It’s easy for a brand to fall into the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it philosophy’ when its products are popular and sales are good. While there is a lot to be said for consumer familiarity, it overlooks the need for continuous improvement and brand evolution in order to keep current customers engaged, attract new ones and build sales.
Imminent changes in US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requirements have the potential to create a catalyst for some of the cultural change that brands need in the US market to shift them from maintaining the status quo to driving innovation in both their packaging and their products.
The new rules relate to mandatory labelling for nutritional content, which will have to appear on pack in the US from July 2018 onwards. By ensuring that clear information about calories and added sugars such as fructose and corn syrup is available to consumers at the point of purchase, the FDA aims to help them make more informed decisions about what they buy and what they eat and drink.
The changes affect both US-manufactured products and brands from other markets that are sold in the US. While some brands may view this as an onerous requirement to replace their current packaging, our experience of nutritional labelling requirements in the UK, European and Australian markets suggests that more progressive brands will embrace it as an opportunity to re-examine the nutritional formulation of their products and the design of their packaging.
It’s an issue that highlights just how much packaging design needs to be integrated with brand and product strategy. Consequently, it’s vital that brands affected by the changes do not leave amendments to their packaging until the last minute simply to ensure compliance. If they do this, they risk missing out on any potential benefits of the changes. Indeed they could even damage the visual impact of their current packaging by hastily crowbarring the information onto a packaging design that was not developed to incorporate it.
“Brands can see FDA Requirements as an opportunity”
Instead, brands affected by the changes need to use the FDA requirements as an opportunity to look critically and creatively at their products, their brand strategy and their packaging in a fully-integrated and holistic way. That’s just as true of supermarket own label and value ranges as it is for premium and well-established brands, as they are all competing for space on shelf and sales.
So where does that process begin? Ideally, it should have begun already. The world’s most successful food and drinks brands are constantly evolving their product ranges, formulations and packaging to keep pace with consumer tastes, design trends and market forces. For brands in this position, the move towards new food labelling requirements will simply be part of an ongoing process of continuous improvement across the product development, brand evolution and packaging design that supports their success.
For brands that are not already in the process of continuously updating their products, branding and packaging, the nutritional labelling requirements provide an excellent catalyst for beginning that process and introducing an interdisciplinary approach to maximising shelf appeal and sales growth. They also provide an opportunity to consider how the brand and packaging strategy works across ranges and product portfolios, creating the potential for greater packaging synergy across older and newer products.
“Can manufacturers champion healthy eating?”
From a product strategy point of view, manufacturers must consider whether the new regulations give them an opportunity to champion the healthy eating benefits of their product. If the nutritional values that will be displayed will highlight an existing healthy formulation, how will they champion this with the brand and packaging design?
If, on the other hand, the data will reveal that the product is less healthy than it might currently be perceived to be, the manufacturer may want to look again at the formulation. Alternatively, they could consider how the brand and packaging strategy will overcome the disconnect between perceived health profile and actual nutritional content.
And, of course, in many cases, the new labelling will simply confirm to consumers in hard data that the product they have chosen has low nutritional content. Where this is true and there is no business case for moving towards a healthier formulation, the brand and packaging strategy needs to examine how it can champion the product’s other benefits, such as enjoyment, taste and familiarity.
Juggling key info and good design
Once a clear strategy has been devised, success is all about taking that strategic approach forward with great design. Research suggests that it takes a consumer just seven seconds to decide which product to purchase, so brands have to ensure that their product is attractive and recognisable on shelf.
Incorporating the nutritional information required by the FDA must not be allowed to detract from the impact of the packaging design or brand recognition, while remaining fully-compliant. This is an area where Equator has extensive experience thanks to the introduction of guideline daily amounts (GDA) as a mandatory requirement on UK food packaging.
Only by working with a packaging design specialist with a fully-integrated approach to strategy, design and implementation can manufacturers be confident that there will be a clear rationale for changes to their packaging, full compliance and, ultimately, tangible benefits in consumer perception and sales.