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These 5 Red Flags Mean Your Packaging Needs an Update ASAP

Aug 17, 2021

Written By
Danielle Muller

The effectiveness of your marketing, the health of your sales and distribution, and the consumers’ perception of your brand are all tied, at least in part, to the performance of your packaging.

Yep, your food and beverage brand’s packaging really is that important. Yet it’s frequently overlooked and underutilized as a sales and marketing tool. In fact, when there are big picture issues with a CPG brand, a packaging refresh or redesign is often a last ditch effort as sales flatline or competitors forge ahead.

We get it. You probably have it in your head that a redesign is cost prohibitive. And while it is an investment to change up your packaging, in the long run, it’s less expensive than the three (or ten) other fixes you’ll try before turning to your packaging anyway.

So instead of scrambling, bookmark this post of five red flags indicating it’s time to consider a packaging refresh for your brand. An awareness of these red flags could help you avoid some forms of brand degradation before your sales — and reputation — take a hit.

1. Your Packaging Design Is More Than Five Years Old

The longstanding rule of thumb in the food and bev industry is that you should update your packaging every seven years. But that’s simply not often enough in today’s fast-moving digital world where trends go viral within seconds and categories change quicker than you can power down your laptop at 5:00 on Friday.

Instead, aim to evaluate the efficacy of your packaging every five years (at the very least) and change it accordingly.

Proactively monitoring the age and freshness of your packaging allows you to sidestep the perils of stale packaging. For one, old packaging can make consumers think of old food that’s been on the shelf for a decade, which seems gross regardless of the product’s actual expiration date.

Also, if your packaging stays the same for too long, it starts to blend into the background. Consumers are too accustomed to it and you need a packaging update to draw their eyes back to your brand.

An important note: Even if your packaging is more than five years old, you might not need a revolutionary (and therefore extra expensive) overhaul. Sometimes modernizing key elements through an evolutionary lens does the trick well enough.

2. Your Consumers Are Telling You They Want Something Different

There’s nothing more powerful than consumer feedback about your product. As far as your packaging is concerned, there are two main ways consumers might influence a change:

  1. Unsolicited consumer feedback via social media or other inquiries, and/or
  2. Formal consumer research data and results.

Even if you don’t currently have the budget or bandwidth to conduct consumer research, your consumers are talking to you. You just have to listen.

Try auditing your social media channels for constructive comments. Are consumers consistently asking for a lower sugar version of your cereal? Maybe it’s time to emphasize a new claim on your pack. Are they having a shopability problem and can’t locate their favorite popsicle flavor in-aisle? A packaging redesign with more distinctive colors might be in order.

You can discover the same kinds of packaging issues with more formal consumer research — and you’ll have even stronger evidence that a change is necessary. One of our clients, Ian’s Foods, realized through research that many gluten-free households are also nut-free. Ian’s was already a nut-free brand, but they weren’t elevating that claim on their old pack. Redesigning their packaging to center different claims expanded their customer base.

3. Your Food and Beverage Category Is Changing

As we said, food and bev categories shift rapidly. Not to be cliche, but innovation and change are the only constants. At some point, you will have to adapt your packaging to suit society’s hottest craze and the pivoting needs of your consumers.

Just look again at Ian’s Foods. They were a gluten-free brand turned ‘free-from’ brand (nut-free included) in response to consumers’ latest desires. In reality, they didn’t need to change their already free-from formulations. They just needed to change their packaging to spotlight the now-trendy free-from claim.

Sometimes, consumer tastes do demand a formulation change. Maybe you’re an ice cream brand that decides to simplify your ingredients because consumers (even value consumers) increasingly want healthier products. Updated packaging can do a lot of the heavy lifting of communicating your updated formulation to newly health-conscious consumers.

4. Your Competition Has Upped Its Packaging Game

There are two possible scenarios when it comes to your competition and packaging:

  1. They’re regularly updating their packaging to keep it fresh, or
  2. Their shelf set is stale and hasn’t been updated in some time.

If you’re facing the first scenario, you’d better hop to and update your product’s packaging! Otherwise, your brand will seem old and tired in comparison to all the shiny new designs.

The second scenario arguably provides an even better opportunity for your brand because, if your competition’s looks are stale or homogeneous, you can truly stand out post-refresh.

Rxbar faced scenario two. None of the competing protein bar brands had fresh packaging. In fact, they all looked too much alike with their mostly white packaging and overhead product shots. Instead of copying this overused aesthetic, Rxbar disrupted the space with simple packaging centering their ingredients — and no product shot at all. And guess what? They’re killing it.

5. Your Company’s Sales Are Flatlining

You’ll likely have to make multiple, cross-departmental changes to address flatlining — or even declining — sales. But in the process, don’t forget that packaging is a critical brand communication tool that deserves attention amid the turmoil.

Often, clarifying your mission and your product’s unique value proposition then refreshing your packaging design is the ticket to reinvigorating consumer interest in your brand.

At the end of the day, it never hurts to at least assess your packaging design. And these five red flags are just the nudge you need to ensure you’re never waiting too long to refresh.

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