The Dream of Disruption

by Theresa Gogswell
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When you own a house, there is always a list of things you want to do to enhance your home and investment. Maybe you want to upgrade the kitchen, renovate the bathroom or give the outside a facelift with new landscaping. Can you afford it? Is it really necessary? Is it a want or a need? The list never seems to be done or complete; it is continually a work in progress.

The head of R&D will say the same thing about staffing and needs of the department. I always had a wish list of things that would be nice to add. After the new laboratory was built, the wish list typically included new equipment or additional staff.

There were always the day-to-day needs — more employees in regulatory compliance to keep up with the enormous amount of work involved in maintaining legal and accurate labels with the ever-evolving and changing federal regulatory climate. Oh, yes, being legal always came first. But you didn’t have to like the resource drain with no direct payback.

Marketing always wants to look into new product development areas, and this want may require the R&D department to add a food scientist or baking specialist with a unique skill set. New product development and the desires of the marketing department typically took priority after quality assurance.

Then there was customer service. No one likes to be put on hold and told the wait for a representative will be (you fill in the blank) minutes or hours. So managing the staffing requirements was a juggling act to make sure there were reps to talk to consumers with questions or consumers upset or disappointed with their purchase.

After the day-to-day requirements for staffing were met, then you got to plead your case for your wish list. Mine typically did not change. Like many companies, I thought it would be nice to have a chef on staff. Fortunately, I found a baker with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. It is really a home run when you get lucky!

That left the one staff position that would take a lot of selling on my part. I wanted to hire a packaging engineer from the Michigan State program. In an industry where the saying, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” is all too common, this wish was a very difficult sell.

How long ago was the last innovation in bread packaging? Moving from a wax wrap to a poly bag? If you remember retrofitting bakeries to go from wax wrap to plastic bags, it is likely you are reading this in your retirement, or your dad was involved, and you remember the conversations around the kitchen table. The year was 1966 when the plastic bag was first used in packaging bread. It took over 25 to 30% of the market almost immediately. It was disruptive.

Yet here we are 49 years later using the same poly bag to package our bread products. Yes, yes, I get it. “We have always done it this way,” you say. That was always one of my least favorite statements, yet I heard it all too often. So here we sit, an industry with computer-controlled makeup lines still using 49-year-old technology for our packaging needs.

The poly bag is actually nothing more than a dust cover. We still instruct driver-salesmen to tuck the ponytail tail to enhance the stand-up of bread and bun bag on the grocery store shelf. And don’t even discuss whether the bag is tamper-evident. There’s technology out there to help, but it’s not widely used.

Every time I get a new packaging magazine, I read it and think “what if.” What if we could move from our current package to something more innovative and sexy? Yes, sexy! I know it sounds crazy, but sexy is a word many marketing folks use to portray giving a new feeling and inspiration to an old product.

By slipping into something more comfortable, the bread aisle could take a page from the packaging playbook of cookie processors and even baby-food processors. Think about some of the packages you see in other store aisles.

Oreos moved from a box to a fin-sealed package in 1963. Then in 2012 (49 years later), Mondelez International, East Hanover, NJ, found a way to make that fin-sealed package of Oreo cookies resealable at home. Mondelez innovated. It disrupted the pattern of same-old, same-old. And the new package is really convenient and really works.

Here’s what the company did. To inhibit the consumer from opening the end of the package as usual, designers placed a yellow-and-black octagonal stop sign on the bag end with the message, “STOP. Open with pull tab on top!”

Peeling back the top of the package exposes three rows of Oreo cookies in their tray. It also breaks the “sealed” indicator. Offset die-cut scoring of the packaging film (2-mil oriented polypropylene with an interior layer of FDA-approved adhesive) opens the top to expose a white surface to which the top can stick when closed. You no longer need to reach for the Ziploc bag to keep the rest of the package fresh. This recloseable package is an excellent example of new and sexy packaging in the bakery category.

Yes, several patents cover this innovation, the Snack ‘n Seal package. One is US Patent No. 8,951,591, assigned to International Great Brands, a.k.a. Mondelez.

I also found inspiration in the baby food section of the supermarket. The days of purchasing food for your baby in those traditional, squat little baby food jars is over.

Marketers at Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., Amsterdam, NY, found that baby food purchases had dropped over a seven-year period from 1,700 to 1,200 oz per baby. In addition to a reduction US birthrates, moms were moving away from purchasing baby food to making their own. Beech-Nut approached the problem in two ways. It moved to simple one-, two or three-ingredient, all-natural formulations described as “just raspberries” or “just carrots” and so forth. And second, it worked on the packaging.

To interpret the simplicity, freshness and quality of the new formulations through packaging, the vice-president of marketing gave the creative team full rein over design without any constraints. “We could not incrementally change our design,” the vice-president said. “We needed something transformational.” Although the company retained glass because of its transparency, designers gave the jar a completely new shape with a wider mouth. Lids and labels tout natural and organic contents, with organic flagged in white.

Introduction of the reformulated, repackaged products was greeted with headlines reading, “Beech-Nut Becomes Disruptive Force in Baby Food.”

Disruptive is good.

Will transformational packaging ever come to the bakery aisle? Will statements like, “We have always done it this way” or “Packaging innovation is cost prohibitive” keep the industry in its safe rut? Or will your company be the one that steps out of its comfort zone to bring disruptive innovation to bakery packaging. Hire a packaging engineer. Hire more than one. Hire a packaging designer. And give them development latitude without restraints.

I want to see transformational packaging in the bakery aisle, too. And I want to report about it soon.
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