Packaging for the changing face of retail

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Retailing, The pack

The line between in-store and online sales is becoming more blurred
The line between in-store and online sales is becoming more blurred
The changing face of retail is forcing food and drink manufacturers to reconsider their packaging options, according to the Faraday Centre for Retail Excellence.

The specialist consultancy, which is linked to Leeds Metropolitan University, has argued that a greater share for online and hybrid shopping, as well as for big-chain convenience store formats, and the changing composition of households will all dictate new approaches to packaging.

Faraday director and professor of retail innovation at Leeds Met Cathy Barnes said: “If you’re shopping for groceries online, at the moment, the thumbnail you see is of the pack rather than the product. The billboard effect may be needed in a supermarket. But why use a picture of the packaging if you’re selling online?”​ It might make more sense to show an appetising, cooked ready meal, for instance, rather than the tray it comes in. "You can decouple the protective and functional elements of the pack from the marketing and communication.”

Anonymous black boxes

This did not mean food sold online should be delivered in anonymous black boxes. “But if you start to think in terms of this decoupling, then more options open up,”​ she said. These could include more environmentally responsible designs that might have less of a positive impact when displayed on shelves in-store.

The packaging picture could be further complicated by the blurring of distinctions between in-store and online sales, warned Faraday commercial manager Andrew Revel. “You’re looking at far greater choice for the consumer,”​ he said. “Waitrose, for instance, offers four different ways to shop.”​ These range from traditional in-store shopping, through ‘click-and-collect’ options to online with home delivery.

Barnes argued that category-specific opportunities were available in the smaller, city-centre store formats. “There’s a lot of growth still to come for the UK in food-to-go," she said. “In the US and Australia, this category is already much bigger.”

Of course, the UK population demographics and its habits are also changing. “More of us are living by ourselves,”​ Revel pointed out. “Nearly one third of households in the UK are single-occupancy, and that’s a broad spread across the entire range of ages.”

More single-serve packs

This already means that retailers are supplying more single-serve packs, in frozen foods, too; even single-portion cook-in sauces, according to Barnes.

She speculated that the tension between single-portion packs, multi-channel retail growth and the need for efficiency might result in modular packaging based on multiples of smaller units.

On a more general note, she added: “For now, I’m not convinced there’s a lot of innovation in packaging. In branding there is, but not in packaging.”

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