Consumer IQ UK Packaging News February 6, 2013 By: Josh Brooks The ageing population is pushing easy-open packaging up the agenda. But is enough being done to bring better openability to market
You could almost hear the collective cry of ‘hallelujah’ ring out across the land last month when Terry Wogan appeared on the primetime TV programme Room 101. The BBC1 show, which is inspired by the George Orwell novel 1984 and hosted by comedian Frank Skinner, invites celebrities to select objects or subjects that they would like to see locked away for eternity. One of the things the treacle-tongued broadcaster nominated was food and drink packaging. He expressed his frustration at his inability to open toothbrushes, child-safe packaging and ring pulls on sardine cans that “dislocate your finger and break your nails”. His comments may have frustrated some in the packaging sector, but it’s not just former chat show hosts that struggle to get to grips with modern packaging.
Research released last month by packaging specialist Payne showed that 81% of consumers have experienced frustration with opening packaging; clamshell packs were a particular focus of annoyance. And according to an Age UK/TNS poll, nearly half of over-65s can struggle to take lids or caps off products such as plastic milk bottles or jars. With government estimating that the number of over-60s projected to rise by 50% in the next 25 years, there’s never been a better time for packaging specifiers and producers to invest time and money into devising packs that are easier to open. Consumers experiencing trouble with packaging is nothing new; just think of the many methods people have to get into hard-to-open jam jars. But as people get older they become weaker and their dexterity decreases making it increasingly difficult to open items, such as cans, cartons, flowwrapped goods and childproof bottles.
Arthritis sufferer Claire Dumbreck: "Certain packaging maoeuvres are impossible." It’s not just the over 65s that can struggle to get to grips with packs. Claire Dumbreck is a 37-year-old marketer who suffers from inflammatory arthritis. Like Wogan, one of her pet hates is poorly conceived packaging. “I am considerably down on power in my wrists, thumb joints and fingers,” she explains. “I lack a firm grip and drop things. Certain packaging manoeuvres are impossible due to the strength or dexterity required and I need to use an aid such as a jar opener or ask someone else to do it. Other packs, although manageable, are quite difficult and bring on discomfort.” For manufacturers it’s becoming increasingly important that they address the problems encountered by consumers like Dumbreck. At present there’s little concrete evidence to show that poor openability has a negative impact on sales; but industry researchers are confident that it is happening. “There is anecdotal evidence but it is well hidden from many brand owners and their decision makers, it would appear,” says Stergios Bititsios, associate director of packaging and design at MMR Research Worldwide. “We do know of a company that recently changed its packaging format quite substantially to a material which resulted in very poor resealability. As a result – and we know it was the pack because the product itself scored very highly – the company saw a dramatic drop in sales.”
Alaster Yoxall, principal research fellow at Sheffield Hallam University’s Art and Design Research Centre, says he has encountered plenty of anecdotal evidence during the course of his day-to-day work that people are switching away from packs that they struggle to open. “I’ve seen it with old people who say ‘I don’t buy that because I can’t get into it’,” says Yoxall. “And I’ve seen people specifically purchasing products that are significantly easier to get into.” As a result, Yoxall believes that food and drink companies are starting to take the issue more seriously. “Accessibility is creeping up the agenda as people are taking on board the changing demographics of society.” But he is sceptical as to the progress so far. “There are not many examples out there at the moment and most are only marginal improvements of what’s gone on before or actually don’t offer any benefits at all,” adds Yoxall. Headline grabbers There have been some high-profile, and often innovative, changes to improve packaging’s openability, however. Weetabix, for instance, recently underlined its commitment to producing consumer friendly packaging when it detected that some of its customers were experiencing problems with the plastic film wrapper used to keep the cereal fresh. “Some people even said they stopped buying the product because of their frustrations with the film wrapper,” says a Weetabix spokeswoman. Clearly it was an issue that the breakfast cereal maker couldn’t afford to ignore. After extensive consumer research and packaging trials to find a new wrapper that would keep the product fresh, but also be easy to open, the company devised an effective, if relatively straightforward, solution: paper.
“The new wrapper is made from paper which means it tears in a more controllable manner and in the right direction, making it much easier to open,” explains the Weetabix spokeswoman. “The wrapper has a special lining which stops the moisture from the atmosphere getting into the Weetabix biscuit, keeping the product fresh throughout its shelf life.” The company gave consumers the chance to trial the new wrapper before it went into production trials and found that 70% of consumers in the sample group preferred the new paper wrapper to the old plastic wrapper. Easy-twist lid Another group to hit the headlines after introducing easy-open packs was Duerr’s, the UK’s oldest family run jam company. It rolled out the Orbit lid, developed by metals group Crown, to its stable of jams in 2011, after hearing horror stories of the coping strategies consumers were using to open its jars. “We introduced the Orbit lids as we realised that consumers often relied on tea towels, hot water or a strong partner to open a jar,” recalls Richard Duerr, sales and marketing director at Duerr’s. “We wanted to provide relief for this daily tussle – especially for the more vulnerable members of the community, such as the elderly and arthritis sufferers.” To open jars fitted with the Orbit lid, users simply twist the ring in the same way as they would a normal twist-off lid. But where it differs from other mechanisms is that it comes in two parts: a central panel, which is sealed to the jar by vacuum, and an outer ring, which is screwed in place to provide further protection. When the user twists the ring, firstly it loosens the ring and secondly it smoothly pushes the panel away from the jar to break the seal.
According to Duerr, response to the new lid was overwhelmingly positive when the company trialled it in Morrisons. “While 100% of survey respondents found the Orbit lid easier to open than a normal jar, 86% considered it ‘much easier’. This response has been replicated on wider distribution,” he says. Importantly, the introduction of the new lids has also had a positive impact on sales. Duerr reports that sales are up year-on-year; but perhaps more impressively, he says the company has received letters of thanks from customers for its efforts. In on the act Others have been in on the openability act. Nestlé, for instance, last year revealed a process it calls ‘Inclusive Design’, which has been developed in conjunction with Cambridge University and places consumer experiences of packaging – including openability – at its heart. Asda last year won the UK Packaging Award for consumer convenience for its Little Angels baby wipes and nappy cream pack, that was specially designed so that parents can open (and close) it with one hand while holding a wriggling baby in the other arm. At the more luxury end of the market, sparkling wine drinkers have been spoilt for choice with new and easy ways to get into their bottles; from the plastic Zork closure, which helped win Sainsbury’s the Innovation of the Year award at last year’s UK Packaging Awards, to the lever-based resealable metal closure that was trialled back in 2009 by champagne house Duval-Leroy. While these are all noteworthy examples that have rightfully earned the companies involved plaudits from industry bodies and customers alike, there’s still a sense that more could be being done by packaging specifiers and designers to help out. The problem is that openability features a long way down the list of priorities when designing a new pack, according to Cathy Barnes, professor of retail innovation and director of the Faraday Centre for Retail Excellence at Leeds Metropolitan University. “Shelf stand-out, aesthetic appeal, promotional activity and innovation are all bigger drivers for brands than making their packaging easier for people to get into,” she says. Intuitive opening? Joe Schurtz, executive vice president at Perception Research Services, concurs. “I’m not certain that companies fully value the contribution that the openability of packaging makes to shopper satisfaction or shopper frustration,” he says. “I think sometimes there’s an assumption that the opening is intuitive, but I’ve seen time and time again that it’s not.” Moreover, the financial case for making radical changes to a pack’s openability can still be hard to quantify. “Companies can’t work out the return on investment from making things easier to open,” says Barnes. “There are getarounds for most openability issues so
why would brand owners spend money making it more openable? That would be my cynical view.”
As a result of these commercial sensitivities there’s inertia. “No one wants to be the first mover,” says MMR’s Bititsios. “It’s too much of a risk.” One thing that could help to break this inertia is the threat of litigation. It’s well documented that a number of consumers injure themselves every year in the UK when they resort to using inappropriate implements, such as knives and scissors, to help them break into packs, says Barnes. “I wonder if we’re coming to a point where the commercial imperative is going to start to become more pressing with the rise of the older population and the more litigious society we’re in these days. I think the ‘no claim without blame’ culture could become a driver for change in the future.” And crucially, change is starting to come in other areas related to the aging population. PRS’ Schurtz says: “We’ve already seen things like typefaces get larger; those are the graphic equivalents of openability, because as the population ages, eyesight becomes weaker and it’s harder to read small print,” he explains. “It only stands to reason that it will eventually branch into package structure and functionality.” Schurtz likens the current debate around openability with that of sustainability a decade or so ago, where change only occurred when it became a public consumer issue. “Until there was a grass roots need to address the problem it wasn’t addressed,” he says. “Likewise if some of the FMCG companies hear from customers that there is a groundswell of support or demand for packaging with greater openability, then they might look to invest.” Compelling
Ian Rutter of Age UK: "Consumers are more likely to buy a product they can open or use easily" Yet the evidence supporting the need for change is compelling. Recent Age UK research found that more than half of over-50s said that easy to open packaging was important to their purchasing decision.
Based on these findings the charity has now thrown down the gauntlet to packaging specifiers, designers and supermarkets to come up with attractive inclusively designed solutions for the benefit of all parties or risk losing out. “Modifications to packaging are not just in the interests of older people, but are potentially lucrative for manufacturers as well,” says Ian Rutter of Age UK’s Engage Business Network. “Consumers – whatever age – are more likely to buy a product which they can open or use easily and to steer away from those they can’t. By not making these changes manufacturers are missing a trick.”