With Amsterdam's first plastic-free supermarket aisle launched this week, what does less packaging means for brands?
We’ve all been aware of the environmental damage plastic causes for a while now, but this year’s Blue Planet II shone a light on the true extent of the damage plastic is causing to our oceans, our animals and our health. Plastic is now the environmental issue of the day, and has received a lot of press attention in 2018.
The grocery retail sector accounts for more than 40% of all plastic packaging, as a result retailers are starting to take a stand beyond charging 5p for plastic bags. Iceland and Asda amongst others have made various commitments to reduce their plastic usage. And brands are following, with Unilever announcing that PG Tips pyramid teabags are switching to fully biodegradable materials, to reduce the plastic pollution caused by the nation’s favourite hot drink. Just this week, the world’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle was launched in the eco-progressive city of Amsterdam, by environmental campaign group A Plastic Planet and Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza, who intend to role it out nationally in their stores by the end of the year.
Plastic isn’t the only environmental issue when it comes to grocery packaging. As well as seeing an increase in the use of bio-degradable materials, the trend for using less packaging in general will continue to grow in FMCG. So we ask ourselves, what does this mean for design?
As we move forward into a world where sustainability is non-negotiable, brand designers will find themselves working with shrinking canvases. This throws up the question of how to ensure branding breaks through in the notoriously crowded grocery aisles when you have less space to play with. In this environment, the need to design meaningful, memorable and iconic visual brand assets has never been more important. And as designers we will have to be more choiceful about what we put on pack: ‘Edit and amplify’ should be the battle cry. The Persil ‘Dirt is good’ icon and Innocent halo have no problem working in reduced space, as they are so iconic as assets that they don’t rely on the other visual assets in their tool kits to be recognisable. This is what all grocery brands should be striving for.
As well as powerful, iconic visual brand assets, we will also have to be choiceful with messaging and claims on pack. Designers must apply ‘the less words the better’ rule. But this can be difficult when the pack is expected to do a lot of the heavy-lifting and when there are numerous legal requirements to be adhered to.
This is where smart packaging can really start to have a practical use beyond just being new and shiny. Seamlessly embedding a digital element into the physical experience of a pack opens the door to a number of possibilities. Not only can you digitally deliver the nutritional information – provided legislation would catch up – or usage instructions a consumer would normally scour a pack for with a simple tap, therefore freeing up space, but you also enhance the consumer experience in many other ways, through a range of technologies. Whether that’s delivering a better product experience, or telling a more engaging brand story, advancements in technology such as augmented reality (AR) will soon be able to become a seamless part of how consumers interact with packaging. Brands that make the most of this and use it in ways that go beyond gimmick will win.
As ever brands must use the power of design to evolve, adapt, and adopt new technologies in a rapidly changing world.