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Supply Lines: More Than Just a Pretty Pet Product Package

Posted: July 26, 2012, 1:15 p.m. EDT

From eco-friendliness to ease-of-use, manufacturers need to consider numerous variables before deciding on the right containers for their products.
By Alison Bour

When Bobbi Panter, founder and creator of Bobbi Panter Pet Products, based in Chicago, needed inspiration for the packaging of her line of pet shampoos and conditioners, she turned to her own shower gel. The upside-down dispenser appealed to her as a consumer, and she thought it would appeal to pet owners, too.

“I loved the way it looks and how it’s handled. All my bottles, especially in the top two lines, are (based on) products I use myself,” Panter said.

Pet product packaging options
Stocking, displaying and handling ease are among the attributes to consider when deciding on a packaging style, such as handled and/or flat-bottomed bags. Courtesy of Peel Plastic Products Ltd.
Tropiclean followed similar tactics when designing its pet shampoo bottle, the first of its retail offerings, reported Brian Collier, creative marketing coordinator for the Wentzville, Mo.-based company.

To launch the packaging, Tropiclean created partnerships with two other companies, one of which conducted market research, he said.

“[They] discovered the need for a bottle design that was more comfortable for use by a female audience,” Collier said.

The result for Tropiclean was a comfortable, sleek and slender middle of the bottle for easy gripping and dispensing, he added.

For Crown Food Packaging North America in Philadelphia, the broad consumer acceptance of premium pet food has impacted packaging, reported Hella Gourven, the company’s marketing manager. Higher-end food calls for higher-end packaging, including more modern shapes, she said.

Green Packaging: The Ups and Downs
Being committed to green packaging represents not only what consumers want, but the philosophy of Tropiclean’s operation, noted Brian Collier, relations coordinator for the Wentzville, Mo.-based company.

“We look for products that are made from 50 percent post-consumer material even though it will cost us up front,” he said.

Offering recycled products shouldn’t override product safety, said Holly Hoffman, director of marketing for Vitakraft Sunseed in Bowling Green, Ohio. When designing products, Vitakraft asks two questions, she noted: “What will keep insects out?” and “What is safe to be in contact with the food itself?”

While Peel Plastic Products Ltd.’s customers are requesting green solutions, they’re not willing to compromise on product safety, noted Mark Liberman, vice president of sales for the Brampton, Ontario, Canada-based company.

Philadelphia-based Crown Food Packaging North America takes the green movement seriously, offering its help to local recycling initiatives, noted Hella Gourven, marketing manager.

Consumer demand is playing a role in green packaging development, she said, adding that some of the company’s customers get pressure from retailers.

However, sometimes decisions manufacturers make render a product non-recyclable, said Robert E. Hogan, director of global marketing for Zip-Pak in Manteno, Ill.

For example, while the zipper products offered by Zip-Pak are recyclable, if a manufacturer desires a see-through package or additional material to protect shelf-life, the final pouches may no longer be recyclable, Hogan noted. —AB

Recyclable pet food packages
Courtesy of Star Packaging

Based on consumer insight research, resealable packages represent another feature consumers demand, not just for their own products, but for pet products as well, said Robert E. Hogan, director of global marketing for Zip-Pak, headquartered in Manteno, Ill., which offers zipper closures and pouch designs in a variety of sizes for both pet food and treats.

The manufacturer works closely with equipment companies and film converters that make the finished pouches, Hogan said, adding that Zip-Pak can sometimes retrofit packaging lines to apply a zipper closure to already-designed packages.

“We can work with companies to avoid starting from scratch with packaging,” he said.

A new twist to resealable packaging involves fabric fasteners.

“The use of Velcro represents one of the newest resealable packaging features,” said Mark Liberman, vice president of sales for Peel Plastic Products Ltd., in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

Product packaging with features that aid in dispensing, such as handles or spouts, is another strong consumer trend, Liberman added.

Consideration of cost represents another key aspect to package creation and design, reported Jack Drasner, project manager for Simply Pine Cat Litter in Belleair Beach, Fla.

“Every $0.01 for packaging can equate to as high as $0.03 added to the retail cost of the product,” Drasner said.

Panter would love to use an upside-down dispensing package for all her products, but cost prohibits it for her lower-end line, she reported.

Updating packaging often requires the scrapping of old equipment for new, which is a key reason why some pet manufacturers don’t change with the times, Hogan said, adding that a movement toward newer materials and processing is inevitable.

Case in point: Companies are moving away from paper polyliner packaging, also known as multi-wall packaging, that’s generally used for large-format products, Hogan reported.

“Graphics on plastic film are superior to multi-wall paper,” he said, noting that multi-wall materials are decreasing in availability as a result.

Peel Products’ customers are requesting more matte finishes, versus other choices, such as gloss and matte/gloss combinations that the company offers, Liberman said.

Another packaging trend Hogan is seeing is the use of polypropylene material to enhance strength, according to Hogan.

For canned goods, Crown Food’s Gourven doesn’t expect to see replacements anytime soon for the standard metal variety, which has been used for decades in food packaging. Improved manufacturing processes allow for less waste and spoilage, and new materials allow for lighter-weight cans, she reported.

In addition, today’s metal cans are easier to open due to technical advancements and research, and now require much less force, Gourven said.

“Metal remains the most cost-effective,” she continued. “We don’t feel the need to change the material.”

When change is necessary, it can be driven by a variety of factors, including consumer demand, a decline in resources (and a corresponding rise in cost) or, as is currently the case for many pet product brands, company mergers.

Reseable pet food bags
Resealable pet food bags with easy-to-use closures, e.g., sliding or press-and-seal zippers, are high on customer lists. Courtesy of Eagle Flexible Packaging Inc.
In 2008, Vitakraft of Germany joined with Sunseed of Ohio, and with that merger came the need for rebranding, redesign and repackaging, said Holly Hoffman, director of marketing for Vitakraft Sunseed in Bowling Green, Ohio.

“We had a perfect opportunity to reevaluate our marketing and refresh the design,” Hoffman said.

That transition included retaining the logo and colors of Sunseed while adding key competitive advantages not clear on its previous packaging; adding ‘Earth Friendly’ above the product name; and making the 100% Recycled Paper logo more apparent, she said.

The company also added small-animal graphics, as its consumer research showed buyers like to see the animal they own on a package front, Hoffman reported.

“Focus groups told us consumers don’t want to search the entire package [to find what they’re buying], so we resigned our Vitakraft Hay products to say, ‘Timothy’ big and bold across the top,” she said.

Industry Voices
“A big mistake companies make is redesigning and repackaging without prior research to understand the mindset of consumers. You almost never get it right on the first try, but that’s where consumer feedback comes in, to help you make those final finishing touches.”
Holly Hoffman,  director of marketing for Vitakraft Sunseed in Bowling Green, Ohio

“For a company to begin working on their packaging without considering the impact it will have on the environment is a grave mistake. Consumers are more and more aware of the environment around them.
“A company can easily miss out on a sale because it is not willing to invest a little more money to ensure the safety of the environment.”
Brian Collier, creative marketing coordinator for Tropiclean in Wentzville, Mo.

For Panter’s line of pet shampoos and conditioners, she hopes people see the packaging and think, “That’s my dog,” she said. Panter created that response with the verbiage she uses on her packaging, such as “itchy dog” and “smelly dog,” she added.

Sometimes a “go-to-market-now” approach must trump longer-term consumer research and testing, Simply Pine’s Drasner said. Since time was of the essence, the company limited its initial product release, holding off on a national release until more time was available to tweak and perfect packaging, Drasner reported.

While the first phase of packaging included the message, “Remember it’s [Simply Pine],” the next phase dropped that message, allowing the graphic to communicate the “feel” of the brand, Drasner noted.

This type of transition isn’t recommended unless special circumstances exist, he admitted. Even though it’s a new image, Drasner said the upgrade will solidify Simply Pine’s message, and dealers will welcome the change, which will help address consumer confusion at the point of sale.


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Supply Lines: More Than Just a Pretty Pet Product Package

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