Canadian Packaging

How Lack of Balance Can Doom Innovation Efforts

George Guidoni   

Nothing dampens the spirit of innovation like consumer indifference, ridicule or outright skepticism and hostility.

Many of us will remember when PepsiCo launched a compostable bag for its popular SunChips back in 2010—only to be blasted online and across social media for the allegedly excessive noise these bags made while being handled.

As fickle and capricious that reaction was, it speaks volumes about the importance of getting consumers on-board when developing new packaging solutions and having the fortitude to stand up to consumer resentment through focused consumer education and engagement when it runs counter to science and common sense.

As such, not every invention automatically transforms into innovation when there is no audience or appetite for it, especially at a time when sustainability has become the prime force behind much of new packaging development.


According to a study from global marketing agency Lux Research, Inc., packaging designers, consultants and suppliers have a much better chance of their new packaging being embraced in the marketplace if they follow a holistic design strategy that accounts for three critical intertwined elements that will ultimately determine its success.

According to the Lux Research’s new e-book, fittingly titled Finding the Sweet Spot of Packaging Innovation, these three elements include:

  • Technological Development, focusing on achieving a balance in packaging performance, cost, processing, and end-of-life (EoL) considerations, whereby the goal is to make packaging more sustainable without sacrificing effectiveness.
  • Global Regulations: Taxes, extended producer-responsibility schemes, labeling requirements, or bans on specific items or chemical formulations can drive development and adoption of new technologies and materials, embedding innovative solutions into corporate strategies.
  • Consumer Acceptance: Because it’s not enough for a product to be well-designed or technologically advanced to be automatically accepted and adopted by consumer, brands need to keep consumer preference and perceptions at the forefront of their decision-making process.

“A successful sustainable packaging strategy lies in finding the intersection—or sweet spot—where these three elements overlap, but this sweet spot can be elusive,” the study states.

“If one or more of these elements isn’t sufficiently developed, the sweet spot may be too small or nonexistent, making it hard to find a viable solution.”

Among the three variables mentioned above, consumer acceptance is by far the most unpredictable element, more prone to wide swings and knee-jerk reactions than sound science and empirical evidence.

One disturbing fallout of widening consumer cynicism has been the entrenchment of the anti-plastic agenda among regulators and the public alike, with little regard for the unintended negative consequences.

“This anti-plastic sentiment is significant for companies to understand and align with,” Lux Research states. “Consumers believe plastic is unsustainable because it’s too complicated to recycle effectively.

“They perceive paper as simpler and compostable, glass as easily recyclable and reusable, especially if aesthetically pleasing, and aluminum as having a more reliable recycling history,” the report’s authors point out.

Alas, this simplistic view overlooks the high energy usage and carbon emissions associated with glass packaging, as well as various limitations in durability and application for recycled aluminum.

“If consumers were fully embracing aluminum, glass, or paper, consensus would be mainstream and a transition away from plastic would be straightforward,” the report says. “But they’re not embracing them because plastic serves many practical purposes for consumers that alternatives can’t match.

“The convenience and functionality of plastic in products like squeeze bottles are unmatched by aluminum tubes or glass bottles with multiple components.”

When it comes to sustainable-packaging innovation, having your cake and eating is rarely on the menu.


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