â€¦Orâ€¦ the tenants of RTD brand virtue, package and soul.
Take a brief spin past the beverage cases at the drug or convenience store and itâ€™s apparent that there are too many options for a consumer who has already begun scaling back spending on sports drinks, enhanced water and functional teas. In 2009 there were close to 1,000 new RTD product launches or variants to existing RTD brands introduced to market with fruit juices leading the pack. The mindset and the category output are simply not in line, but beyond that, product and packaging promises do not adequately reflect what our consumer needs right now.
Itâ€™s back to simple needs in the minds of our consumer and the more exotic the brand extension, the less likely she is to take them for a whirl. Because of economic factors we are facing a buyer who is less willing to take a risk, focused on necessity, and returning to the comfort of basic core brands that have long ago earned her trust. With a predicted 9% of growth in the beverage category over all, the brands that will keep pace in these tentative times will be the well established, heritage brands who have mastered consumer trust and expectation and those brands that position themselves according to more timely consumer needs.
Aside from great price, what does the consumer need right now? The moves that RTD beverages will make in the coming year are following the lead of time-tested, successful brand attributes as well as the latest cultural trends impacting consumer decision making right now and they are: Health, The Environment, All Natural, Great Taste, and Humanity. These five key mindset factors will continue to influence the category up through 2011 and beyond, and the brands that can accurately communicate these virtues through their package design will show staying power with sippers on the run.
Health- The Claims
While the younger segment of Gen Y and Millennials are the biggest buyers of enhanced beverages and soda is decidedly skewed toward teens, the group with the most potential for growth in the category is far and away the Baby Boom generation. This group will not likely embrace energy drinks, carbonated beverages or fruit juices for a very key reason: Health.
Baby Boomers are a huge and active group who have embraced the RTD category in the form of teas, enhanced water and coffee, but this group is much more conscious of sugar levels and decidedly anti-carbonation. This segment reflects an overarching trend toward healthy beverage choices by consumers on the whole, with 70% aged 18 and older believing that soda is partly to blame for obesity according to a 2009 Mintel report.
Strong messaging about the calorie content, fortification and health benefits featured front and center on package labels and in product marketing will help push sales substantially. Health benefits that specifically target the Boomer generation such as cancer-fighting ingredients and healthy heart agents are especially valuable.
What is becoming increasingly critical is backing up health claims with more detailed information and third-party credibility. As Healthcare becomes more of an issue, self-treatment has become more appealing. The more a brand can back-up its healthful claims, the more trustworthy and trial-worthy it will become. Packaging claims that are endorsed by a medical association will see an extended category lifeline.
Environment- The Matter
Recently, several exciting new eco-trends have been developing in the packaging industry that will hopefully soon be embraced en masse by consumer brands. By switching to soy-based inks on product packaging, beefing up recycling incentives, or even by introducing an eco-minded brand mission and communicating it through packaging, brands can send smaller eco-friendly messages to a much larger and participatory audience.
In segments like the RTD bottled water category brands are striving not only to differentiate but also to establish and keep environmental missions top of mind. In this specific category, showing what youâ€™re made of – in terms of packaging- will help keep brands afloat.
NestlĂ© Waters North America was looking for ways to effectively communicate the importance of recycling to consumers of all bottled water. By placing change directly in the hands of the consumer NestlĂ© re-source water packaging, with its fresh and enthusiastic promise of 50% rPET (reprocessed plastic) clearly communicates the brands commitment to plastic recycling and sustainability.
The new re-source bottle design gives the consumer confidence that they are making a better decision for themselves and for the planet.
All Natural – The Price
Itâ€™s become increasingly necessary to earn the consumerâ€™s trust, backing up claims whether they be Green, Healthy or especially, Natural. As consumers tune in more and more to publications and films illustrating the practices of the mass-market food industry, there will be increased growth in the Organic and Natural foods market. However, these products are not always affordable to every class of citizen and this area of loss can actually produce an opportunity. One brand that has seized the opportunity is Stonyfield Farm by distributing organic yogurt drinks through the mass retailer Walmart. For a population segment that is interested in testing out organic products, which have always been out of price reach, Stonyfield bridges the divide.
Elsewhere, it has become acceptable and even standardized to pay a higher price for organic products because there is a certain value attached to the work behind the products and the ingredients within. This rapidly growing segment is also the one in which a higher price can work for the product and a more sophisticated package would benefit the presentation. It’s all highly dependent upon the venue and target consumer.
Proof of authenticity is also valuable here as it no longer suffices to say a product is from a farm- now consumers want to know what farm? And who was the farmer? This is most often reflected on the packaging of RTD coffee that tells the story of the bean-grower and regional background of each blend. If a product is organic, it should have a rich history.
Great Taste- The Classics
As much as consumers are looking for a drink with a purpose, one age-old attribute that cannot be replaced by any other in terms of favorability is Taste. Itâ€™s important for brands in beverage to always remember that a great tasting product creates repeat buys and long-term loyalty. Many soda brands have diligently tried to recreate their time-honored flavor in the no-calorie variants, and many stalwart beverage brands use their brand lineage as proof of authenticity. A consistent taste over time translates to lengthy consumer loyalty.
Brands should never sacrifice taste to stay on trend. As other brands struggle to create extensions that are creative and experimental, it can be the saving grace for classic brands to maintain their original and familiar taste as a symbol of authenticity and reliability. While new flavors may seem exciting, itâ€™s important to remember that Americans love straight cola the best, and orange is the most popular juice flavor on its own or within blends.
The way taste translates to packaging is through familiarity of image. Brands whose popularity is based on a specific or consistently great taste should be instantly recognizable and thus, these time-tested brands should be careful when making tweaks to the pack. Brands that are newer onto the scene have to prove themselves with the pudding. In this case, while bold colors and a specific call-out to great taste may attract consumer attention, a new beverage has to prove itâ€™s likeability in terms of taste on the first try otherwise no amount of packaging will save it in this crowded environment.
Humanity- The Links
Opportunities for partnership with charitable organizations abound, but often look manufactured in the eyes of the consumer. It can quite easily work against a brand that creates an alliance with a Habitat for Humanity project or a Red Cross endeavor and litters the well-meaning scene with its corporate logo. A much more humble, engrained approach has proven exceedingly effective. Now, more than ever, citizens across the globe have become increasingly interested in humanitarian efforts, but brands should choose to aid specific organizations which are in league with the brand’s mission as well as the lifestyle of its target consumer.
Interestingly enough, in times of social and economic strife consumers are the most giving. According to a global Mintel study, about 68% of consumers said theyâ€™d remain loyal to a brand that supports a good cause, even during a recession- A sentiment reinforced by the outpouring of donations to the recent earthquake crisis in Haiti.
But even on the home front, Americans are invested in helping fellow man, aiding in medical, economic and educational avenues of philanthropy. Aligning with a humanitarian cause allows brands to create allies of consumersâ€”changing the perception of purchase into altruistic act.
Case in point is Pepsiâ€™s new cause-marketing endeavor. First and fast out of the gate, the Refresh Project was formed when Pepsi allocated $20 million in marketing funds to start up the website where visitors submit and vote for their favorite charities to receive a tiered group of grants. Because voting will continue throughout the year, Pepsi is encouraging repeat interaction with its brand. The option to allow users to submit proposals also creates a higher level of investment with the brand and has already created word-of-mouth for votes.
Without a doubt there will be many brands that follow in Pepsiâ€™s footsteps, and the challenge that package design must rise to meet is the instant communication of the new charitable missions of these brands.Â For example, it would be quite the statement to flip traditional sponsorship on its head and replace a soda brands logo entirely with that of a charity logo for real social impact– At least, for a limited time. Mobile phone, scan-able barcode technology integrated into new package designs will certainly aid such causes.
Can the Five Become One?
Because of the vast difference in offerings across the RTD category it would be nearly impossible for one offering to simultaneously maintain all of these important brand attributes. In fact, in the current market itâ€™s rather difficult for any brand to maintain even one of these virtues with an adequate amount of credibility. We must be able to back up even a singular claim, before we extend a brand further, and packaging plays a vital role in communicating these promises.
Until we have an organic, sugarless, doctor-approved, soda that helps build new schools and tastes just great, then we are at a loss for the perfectly pure RTD beverage. And that may be a good thing, considering the fascinating challenge it would be to prioritize all of those claims on a single pack.
We are getting closer, however, to a cleaner brand image that reflects what we are willing to take from the earth, willing to put in our bodies, willing to put back, and through these collective efforts this category is capable of doing quite well- and also great good.
Rochelle FainsteinTweet this | Tags: all natural, beverage, brands, environment, health, humanitarian, package design, packaging, ready-to-drink, RTD, taste, trends