With Halloween just a week away, consumers are scouring grocery store aisles for sweet goodies for trick-or-treaters and party guests. At the same time, manufacturers anxiously await the responses to new products and packaging that debuts this season.
In the spirit of one of the holidays when the most candy is consumed, Nielsen recently conducted a design audit on candy packaging. The resulting report uncovered a number of insights that manufacturers can apply to their candy packaging designs year-round. Let’s face it: Rarely a few months go by without another candy holiday — Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter — that challenges confectionery manufacturers to innovate and disrupt a crowded category with standout products.
From deciphering what makes candy packaging more visible on store shelves to exploring the careful balance of distinction and experimentation, packaging insights can be critical to boosting sales during and after the holidays.
The concept of visibility in candy packaging
Nielsen’s design audit survey found that visuals of the product itself were among the top aspects of candy’s packaging that made an impression on them, including the image of the product (51%) and a window that shows the actual product (49%). These beat out other common packaging design elements, such as logo or brand name (46%) and the color scheme of the package (41%).
“My hypothesis is that in food, particularly more impulse-driven food, appetite appeal is important,” Steve Lamoureux, senior vice president of product innovation at Nielsen, told Food Dive. “…Also there's a certain amount of authenticity or honesty about being able to see the actual product.”
Clear packaging, including product windows, are becoming more common across the food and beverage industry. Kind snack bars is one brand that has embraced clear packaging, and its better-for-you bars have started appearing alongside candy at checkout counters.
Transparency has been one motivator for manufacturers to use clear packaging, but Lamoureux’s hypothesis of appetite appeal is also likely to play a critical role. Knowing how important visibility is for candy packaging is important, especially as more startups crowd the market and major manufacturers release additional product varieties and innovations for legacy brands.
Nielsen objectively determined candy packaging’s visibility using a biometric measure based on tracing the positioning of consumers’ eyes. Nielsen flashed a randomized collection of packaging designs onscreen for four seconds while tracking participants’ eye movements. Based on those measurements, Nielsen could identify which packaging caught consumers’ eyes the quickest, a metric that could suggest better visibility for that packaging on store shelves.
Blow Pops stood out as the most visible candy packaging in Nielsen's design audit, meaning it captured the highest percentage of eye movements in the first four seconds it was onscreen. Lamoureux said this could be because the packaging was larger than others, features high-contrast circles — which Lamoureux said is a design element people are "hard-wired" to see — and includes large flavor images. The fruit pictures received half of respondents' clicks for most visible design element. About two-thirds liked the images, and only 19% did not.
Flavor-related design elements seem to resonate with consumers, even if it's not an image of the actual product. Jolly Ranchers had the most liked packaging. It also has large pictures of fruit flavors, which got 42% of clicks as the most visible packaging element. About 55% liked these, versus 12% who did not. In the report's record of respondents' verbatim reactions, several mentioned generally liking fruity flavors. They also liked the specific fruit flavors the packaging featured, such as green apple and watermelon.
However, besides the individual product’s packaging design, visibility also depends on the category and packaging designs that competitors within the category use.
“What is visible is very much dependent on what it's surrounded by,” said Lamoureux. “That may mean it stands out in terms of its color, shape, size, imagery: there are visuals to it. All of those can contribute, and sometimes it's different things for different categories. …If you have a light-colored package next to dark-colored packages, it will stand out. But if it's at the edge of the category, it won't necessarily.”
The careful balance of distinction and experimentation
When deciding on packaging design, candy manufacturers have a range of factors to consider. But the ultimate goal remains standing out from the competition and grabbing the consumer's eye amid an aisle of competing choices. Lamoureux said that yellow is a color that attracts consumers’ attention, but if two or three brands’ packaging features yellow, the color no longer distinguishes the brand.
“The trick is, from one category to another, your hypothesis won't stand because it's all about that context,” said Lamoureux. “…I've created a lot of hypotheses, and I've debunked them when I look across categories pretty consistently because it’s all about context. There are very few silver bullets or formulas for visibility, which again is why you try a few things, have a few hunches, and try them out to see how (consumers) react with a tool that can provide that kind of feedback.”
Sometimes distinction means experimentation and innovation not yet seen, which could be with the packaging format, materials, colors or artwork. However, experimentation with packaging comes with a certain level of risk. It could cause consumer backlash for legacy brands, with consumers passing over the new packaging for other more visible varieties.
But when one company pioneers a new packaging design trend, often it won’t be long before that innovation evolves into a trend that manufacturers will implement across the category, such as mini single-serve packaging, standup pouches, resealable packaging or shareable packs.
“You'll see that in a lot of categories — If it works, then it inspires imitation,” said Lamoureux. “If they follow this type of trend, certainly it's noticeable, and people are engaging with it. If (consumers) are buying the product and sales growth results, you'll see these (packaging trends) spread through categories.”
As transformative as the right packaging innovation can be, Lamoureux still advises manufacturers and their in-house designers to ensure new ideas remain relevant to the brand and its values.
“There's that opportunity for designers and companies to climb out on some creative limbs,” said Lamoureux. “The trick, though, is not to bet the farm on those limbs, but rather in a safe environment, find out if they're working. Very often it's hard to predict what consumers will react to, what will resonate, what will fit that particular brand and (consumers’) image of that brand. It's really about experimentation.”
For highly competitive categories like candy, especially at this time of year, Lamoureux stresses the importance of packaging in driving brand dimension, product visibility and sales growth. Manufacturers may employ in-house packaging experts, or they may consider hiring a reputable agency that can create what Lamoureux calls “hunches” and test them. They can then measure consumers’ reactions against what the brand is trying to accomplish. Market research is critical to designing and implementing successful packaging innovations for candy manufacturers at any time of year.
“In design, people rely on subjectivity and their own personal judgment way too much,” said Lamoureux. “If (brands) are not confident in their judgment, then they will entrust someone who they think does have good judgment. It's not the most reliable way to go to market and win in the market. Really you've got to find a way for your intended market to weigh in for them to tell you whether or not you're doing what you think you're doing.”