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How millennials are making their mark on food packaging

3 min read


Millennial consumers are having a noticeable effect on food and beverage brands, and their influence is increasingly being reflected in the products’ packaging. As the 21 million-strong generation wields its $1.3 trillion in direct spending power, brands have begun to take note of their product preferences and the trends that are driving their purchasing decisions.

This generation cares more about the benefits of the products, including the emotional benefits, so the goodness should be spelled out on the packaging. Messaging should turn the box, bag or bottle into a brief billboard, according to a report from Kansas City, Mo.-based ad agency Barkley. For example, belVita’s new Breakfast Biscuits tout “Nutritious, sustained energy all morning,” said report author and Barkley Senior Vice President Brad Hanna.

“The claim really hits on the emotional benefit of the product,” he said. “It does say whole grains, but it’s not leading with that. It’s leading with the sustainable energy message, to resonate with people who are looking for products that are sustainable throughout the day, with smaller portions and fewer calories.”

Millennials are also on the lookout for sustainable packaging, and studies show the group flocks toward shelf-stable cartons instead of cans, because they see the material as more eco-friendly and the cartons make it easier to store leftovers, according to data compiled by TetraPak.

“It’s really this idea that waste is the enemy,” Hanna said.

Millennial consumers crave freshness, and they truly believe that transferring the portion they don’t use into Ziploc bags or Tupperware leaves the leftovers less fresh, he said. Also, of course, they don’t want packaging that creates additional waste.  “Visible sustainability” comes in single-serve packaging or packages that easily store leftovers and allow you to use just what you want.

Oreo’s pullback packaging that lets consumers pull out the exact number of cookies they want and then reseal the package is a great example of small changes that can make the product more millennial-friendly, Hanna said.

Visual appeal is also key in packaging design, which should reflect as closely as possible images of what the food inside will look like when it’s prepared. Transparency is also important — use the package to show the origins of the food, the Barkley report says.

Designs should also be clean and uncluttered, and may need to include elements designed to appeal to aspirational consumers, a factor that’s even more important in a digital age when images of packaging are often the symbols social users click on to learn more the product, and perhaps make a purchase online. Digital technology can also help simplify the packaging and feed younger consumers’ demand for more information at the same time, with QR codes on the package that let mobile users access information, ConAgra Foods “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert wrote last year.

QR codes may be a concept that never really caught on all that well, said Barkley’s Hanna, but social media lets consumers continue to build relationships with brands they like, which means food brands can use the front of the box to grab attention with one or two bits of key information, and the back to start a compelling story that shoppers will want to continue online.

“For brands, it’s about thinking through the important information and simplifying the  messages, because the packaging doesn’t have to do everything,” Hanna said.


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