‘Healthy’ Packaging Means Healthy Sales

By Pan Demetrakakes

Health and wellness sell, and packaging helps, but it’s important to have a clear message
If there’s anything most food and beverage marketers agree on, it’s that health and wellness are big influences for consumers.
And if there’s anything they splinter on, it’s how best to cater to those influences.
“Health and wellness” is a broad umbrella that covers a lot of concerns: nutrition, obesity, slowing the aging process, the desire for food that’s “closer to the earth,” avoidance or management of diseases like diabetes and many more. Food and beverage processors who want to tap into these concerns must figure out how their packaging can best reflect their intentions.
Consumer yearning toward health and wellness, in its many aspects, is broad and deep:
• Better-for-you foods sold $117.6 billion in the United States last year, according to an estimate from Euromonitor.
• The U.S. market for functional foods and beverages stands at $29 billion this year, and the global market will reach $109 billion by 2010, according to estimates by Global Industry Analysts.
• Retail healthy drink sales will grow from $119.4 billion to $145.4 billion across Europe and the United States, according to Datamonitor.
The industry is getting the message. Respondents in a Datamonitor poll of almost 1,000 executives in consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies identified health and wellness as the most important in a choice of 10 general marketing trends. Health was “very important” in the opinion of 41 percent of the industry respondents, with only 9 percent calling it “unimportant.”
Health trend dominates
As baby boomers age and health care costs spike, more consumers look to healthy foods to maintain or improve their quality of life. More than 90 percent of brand owners see this as a major influence on product development.
How important is the “healthiness” trend?

But making sense of the health and wellness trend can be daunting because it’s so fragmented. It comprises, not only a lot of disparate consumer concerns, but many different kinds of products, both specialty and mainstream.
One of the biggest product niches in the health/wellness category is organic and natural foods and beverages. North American sales of organic foods and beverages exceed $23 billion. Organic/natural products tap into several powerful consumer motivators: the desire to eat foods that are viewed as “fresh” and as minimally processed as possible, the high-profile scares over tainted food from overseas, and concern about the environment.
Organic and natural products are especially conducive to packaging that reinforces the close-to-the earth trope.
Organic and natural products tend to either use earth tones and uncoated natural stocks, often using retro structures, such as Ball canning jars, or use a white and bright/clean colors to convey healthy/freshness, says Lee Sucharda III, president of Design North Inc., “They often have very simple architectures.”
Gail Ritacco, vice president of market insights for the design firm Product Ventures, seconds that notion. Products going for “natural” appeal should be “things that look like they’re made with care, more farmstand looking, as opposed to mass-produced,” she says. “Mass-produced and processed does not suggest healthy.”
Worries about the Earth
The notion of organic products as being closer to the earth plays into what can be a powerful consumer motivator: environmental concerns. About two of three respondents to a poll by the Abundant Forests Alliance, an advocacy group of lumber and paper companies, rated the overall quality of the environment in the United States as fair or poor, and 52 percent said it’s getting worse. Many Americans also have a sense of inferiority vis-à-vis other countries, according to a poll by GfK Roper Consulting: 38 percent say the United States is behind other countries in this regard (see "United States could be 'greener'" sidebar).
United States could be ‘greener’
In comparison with other countries, Americans see their neighbors and U.S. companies as lagging in environmental awareness and action. But will they do anything more to catch up?
* Participants not answering make up remaining percentage.
Source: GfK Roper Consulting

Sustainable packaging is one of the hottest trends in packaging, especially with the advent of Wal-Mart’s sustainability initiative. A certain congruence exists between consumers interested in sustainable packaging and those who want to consume organic or natural products.
“To some degree they are the same audience,” says Jack Gordon, chief executive officer of AcuPoll, a consumer research firm. “People who tend to be environmentalists tend to be more into health, organics, nutrition, those kinds of things. But the people who are into health and nutrition and organic foods are not [necessarily] environmentalists.”
In any case, Gordon questions the average consumer’s depth of commitment to the environment. “Most people are what we call ‘talking environmentalists,’” he says. “A talking environmentalist is someone who will do recycling as long as it’s at the end of the driveway. Consumers like to talk about the environment, but if you try to charge them 10 cents extra for something that’s environmentally friendly, generally they won’t buy it.”
Nutrition is another aspect of health and wellness where a lot of people talk a better game than they play.
“There is always a disconnect between what people say and what they do,” says Kathy Sheehan, a senior vice president with GfK Roper Consulting. “Nowhere is this more apparent than when it gets to things like food and diet. Habits are very hard to change and inertia is a very powerful force.”
Nevertheless, striving for nutrition, while perhaps not deeply rooted, is nevertheless quite strong. In a survey conducted last year by Datamonitor, 58 percent of U.S. respondents said they had increased their use of nutritional information on product packaging to make purchase decisions.
“People are looking at label information with much more regularity and depth,” says Daniel Bone, a senior consumer market analyst at Datamonitor. “They’re much more engaged with the information on the package.”
Lack of information
One reason for the disconnect between what people say and what they do might be the fact that many consumers simply aren’t that well informed about nutritional information.
“Despite being more interested in nutrition, it doesn’t mean that consumers have a detailed understanding of things like micro-nutrients, omega-3 and omega-6,” Bone says.
The flip side of that situation is that to attract consumers’ attention, health claims on packaging don’t have to be too detailed or sweeping.
“There’s a strong interest among consumers in any product that can actually promise a health benefit, even if it’s a light promise,” AcuPoll’s Gordon says. “None of these products are out there saying they’re going to fix something. They’re out there saying they’re going to help you with things. And those kinds of promises are, right now, enough for consumers to be very interested in those kinds of products.”
At the same time, food formulators and package designers must keep in mind that for the great majority of consumers, even those with strong health concerns, taste will make or break the deal.
“Even consumers who are really strongly into health still eat foods for taste,” Gordon says. “Taste is king and always will be king.” Balancing the two factors is “the $64,000 question,” Gordon says, and something that few CPG companies do well. “What you have to do is make sure you have a high-quality package that really speaks to taste appeal while making the health claim ... You have to have a high-quality package that says, ‘Hey, this tastes good,’ and then you make the health claims around that,” he says.
Health and wellness trends, in their various forms, are going to gain momentum as food and beverage producers find more ways to follow them.
“As these things become more mainstream, it’s also making it easier for people to not have that disconnect between their attitude and their behavior,” says GfK Roper’s Sheehan, noting that, for instance, organic food is much more readily available now than it was 10 years ago. “It’s going to be a little bit of a push and pull. Consumers will demand [things like] organics and recyclable packaging, and marketers will provide them, increasing awareness and demand, so I think they kind of feed off of each other.”
Pan Demetrakakes is the executive editor for Food & Drug Packaging, Beverage Industry’s sister publication. More articles on beverage packaging can be found at www.bevindustry.com and www.fdp.com .