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October 23, 2019

How younger consumers are shaping packaging strategy

As younger consumers continue to shape FMCG branding strategies, Callum Tyndall finds out how packaging is being adapted to cater to them.

As younger consumers continue to shape FMCG branding strategies, Callum Tyndall finds out how packaging is being adapted to cater to them.

Sustainability, transparency and traceability – all trends, which have shaped consumer industries in recent years, that have in many ways been a reaction to a younger and increasingly-conscious consumer base. That’s not to say older consumers aren’t keeping up with the changes, but the trends have really found their roots in Millennials and Generation Z, and it’s these consumers driving the changes forward. Consider Extinction Rebellion, a climate protest largely driven by very young people, including children, that nevertheless has forced fresh public debate on environmental issues.

With such change at the forefront of these consumer groups’ minds, it isn’t surprising brands have looked to capitalise on the notion of ‘conscious’ capitalism. Perhaps most notable in the broad shift towards sustainable packaging and the gradual transition of retail towards zero-waste, brands have taken note of a class of consumer that is conscious, connected and willing to reward brands that align with their ethics.

While these transformations are occurring across consumer industries, packaging has perhaps in the firing line of calls for change. After all, not only does packaging have relevance across a multitude of industries, it also makes use of one of the most demonised materials of our time: plastic.

Environmental ethics drive consumer behaviour

When it comes to packaging, at the forefront of the minds of both consumers and industry are sustainability and the issues of plastic and waste. With environmental issues growing even more prominent in the public conscience, it’s becoming vital for manufacturers to develop sustainable packaging solutions and for retailers to take a stand against plastic.

This is pushing companies to not only reduce their waste and plastic usage, but also to look into new areas such as compostable packaging. Although progress has been incremental, there’s a sense we are starting to reach a tipping point.

Plastic a critical issue for young shoppers

“The younger generation is calling for the packaging industry to rethink its relationship with flexible packaging, which most of the time isn’t even recyclable, let alone compostable,” says Merav Koren, vice president of marketing at sustainable packaging producer TIPA. “Our own research shows 49% of Gen Z and 50% of Millennials in the UK believe retailers are responsible for reducing plastic waste to benefit the environment.

“In addition, when considering the use of compostable packaging – which decomposes leaving zero trace in the environment – as opposed to recyclable packaging – which ends up as plastic waste – 34% of Gen Z and 35% of Millennials say they think compostable packaging is under-utilised by brands.

“As such, there is no doubt that plastic has become a critical issue for young shoppers. This shift in attitude is forcing the industry to change its ways; packaging manufacturers are realising that they can no longer benefit from using cheap and polluting materials like plastic without considering its end-of-life.

“Brands are also looking toward alternatives; Waitrose, for example, has adopted TIPA compostable packaging for its Duchy Banana range and has announced plans to make all plastic recyclable or compostable by 2025. Companies are dramatically cutting the amount of plastic packaging they use – and the shift in consumers’ attitudes are at the forefront of this change.”

Regaining consumer trust in an information-rich age

The rapid pace of change has in no small way been driven by the accelerating digitalisation of culture and industry. With consumers increasingly connected and informed, there’s a growing expectation of transparency on the part of companies. When consumers can have almost any information at their fingertips within seconds, the blind spots become more glaring.

This information-rich atmosphere, in combination with a hyperactive media cycle, also makes it increasingly challenging for industry to maintain consumer trust. Consumers expect more and better of their corporations and they find out more quickly when said corporations don’t live up to those expectations.

“Millennials and members of Gen Z want to know what’s in their packaging and brands are beginning to respond by ensuring the messaging on their packs is clear and unambiguous,” Martin Leeming, CEO of UK secondary-packaging company TrakRap, says. “Brands know that, in order to be successful, they need consumers to have confidence in their products; those that successfully cut through the messaging noise and let consumers know, in no uncertain terms, that they are working with the environment’s best interests at heart, will reap the benefits in the long term.”

Ultimately, the driving force for any business is profit, with a responsibility to keep shareholders happy. However, if this can be combined with an authentic push for more ethical, sustainable and transparent practice, they’re likely to reap the rewards of consumer loyalty.

Future-proofing for the consumer to come

It’s best to consider the transformation being enacted as one to embrace. Although it’s commendable to make efforts such as light-weighting and similar smaller-scale environmental efforts, the greatest rewards will be reaped by those able to rethink the entire experience and approach packaging afresh. Doing so will cater not just to the current emerging consumer sectors, but help future-proof for the consumers of tomorrow.

Laetitia Durafour, a Paris-based marketing and communications director at US packaging giant Crown Holdings, says: “Millennials will certainly continue to leave their mark on the way products and services are consumed by voting with their wallets. However, we are also keeping our eye on the next generation of consumers in anticipation that they could be even more vocal about their requirements. That’s why we encourage our customers to think about consumers across the spectrum and either focus on the commonalities that bond the generations, like convenience, or introduce nuanced products and packaging that targets a select audience.”

The high standards of the next generation

It’s worth considering the impact younger consumers will have not just in the short term but also further into the future. The values of Millennials are likely to not just be passed on, but taken further. Culture is experiencing a shift in speed, no doubt driven in large part by technology, and we are witnessing an accelerated emergence of ideology in the young. As much as Millennials have driven attitudinal shifts on the part of companies, we are likely to see Gen Z (who may be anywhere from 23 to nine years old according to general demographic delineations) push them further, faster and sooner.

“Gen Z holds particular influence both financially and socially,” Tashi van der Waerden, senior strategist at London-based Echo Brand Design, says. “It’s expected they’ll become the largest generation of consumers by 2020. Moreover, they are key influencers within the home. We’ve seen repeatedly through qualitative research that it is the youngest members of the household who are creating the sustainability drive. Teaching the family to recycle, reuse and make better choices at shelf.

“The next generation has high standards and brands will need to move swiftly to ethical manufacturing if they want to stay in business.”

This article was originally published by just-food sister magazine Inside Packaging.

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