Paperboard provides graphic appeal, as consumers seek convenience in the fridge and on the go

Double Dutch Chocolate, Dulce de Leche, Strawberry Smoothies-the range of dairy products flooding today's market shows clearly that this is simply not Aunt Bessie's dairy shelf anymore. Dairy products are currently enjoying a rebirth as increasingly health-conscious consumers in the U.S. seek to whittle their waistlines while milk lines and other dairy-based products expand in variety and appeal to meet the demand. But if dairy marketers want more market share without the usual growing pains, they will need to become increasingly savvy in their choice of packaging strategies to compete head-on with long-term leaders in beverage and food categories.

Some segments of the dairy industry have seen double-digit growth as Americans focus on fighting obesity. Many popular weight-loss diets designed for adults promote a daily dose of calcium to help shed pounds. School systems across the country study the merits of making nutritional dairy-based beverages and snacks available to elementary and middle school students. With the growing interest in weight control and a move to re-define the U.S. food pyramid, the spotlight is now on the positive dietary value provided by dairy products-giving dairy marketers multiple opportunities to respond by extending or repositioning their lines as healthful, wholesome foods.

The challenge for dairy marketers is to promote dairy's wholesomeness in fresh, creative ways-yet provide easy take-home, dispensing and economy of space in cold storage in addition to brand building and premium positioning. Packaging, in particular paperboard multiple packaging, seems to offer dairy products the added marketing sophistication that measures up to consumers' demands for products that simplify their lives, provide convenience and sit well on the refrigerator shelf.

Ease of storage and convenience features aligned with lifestyle continue to get near-the-top ratings in marketing studies, including Dairy Foods' Packaging Trends Study, issued last month (November 2003). A 2003 report by The Consumer Network, Philadelphia, identified ease of storage as a key influence in buying decisions among 54% of the 3,700 U.S. consumers surveyed.

This means that enhanced milk-especially colorful, flavored milk products developed for kids on the go-need more graphic pizzazz in the cold case than plastic jugs can offer to earn their place in the "coolest new beverage" category. Soccer moms appreciate single-serve products, multi-packed in team-size quantities and ready to go from the fridge to the car for easy on-the-road snacking. For fitness-seeking adults, energy drinks, vitamin-fortified milk and soymilk, premium-flavored yogurts and fruity smoothies must not only offer healthy alternatives but also the ease of purchasing that many consumers have come to expect from competing categories like beer, soft-drink and processed foods.

Paperboard: a proven option

Jerry Van de Water, president of the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), based in Alexandria, Virginia, points out that paperboard packaging has proven to be a strong sales driver, complementing the rise of single-serve containers. "From the smallest dairy cups to snack-size plastic milk bottles to uniquely-designed mini servings, single-serve containers face a common challenge," Van de Water explained. "Regardless of shape, message space is limited and must be used first for branding and required product labeling. There's little room left for clearly differentiating one product from another or offering competitive promotions. That's where paperboard packaging excels as the material of choice in many product categories. It offers superior graphics qualities to alternatives at the point-of-sale where 75% of all consumer choices are made on impulse. That's why many categories rely on paperboard packaging's ‘billboard effect' for maximizing the visual scale and impact of the product's face to the customer ," he said.

Van de Water pointed to the long-term success of paperboard in soft drink and beer categories. There, strong graphics and high-quality printing create product and brand differentiation while customized carton design, complete with product-enhancing windows and cutouts, consumer-friendly handles and easy opening and dispensing features add to the appeal of beverages sold in paperboard multi-packs. These packaging advantages can be adopted by dairy marketers determined to position their products as premium lines.

Traditionally, very little yogurt has been sold in the U.S. in anything other than single serve units, but that's changing. About two years ago, Dannon rolled out its La Crème™ dessert yogurts sold in four-ounce cups in secondary paperboard packaging supplied by Caraustar. Also quick to see the benefits of paperboard, Hilltop Valley Dairy changed over to multi-packs produced by MeadWestvaco Packaging Systems in June of this year for Horizon® Organic dairy products owned by Dean Foods. These U.S. trendsetters decided to differentiate their dairy lines from competitive products not only with tasty, good-for-you food, but with tasteful, smaller portions in promotional four-packs and six-packs. The move to paperboard multi-packs resonated with consumers, who quickly warmed up to the convenience of buying in multiples and the visual appeal of the high-quality graphics possible on paperboard.

According to global multiple packaging supplier MeadWestvaco Packaging Systems, LLC, Atlanta, paperboard multi-packs come in a variety of sizes and styles to suit product and/or channel requirements, configured to move more volume and generate sales lift. For example, a dairy marketer may want to offer a three-pack of a premium dairy product for the grocery store channel, a six-pack of an established, mainstream product, also for the grocery store, and a 12-pack or 24-pack for club stores. Products can be contained in fully enclosed paperboard cartons, similar to soft drink or beer "suitcases" for larger multiples, or open-sided wraps like MeadWestvaco's Cluster-Pak® carton, which are best for smaller quantities of single units. Paperboard packaging works equally well for products in plastic bottles, cups, cans, bricks, jars and tubs.

"As soft drink and beer marketers have known for years, consumers tend to consume more when they have more on hand. In addition, the fact that the consumer buys a multiple of the product (6, 12, 24) at one time not only increases sales on a per purchase basis, but leads to more repeat sales," explains David Hobbs, national sales director, MeadWestvaco Packaging Systems. "Once consumers have the product at home, they are repeatedly exposed to on-pack messages during daily refrigerator forages. With easy access and convenient packaging, they will eat or drink products quickly and return to the store for more. To borrow a phrase ‘there's always room for more milk (or yogurt or smoothies)'," Hobbs said.

The power of packaging is clearly reflected in the development of new dispenser-style packaging designs, which have led to increased product consumption and sales lift in the soft drink category. A PPC award-winning paperboard design has improved refrigerator shelf storage by changing the standard 12-pack from a 3x4 to a better-fitting 2x6 configuration. The pack eliminates single serves scattered on refrigerator shelves, and the addition of a convenient rollout dispenser for cans or PET bottles makes it easy for consumers to retrieve beverages. Product stays intact in the pack where the consumer sees it every time he opens the fridge door. Versions of the dispenser-style packs are being produced for beer, New Age drinks, meal replacement and bottled water categories.

As dairy marketers set their strategy to capitalize on newfound growth opportunities fueled by consumer trends, product packaging should be viewed as an ally. Cost-effective options exist and are proven to deliver sales advantages in competing categories. The time is right for dairy to make a hot packaging statement in the cold case.

Lois Becton, is worldwide communication dir., and Vali Braselton, market MeadWestvaco Packaging Systems, LLC, is a leading global supplier of high-performance multiple packaging systems and cartons for beverage, dairy, processed food and personal care products. The company operates two design and engineering centers and 12 converting facilities, located strategically near its major markets in The Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe, and is a unit of MeadWestvaco Corporation headquartered in Stamford, Conn. For more information, visit The Paperboard Packaging Council is a U.S. trade association, based in Alexandria, Va. representing the paperboard folding carton industry. For more information about the PPC, contact Jerry Van de Water, 703/836-3300.