Michael Richmond, Ph.D.

With the recession upon us, we can hunker down or we can step up and hop on the innovation bandwagon – I like the latter.

Recently I attended the Packaging Strategies Packaging Innovation Summit and was not sure what to expect. Was innovation still in the vocabulary?

Well, great news – it was and it is, and open innovation is thriving! Proctor and Gamble, Kraft, Bush, Clorox and other leading brand owners all talked about the importance of open innovation and how important it is, especially in tough times. The key theme was, “You need to always be ready and innovation is critical to new product growth.” So let’s now move to what this means for dairy packaging.

While there have been some innovation efforts in dairy beverage packaging over the past year, there needs to be more and it needs to be stronger and more effective.

Retailers and brand owners need to increase focus on shelf impact in the dairy aisle for beverages. Gallon milk is boring and total commodity, and some new attempts in the “healthy” milk arena are using typical milk package formats and, as such, are not cutting through the clutter. Some of the better-looking shelf impact packaging in this area is with glass bottles; glass connotes quality, value, strength, safety, cleanliness and simplicity. And milk in glass takes us back to a simpler and less stressful time.

Single-serve flavored milk in plastic reversed a declining market a decade ago when Dean came out with the Chug. We are now into second-, third- and fourth-generation shrink-wrap graphics and it is getting passé. It is time to rethink shelf-impact and value of single-serve packaging; there are lots of opportunities, but right now they all look alike.

A new product, Muscle Milk, recently showed up on the retail shelves in Kalamazoo, Mich., and its marketers have attempted to add an emotional or experiential twist by making the single-serve bottle in the shape of a dumbbell to suggest strength. While the graphics are busy and similar to other single-serve milk bottles, their focus on shape is a move in the right direction. What about adding some touch equity to the package to make it feel like a dumbbell or how about suggesting that consumers fill the package with sand after drinking and use in workouts?

The key idea here is to really challenge all of us to come up with more inspirational thinking and opportunities for dairy beverages, and consider how packaging can help. Packaging can play a key part in delivering enhanced experience and emotion to the total product offering. Why not consider dispensing closures packed with nutrients or color changing ingredients? These types of experiences can provide a feeling of better nutrition or a more fun product.

As we see dairy continue to focus on increased nutrition and health, why not look to other categories and “steal” packaging ideas that are working for them. Look at the energy drink category – the packages tend to be aluminum, tall, thin and simple.

So developing a new energy milk product in this kind of package just might work as aluminum cans are common in the energy drink area. Continuing on the experience theme – what about developing microwavable dairy beverages that can be conveniently consumed from the container like Campbell’s Soup at Hand? A warm cup of milk sounds relaxing and calming, which is something consumers are currently looking for during these tough times.

Beauty and anti-aging are also on the trend watch and dairy ingredients would be a natural for this arena, but don’t just put them in a standard single-serve package with a busy shrink wrap - go to the beauty aisle, go to other aisles, rethink about how the package can make a difference.

I would like to offer up a challenge and opportunity to the entire dairy beverage packaging value chain from raw material suppliers through retailers (and end-of-life) to get busy and rethink and redo the dairy beverage aisle to deliver more experiential products through packaging.  

Michael Richmond, Ph.D., is president of PTIS, a strategic business and packaging consultancy, and co-founder of Global Sustainability Solutions Inc., a company focused on providing better sustainability solutions across the value chain.