• Transform magazine
  • September 27, 2021

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Shopportunities: solve the problems of shelf appeal

Mike BW

Mike Foster, founder and creative director of brand design agency Straight Forward, explores the different ways brands can work with packaging design to continue being relevant on shelf.

Shopping is complex, irrational, and often quick. Busy shoppers on autopilot through their physical or virtual list need help to snap out of routine purchases.

With 90% of current British online grocery shoppers planning to continue online post-Covid-19, shoppers are visiting physical stores less often. And when they do shop in person, they come prepared with lists and spend less time browsing. Products get fewer – and shorter – opportunities to be noticed. 

Since a brand’s pack design is the only form of marketing seen by 100% of consumers who drop it into their shopping basket, it must work harder than ever to grab attention and sell the product, maximising demand built through omnichannel marketing.

Making it into the basket is the major challenge for brands, but with supermarkets ruthlessly rationalising what goes on the shelf, how do brands retain space? To successfully achieve supermarket sales-targets they must continually invest.

Take Yorkshire Tea, which first stole a march to category leadership in 2019 after brands such as PG Tips pulled back on investment, citing a declining black tea market.

When the market rallied – Covid-19 lockdowns saw British consumers drinking an extra 111,972,000 cups of tea a day – PG Tips wasn’t ready. Complacency meant it suffered a £5.6m decline in 2020, relegating it to the third-largest tea brand after Twinings and Yorkshire Tea.

Consumers also get bored, so brands need regular wake-up calls to make sure they stay fresh. The biscuit brand Bahlsen’s February 2021 makeover lends a cleaner, bolder and more modern look to a brand that’s 132 years old. While the rebrand is designed to achieve maximum shelf-standout with the use of bold typography and imagery, it’s also about incremental progress, rather than change for change’s sake.

So how do brands stay ahead of the game? Many a bland has sprung up over the years. A tried-and-tested formula to create something inoffensive. But often the bland has a great product or a good idea hiding behind the dullness.

Doisy and Dam's relaunch is a case in point. They found a white space - people want excellent vegan fair trade chocolate, and they want it to be fun. The 2020 redesign – all bright candy colours and clean white font – allows it to compete with the chocolate classics. The packaging says fun while offering a more premium experience overall.

Beyond the design, what is the secret to success? During recessions, grocers delist products and rationalise ranges. Yet this doesn’t have to be a negative. According to Neilsen IQ, the majority of SKUs in key categories contribute less than 2% of overall sales. In the UK, 81% of pet care products, and 78% of snacks, biscuits and confectionery, deliver less than 2% of sales.

The pandemic, says Neilsen, has strengthened the case for rationalisation of product ranges. An average of 120 new CPG items are launched daily in the top five European markets, but about 30% of promising innovations don’t benefit from enough marketing to reach their full potential.

Yet where there is the right marketing support, diversification can boost a brand’s presence and extend its visibility. Yorkshire Tea tapped into a trend for home comforts with variants such as Jam & Toast Brew. Flavour innovation often taps into emotional resonance, allowing brands to reach new customer bases.

Even pre-Covid, 88% of shoppers planned to use their mobile devices while shopping in-store, with consumers reporting they do so to find offers or price compare. And 50% of consumers plan to use their mobile devices in-store more frequently.

But what if it was about more than just price checking or scanning? Packaging of the future could be akin to a brand having a salesperson inside every store that carries its products, including online.

As well as delivering origin information and ingredients, smart packaging can enliven a brand. Tony the Tiger comes to life via the wave of a mobile phone over a Frosties box’s QR code in work created for Kelloggs.

Since the tech effectively allows the brand to become its own medium, it opens up a whole new world.