As the retail market becomes increasingly competitive, packaging for consumer products must be more than convenient and functional—it must also instantly convey a brand's personality. Metal packaging represents an effective medium for achieving such objectives due to its ability to deliver a retro or modern look or add an industrial or luxury appeal.
Crown Holdings Inc., headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, is the leading global provider of metal and metal hybrid packaging to consumer product companies around the world. Crown has made package design a priority by offering a forward-looking product development process that allows brand owners and package designers to get to market quickly with packaging that is truly distinctive, cutting edge, and efficient to produce.
Traditionally, new product development is done in a sequential process. Brand owners reach out to designers, who in turn research packaging providers, who in turn contact material suppliers. At Crown's Innovation Center, based in Wantage, U.K., they encourage a parallel process where all of these parties work together from the beginning of a project to maximize results and minimize development time. The Crown Innovation Center is comprised of a dedicated team of professional designers with deep knowledge of the packaging industry, available materials, and current processes.
The parallel production process also tries to ensure that designers have access to the latest packaging technologies. At Crown's Innovation Center, package designers can access the Idea Bank™, which contains over 3,000 packaging concepts for food, beverage, closure, aerosol, and speciality packaging applications. The Idea Bank draws from a database of over 400 projects carried out in the last 15 years.
To learn more about how designers can utilize new technologies to create striking metal and hybrid metal/plastic packaging, Package Design Magazine spoke with Chris Ramsey, innovation manager at Crown Holdings' Innovation Center.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing retail package designers today?
Ramsey: Simply put, the principal challenge package designers face is finding a way to satisfy potentially opposing objectives to achieve an optimum design. To be successful, designers need to create packaging effective in retail marketing as well as meeting the bottom line economic demands. This is no small task.
All consumers demand attractive and convenient package design. But each consumer has different tastes and priorities, meaning that in an ideal world, they want packaging specially designed to meet individual preferences. Consumer product companies, however, face tight profit margins and need streamlined and efficient packaging solutions that can be cost-effectively produced millions, if not billions, of times.
A well-designed package does not compromise between consumer and manufacturing satisfaction—it provides both. Compromise on package appeal or production efficiency would result in dissatisfaction for both of these groups. The ultimate challenge designers face is how to create attractive, convenient packaging that actually enhances production efficiency.
Q: In what ways can metal packaging help meet today's challenges?
Ramsey: Metal has many intrinsic properties that make it an excellent option for packaging. For example, it offers a level of production efficiency that is unmatched by other packaging formats. Metal is compatible with high filling speeds and facilitates easy product stacking for efficient distribution. The durability of metal packaging also reduces costly product breakage throughout the production process.
Beyond production efficiency, advanced decorating techniques allow metal packaging to adopt sleek designs that create excitement on retail shelves. Creative ways to enhance the look, feel, and even smell of metal and metal hybrid packaging are available to help brands differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
More brand owners are starting to employ can shaping as a way to capture consumer attention. The latest technology allows for the production of essentially any shape—from subtle to highly innovative asymmetrical designs—with fine detail and significant expansion capability.
Incorporating unique shapes into packaging is helping brands achieve a number of marketing goals. For example, Heineken's popular shaped Identity Can and Keg Can™ effectively reinforce the premium quality of the brand's beer. Shaped cans also make a very effective platform for promotional marketing efforts. In conjunction with its sponsorship of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ tournament, Gillette introduced its MACH3Turbo™ shaving gel, Gillette Series™ shaving gel and Gillette Series™ antiperspirant and deodorant in aerosol packaging shaped to resemble the surface of a soccer ball.
Finally, shaped packaging can also make product use easier. The distinctive tire-like shape of the aerosol can adopted by French brand SICO for its KING tire repair and inflator product not only clearly communicates the purpose of the product to consumers, but it also provides easy-to-grip convenience that facilitates product dispensing.
Q: What other techniques help metal packaging stand out?
Ramsey: A number of new decorating technologies can also be used to create striking visual appeal. "Color Change" inks alter the appearance of a package under different lighting, and cans decorated with "thermochromic" inks change appearance with variations in package temperature. Cans produced with polymer-coated steel can also feature a "holographic effect" that creates a sense of motion on store shelves.
Metal and metal hybrid packaging can also be designed to create differentiation based on feel and smell, such as "Soft Touch" smooth velvet or "Tactile" orange-peel texture. Metal/plastic hybrid packages can even attract customers with enticing aromas. FDA-approved, food grade flavors can be added to the structure of hybrid packages at the time of manufacturing in order to deliver signature aromas that build a more memorable relationship between the consumer and the brand.
Q: How can designers build convenience into metal packaging?
Ramsey: A number of leading food and beverage brands have successfully addressed the demand for single-serve portions with metal packaging. Mont Blanc and William Saurin have adopted single-serve shaped food bowls, while Coca-Cola and Pepsi have introduced smaller 15- and 25-cl (5- and 8.5-oz.) beverage cans to meet the needs of today's consumer. These convenient packages fit easily into handbags or briefcases for enhanced portability, and they offer the type of portion control that many of today's consumers desire.
Easy-open features are also a key element in packaging convenience, especially for brands seeking to appeal to aging populations or young children. Hybrid metal/plastic closures, like Crown's IDEAL™ Closure, make it simple to open glass or plastic containers. Technologies like Eole™ easy-open and PeelSeam™ peelable food can ends allow consumers to enjoy food products on-the-go without the need for a can opener. Similarly, Crown's Clipper Can™ System is a durable package for paints and coating products that can be easily opened and closed without the need for extra tooling.
Q: What metal packaging technologies are on the horizon?
Ramsey: Over the next several years, metal packages will be able to feature photographic-quality surface decoration. It will be quicker and easier to change the decoration, making shorter run lengths more common. In addition, to respond to accelerating consumer demand for convenience, I believe that reclosable beverage cans will enter the market and that we will see rising popularity of self-heating and self-chilling containers as the technologies behind these packages are fine-tuned. As retail markets grow increasingly competitive, it will be important for designers and suppliers to work closely together to create stand-out packaging.