By Todd Mussing, Senior Manager, Market Development at Presto Products Co.
Whether it’s a mattress or toothpaste, consumers are willing to purchase almost anything online. E-commerce and internet shopping are far more than a fad, and as consumers continue to become more comfortable in a digital marketplace, the grocery industry will also see a shift online. In fact, a 2018 report by FMI and Nielsen shows that 70 per cent of consumers will be grocery shopping online by 2024.1
As grocery stores and retailers take the leap and offer online services, brands need to consider consumer expectations in e-commerce and how they can ensure positive customer experiences. Research shows that consumers could be spending as much as $100 billion per year on online grocery purchases by 20252; with this, brands need to work to guarantee their share of consumers’ wallets when buying online.
Consumers vastly influence the purchasing decisions of others with the ability to leave ratings and reviews on their favourite shopping sites. In addition to good product offerings and marketing, brands will need to proactively incorporate consumer benefits that help ensure their food products receive positive reviews, rather than negative sentiments causing shoppers to turn elsewhere. This is where a move to flexible packaging can help.
Most product marketers recognize the benefits reclosable pouches offers to brick and mortar stores, however they are quickly becoming the rising star as an important tool in e-commerce for many reasons. Pouches can preserve freshness, reduce product damage and loss during shipping, reduce material related costs and contribute to sustainability. By adopting flexible packaging of this type in e-commerce, grocery brands can enhance consumer experiences and create positive awareness online.
What Consumers Want: Freshness
Regardless of where food products are obtained, consumers expect purchases to be fresh. This can become more difficult with the extended e-commerce distribution process, since brands and retailers lose product visibility and quality control capabilities. In a brick and mortar store, staff can remove fresh produce as it begins to brown, and it is constantly tended with temperature and moisture control. When purchased via online channels, fruits and vegetables are out of a brand’s control once distribution begins.
An effective management tool against food spoilage, flexible pouches not only provide product containment, they can also slow the degradation process of foods, utilizing oxygen, moisture and light transmission barrier needs designed in the package. Some of these protections can be extended by the consumer once the package is opened by utilizing a proper press to close or slider zipper system. This results in both package optimization and greater satisfaction for the consumer experience. Certain closures can also create a premium product experience not traditionally associated with fresh fruits and vegetables, which leaves consumers with a positive and innovative brand impression.
Marketing has become a particular source of pain for brands online as purchasing decisions are made based on “others” reviews, rather than shelf presence or unique package design. However, packages with resealable features can extend the life of a marketing messages on packaging, while adding functionality for the user.
For example, consumers often buy in bulk online to save on both product and shipping costs. This means they may only consume a small portion of the product at any given time. By adding a premium closure, users can reseal the original pouch and preserve the remaining contents. This not only helps to maintain freshness, it prevents repackaging and extends the life of the branded pouch for multiple uses.
What Consumers Need: Products Intact
While many major retailers are demanding shelf-ready packaging, e-commerce retailers favour “online-ready” packaging with materials that will not crush or become damaged during the shipping process. Because e-commerce entails more touchpoints than traditional supply chains, food purchased online encounters more opportunities to be damaged before arriving on a consumer’s doorstep.
Food manufacturers need to begin packaging products in a way that not only gets food from Point A to Point B but also ensures shipments are intact at the final moment of truth–the period in which a consumer opens the package they’ve waited for and sees their ordered item. Is the consumer satisfied? Or are they disappointed and decide to shift their spending to a different brand or vendor in the future?
When designing packaging for this new supply chain, brands need to consider what different food products require for protection during shipment. Soup requires vastly different packaging than a head of lettuce or a pack of crackers. With the growth of flexible pouches and closure technology throughout the food industry, numerous films, fitments and zippers have been developed for specific product applications and offer a variety of options. Flexible packaging allows brands to create more efficient solutions to obtain package performance.
For example, grocery products such as cereals or baked goods have traditionally been produced in a bag-in-box format. While this provides for a classic shelf presence in-store, it is far from the most effective shipping option as the box is not designed to sustain distribution directly without a larger case or shipper. By shifting these types of food items to a pouch format, brands can eliminate the product box completely, but keep the billboarding and product barrier intact throughout the e-commerce supply chain.
What Consumers Demand: Sustainability
Another important consideration when packaging food for e-commerce is consumer demand for greater sustainability. There are certainly misconceptions surrounding the elimination of packaging versus the proper management of packaging. Though it may seem like an obvious solution, sustainability is not about avoiding the use of packaging materials like plastics. Rather, it is about the proper and efficient design, production, use and recovery of those plastics so waste can be eliminated and new uses can be created.
Food waste is a global issue on the rise. On average, the typical American family throws away 40 per cent of fresh meat, 51 percent of dairy and fruit and 44 per cent of fresh vegetables. Of this waste, two-thirds is due to food spoilage.3 Pouches with closures, or other forms of flexibles work to keep food fresh longer and prevent spoiling, which helps combat the amount that ends up in the customer’s trash can.
It’s important that packaging design considers the end user, but also the bigger picture as well. It’s not just product that’s wasted when food spoils during distribution—it’s the energy used to grow, harvest, process, package, preserve and store food. Similarly, if a product is returned because it was damaged during its commute to the consumer, you’ve wasted not only the energy used to create the original product, but also the resources necessary to return the damaged goods, and then produce, package and ship the replacement. Both scenarios greatly impact an organization’s carbon footprint, as well as brand image.
By utilizing proper packaging, brands not only enhance sustainability initiatives as food remains fresh and intact during shipment, but they also provide a positive consumer experience. Consumers pass judgment on grocery delivery services and their products well beyond the final moment of truth. They will consider the quality and freshness of the food products as they prepare food, enjoy meals, and place their next order. Brands that proactively ensure packaging can overcome the challenges of e-commerce will not only earn positive feedback and reviews online, they will solidify future customers and success in the digital marketplace.
This article appeared in the print issue:October 2018 edition, Packaging For E-Commerce section