Paperboard cartons are a mainstay in the packaging business and a key contributor to the dairy sector. Paperboard can expect to see moderate growth over the next few years (2.3% growth, according to Freedonia Group, Inc). But, is 2.3% enough? Can cartons in dairy grow more? The answer is yes.

How can new cartons help grow your dairy business? Well, it's easier than you think. Consumers are looking for value. Remember in an earlier column we said, Value = Benefits/Price vs Competition? And, CPGs and retailers are looking for ways to differentiate their products (in this case, using packages) on the shelf. Now, we just need some ideas. How about looking for some information about what consumers want and what carton suppliers are selling these days?

The Paperboard Packaging Alliance (PPA;, a trade organization, has conducted some excellent consumer and retailer research over the past few years to better understand the opportunities and issues with paperboard (or cartons, which is the common term).

The research indicates that consumers identified the following as some of the benefits of paperboard:
  • Provides a billboard for the consumer to see the product on the shelf, in the dairy case, or in the freezer.
  • Stocks well at retail and fits nicely in the freezer at home. And, now that gabletop cartons have plastic closures, they pour easily and are recloseable.
  • Older consumers see cartons as familiar and trusted package formats. Yes, this is a positive, and it is probably not being exploited enough-if at all in dairy.
  • Paperboard can connote positive product attributes like modern, fun, relevant, and premium quality.
  • Cartons are seen as versatile and are recognized for their high graphic appeal. This attribute is becoming an important shopper benefit.

What about retailers?

All you have to do is go to stores and talk to the stock people and store managers. Here's what they told me:
  • Want more color and shape to help sell the product;
  • Consumers want to see the product; that is a freshness cue;
  • Cartons work well in the freezer case and they are easy to stock;
  • Lacquered finishes really give great shelf "pop;"
  • Paperboard sleeves don't work well in the refrigerated case; they are flimsy and look bad.

Trade shows and expositions?

I was pleasantly surprised with the recent Worldwide Food Expo (WWFE) in Chicago. There were a number of packaging exhibitors; the suppliers were talking shelf impact and design and they were talking about consumer needs and insights. A few paperboard highlights:
  • Huhtamaki was talking about cartons with touch equity, where molded fibers and debossing added improvement to the feel and functionality.
  • DuPont shared data on a recent 1,100 respondent freshness and packaging study.
  • Tetra Pak introduced their new TetraWedge Aseptic and microwavable package. Dairy needs to look at more convenient microwave opportunities.
  • Elopack displayed a newly shaped gable carton with improved shelf impact.
  • International Paper had a slimline gabletop package that fits better in the hand.
Take advantage of the many avenues you have to make a difference with packaging. Remember, it's about value and it's about the consumer! n