Rewinding the Clock in Packaging

By Brian Harris

About a year or two ago, out of sheer curiosity, I asked my friends, part of the Millennial generation of consumers, about the types of products they’d like to see at convenience stores. Not to my surprise, they indicated their preferences for unique flavors and fresh foods, which are well-documented c-store trends among this age group.

One response, however, did surprise me. One of my friends lamented that there were not enough old-fashioned soda fountains in retail today.

Really? Old-fashioned soda fountains? I thought it was odd until I read about 7-Eleven’s high-tech store in New York City’s Financial District. Lo and behold, the store offers beer tap-style beverage dispensers.

What’s the deal with Millennials and their odd cravings for nostalgia? Huffington Post contributor Elena Weismann theorizes that this is a generation that has grown up with “unparalleled accessibility to the past.” It’s why in today’s packaging, mason jars, old apothecary bottles, stencil graphics and plain white paper wrapping are “in.” It’s also why in the past few years, we’ve seen the resurgence of clean, nostalgic designs. These packaging innovations are conveniently showcased in Buzzfeed’s 34 Coolest Food Packaging Designs of 2012.

Ironically, Millennials often complain that CPG companies are trying too hard to get their attention, but here is an entire listicle devoted to packaging. (Millennials, you are asking for it when your go-to hub of viral Internet content posts such an article!)

Sure enough, CPG Marketing Trends saw Buzzfeed’s article and published a reactionary piece. CPG contributor Brad Hanna pointed to findings from a Brand Amplitude study, which found that Millennials seek healthy, sustainable, on-the-go choices. They also look to purchase these foods from convenient locations that provide quality and efficiency, as well as speed. Lastly, innovative cartons and pouches, like the ones seen in Buzzfeed’s article, help create new perceptions about the food inside.

This is a particularly interesting point. Millennials aged 24 to 35 perceive carton packaging to offer healthier and fresher items, while being better for the environment. Grab-and-go and sustainability are two trends that are here to stay in the convenience channel. Bottles, cans and jars are also recyclable and reusable, indicating how “innovation collides with old-school,” writes Hanna.

“The key for big brands is finding the balance and daring to try something fresh. It’s what Millennials are looking for,” he concludes.

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