analysis, sales from this part of the grocery store went up—not down—between 2011 and 2015 by $56.7 billion, or 8.7%.
While the importance of these aisles to a retailer’s bottom line hasn’t changed, what has changed is what’s on them—and how they’re packaged. Declining sales for products such as cereals and soft drinks are being offset by significant increases in areas such as salty snacks and “new age” beverages.
A number of factors inform this trend and can thus impact a buyer’s product selection.
- On-the-go living. Meals are not scheduled for a particular time and place anymore. Flexible formats that are resealable, individually portioned, and easy to carry around will get more grabs.
- Increased influence of children. These savvy influencers of adult decisions are requesting specific products, remembering details like branded characters, overall package appearance, and even the product’s position on the shelf.
- Increased interest in health and wellness. Products that can readily demonstrate that they are fresh and nutritious will support the buyer’s belief that they are making a smart choice. Similarly, labels that talk about the elimination or omission of ingredients deemed unhealthy or harmful can drive buyer groups like young parents to pick one product over another.
- Concern around environmental impact. Advertising not only the product but the eco-friendliness of the packaging itself can create enough good will to be a tipping point in the buying decision.
- Millenial purchasing habits. This demographic accounts for 25% of the U.S. population and spends just 13 minutes in the grocery store. Only one-fifth of that time is spent in the center aisles. Products aimed at this crowd must catch the eye quickly.
The impact of Millennial grocery shopping habits on product packaging lies not just with their short but frequent visits but also in their strong distaste for uniformity. They are attracted to things that stand out from the perpetual visual assault of their daily experience, and are inclined to share those things with their friends. They also have a growing desire to cook from scratch—at least partially. Products aimed at this audience should therefore have packaging that reinforces the efforts that they’re making in the kitchen.
Finally, consideration must be given to how a product appears in an e-commerce setting, as more people look to options like the Instacart app for their shopping needs. According to Business Insider, the online grocery market is expected to increase 21% each year through 2018, while offline sales are forecasted to experience a 3.1% rise. Packaging designers should begin—if they’ve not already—to take this virtual presentation of a physical product into greater account.