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Packaging is one of the most important components of your marketing program. Many growers do not spend enough time or resources on packaging which serves three purposes: to protect, preserve and promote.


We get focused on other parts of sales and marketing, but when you consider the cost of packaging on a per unit basis, it can be a big number. As a starting point, figure out the cost of packaging as a percentage of the unit’s total value. Undoubtedly, that number will inspire change.


There are many reasons to change packaging:


-  Switching to a more sustainable option in response to a regulatory/customer mandate or to differentiate your product in the category


-  Managing the increases in packaging costs by finding alternative options


-  Reducing rthe size of your product to get the retail price in line with other products in the category


-  Purchasing new equipment to provide efficiencies or a different style of packaging.


-  Responding to regulatory changes that dictate a different packaging type or size


-  Freshening up your brand


What you should do before implementing the change


Talk to your customers in advance. You do not need to show them everything, but you want to get them excited and engaged with the change. If you have a good relationship, talk to them as far out as possible. Be careful because you do not want to share a competitive advantage that they might share with others. They shouldn’t but you have to protect your interests.


When you discuss the changes with your customer, focus on the benefits to them, not you. Remember, if you tell them the packaging is less expensive, they might be looking for you to share some of the benefits with them.


Respect the lead times -- they have to make changes too. It is not as simple as delivering a different size. Retailers have many things set up in their systems to manage inventory and pricing.


Check inventory on existing packaging to manage the change as effectively as possible. It can be very expensive to throw away packaging. It does happen but if you can make a smooth transition without losing obsolete packaging consider it a victory.


If your product is changing sizes, you will need to work closely with your customer to allow them to sell through inventory and avoid the confusion of two different sizes on the shelf at one time. Retailers will look at their business in groups of stores or pricing zones. You might be able to work through inventory on the old size in one zone and ship the new size to another zone.


Often you need to communicate beyond the category manager to the others in the department to manage these transitions. They do the work and they are usually receptive to your messaging.


If the change is a big departure from past packaging, consider educating staff at store level. If this will be a point of differentiation in the category these are the people who deal with your product and consumers 52 weeks of the year.


When you are going through the design phase take the mock-ups to the store. Some packaging can look great on a computer screen but not in a store. People make the decision to buy at the shelf. It has to work there.


Consider giving consumers a sneak peek about the changes. Let them know the positives coming for them.


During the change


When your samples come in, take them to the store to ensure they scan properly. There are stories about people who have printed hundreds of thousands of packages that do not scan.


If the change is major, it might be worth stopping at the warehouse, if you are in the retailer’s network, mention the changes to quality assurance people.


When first orders ship into your customers, follow the inventory through the system to make sure it gets to the shelf. Notice we said shelf, not just the store.


After the change is implemented


Once the new packaging is out in the stores, you should follow up your with store contacts and merchandising people. Make sure they see the benefits the same as you do. You also need to confirm it is performing as you had planned.


Share the news with consumers and get them looking for the new offering. If you have communities on social media, share photos of the packaging. When the change is purpose-driven, explain the reason for the change and how it benefits them, not you.


Many news outlets are interested in sustainability. If your new packaging will be an improvement for the environment, you might get some free publicity. Let them know where people can buy the product and tell your customers you were trying to promote their local stores.


There are many components to a successful packaging change. It needs to work in your business, but it also needs to work for your customers’ business and for consumers. A properly executed packaging change can bring many benefits including more sales and a better relationship with customers and consumers. It is worth the effort to put the appropriate resources into doing a great job.  

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Submitted by Peter Chapman on 3 April 2024