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Fanning the Flames of Innovation

Jeff Falk

“A great flame follows a little spark.”

—Dante Alighieri

Reading the lists of the most innovative ideas and products featured in almost every magazine lately, it’s easy to overlook that on-shelf innovation is, in most cases, the result of an ongoing and collaborative process. The product ready to explode into consumers’ lives once it hits the shelves is the outcome of multiple flints striking multiple stones, capturing those sparks and nurturing the flame. Innovation that becomes success is much more than an idea—it’s a well-conceived idea executed intelligently with follow-through and built upon the foundation of strong partnerships.

For suppliers, being innovative depends on understanding consumers, the market and their own customers—all while employing and executing their own knowledge base. Innovation, as ABI PR’s president Alan Isacson says, is about giving brands the competitive edge. Supplier innovations are only truly realized once they are successfully implemented by a brand. However, that is not to suggest that their’s is a passive role; GCI magazine explores suppliers’ relation- ships with brands in the creation process and how suppliers foster ideas, products and new ways of thinking for success on the shelf.


Sometimes, it’s not a new way, it’s a better way. Better packaging methods can elevate a brand. Beyond simply being fashionable or trendy looking, a package can create real marketing advantages or even breathe new life into segments.

An apt example is an evolution in the hand soap market. Soap, in general, is a mature segment. According to Euromonitor International, consumers are far more willing to economize on bath and shower products in general than they are on cosmetics, and trust that the quality of even low-cost brands is of a high enough level to deliver basic hygiene. This mindset has contributed to the slow growth of the bath and shower segment—the slowest-growing category in the beauty market—and commoditization, therefore, constrains unit prices. Adding value or a point of difference are keys to further growth. Foaming technology, for example, is still big news in liquid soap, states Euromonitor.

“The foam pump started a new generation of hand washes,” says Norbert de Jong, worldwide marketing director, personal care division, Rexam. “Most of the soap manufacturers expanded their lines with a foaming hand soap. Dial, Colgate and Bath & Body Works all expanded their range with this, leading to additional sales. In the kids segment, this even lead to a complete, new market. With the foaming kids soap, kids wash their hands more then ever before.”

In this way, Rexam’s foam pump concept opened doors for new applications, and brands expanded product lines with innovative foaming concepts while engaging or re-engaging segments of consumers.

“Foam gives a higher perceived value to the consumer,” says de Jong. “If you compare a small amount of gel or liquid in your hands with an [equivalent] amount of foam, the foam gives a much richer feeling.”

The market opportunities afforded by the foam pumps, as demonstrated in the soap segment, has a ripple effect through other segments. High-end skin care brands, according to de Jong, have launched foam products due to the high perceived value by the consumer. “Foam strengthens the quality perception of prestige and masstige brands,” he says. Innovative packaging, as demonstrated in these successes, can be part of an ongoing strategic marketing plan for a product.

“In certain instances, marketers promote not only the product but the packaging as well,” says DeAnn Umland, product manager, personal care and household, Seaquist Closures, citing the company’s new PinPoint dispensing closure with an Alcan Beauty Packaging tube. “In fact, we are seeing marketers promote the soft tip [of PinPoint] as the key winning feature of the package on the product itself. In addition, PinPoint has often helped to start the development process of a new product around the packaging solution.”

This also has implications for formulators, lending momentum to the drive for increasingly sophisticated formulations that are a good match for the packaging technology.

“Dispensers are not an afterthought anymore, they are also driving formulation innovations,” says de Jong, citing Rexam’s Symbio dual-lotion dispenser. “One of our customers created a completely new formulation to be used with the foam pump. In this way, it has been able to create a new segment in the highly competitive dish wash market.”

“The packaging needs to complement the bulk, and the bulk needs to complement the package,” says Jeffrey Hayet, vice president of global sales, World Wide Packaging, noting the tube for Mary Kay’s TimeWise Targeted Action Line Reducer. “This custom tube package marries Mary Kay’s product to the overall package design, due to the softness of the tube head as the product is applied to the delicate eye area. In today’s packaging world, customers target specific packaging choices that will complement their product. Customization of a package brings branding to the product and value to our customers, and the way a package allows for effective dispensability and application of the product enhances its overall retail value.”

“The big challenge for us, of course, is to develop a product that offers true benefits for our customers, by improving the efficacy of the product,” says de Jong. “Rexam supports customer branding through new products and technologies. A great example is the airless lotion pump we created for L’Oréal’s Dermo-Expertise line. This new design supports the high-tech image of the product.”

Suppliers also play a role in consumer perception of a product and effective branding to create deeper connections with consumers, further adding to the overall and longer term value.

“When competing for market share, marketers look at a variety of different avenues to attract existing and new consumers,” says Umland. “As the packaging component represents one of the first moments when a consumer interfaces with a brand, it naturally becomes a critical part of brand recognition.”

“Product packaging can elevate a brand with real marketing advantages,” says Alison von Puschendorf, director of public relations, MWV (MeadWestvaco). “Given that consumers make their purchasing decision within a few seconds at the store shelf, packaging serves a critical role in engaging the consumer and communicating the brand. There are many other ways packaging can help differentiate a brand. For instance, an environmentally conscious brand can enhance its position by using recycled packaging materials. Partnering with the correct packaging solutions provider is a vital element to ensuring that the ultimate goal is achieved without compromising other values. MWV’s approach is to engage deeply with customers to understand their consumers and their packaging needs, and to develop customized packaging solutions that are meaningful—and valuable—in the marketplace.” “Branding is all about creating and enhancing emotions. And the role of packaging and dispensers, in particular, has become strong in the last decade,” adds de Jong.

“Branding is not just about the name, look and retail [channel]. Dispensers, for example, support the design and functionality that marketers want to emphasize with their brands. The dispenser has become a crucial part in branding/building emotions.”

While reinforcing the brand message, enhancing the consumer experience is vital.

“Consumers review a package in many ways,” says Hayet. “Their first question might be: Does the product in the package truly work and have benefit? The second question: Does the package design add in the value of the total package/bulk the consumer purchased?”

“In addition to visual cues on shelves, marketers also consider how the packaging translates to the consumer during product use,” adds Umland. “A major advantage the PinPoint system offers is the ability to address both of these market needs. The aesthetics offer a sophisticated look while the silicone valve system delivers controlled dispensing and precise product cutoff. Because the benefits of PinPoint are instantly recognizable to consumers during the first use of the package, they are not only surprised and delighted with it, they experience a very short learning curve in understanding the key benefits of the package.”

Packaging performance and the impact on the consumer experience, too, has deep implications for a brand, says von Puschendorf. “Since secondary packaging is the initial point of contact between the brand and consumer, it is a key area of focus for marketers,” she says, but notes that, because primary packaging, such as pumps and trigger sprayers, is in frequent contact with the consumer during product usage, a high level of performance must be maintained in order that the brand is not compromised.

For more from MWV on brand/supplier partnerships, brand/packaging strategic uses, sustainable packaging and more, see “Beyond One Dimensional."