WestRock Talks Consumer Perspectives on Paper-Based Packaging
September 10, 2015 /3BL Media/ - What do consumers want in product packaging? How does packaging influence what they purchase? The answers to these and other questions about consumer behavior can provide an edge to manufacturers and suppliers. Erin Weinland is the Senior Manager, Consumer and Customer Insights, at WestRock. In an interview ahead of her scheduled appearance October 20 at Focal Point 2015, Weinland talked about consumer demands and perspectives she’s seen in her research.
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WIST: You have nearly 20 years of experience in consumer research and have conducted research all over the world – in 25 countries in fact. At Focal Point 2015 you’ll be sharing some of the insights gained from your work at WestRock’s global packaging solutions business. Without stealing too much thunder from the presentation planned for Focal Point 2015, please tell us about a couple of areas of insight you will be discussing here at UW-Stevens Point.
Erin Weinland: I’ll be looking at the food packaging and serviceware industries from the consumer’s point of view. As we dive deep into technical capabilities and possibilities, we often forget who will ultimately use and experience these products, the end consumer. When you think about the environment that a consumer is surrounded by today – increased complexity, safety scares, constant change – you begin to see how food packaging and serviceware may not be living up to the demands that consumers have. But there’s hope: paper-based packaging is well-poised to provide a better consumer experience. And when consumers have a better experience, they’re more likely to buy your brand. And that’s good news for everyone.
WIST: How important is consumer demand in bringing about innovation and change in the packaging?
Erin Weinland: Consumer demand is extremely important in driving innovation, but you cannot innovate on consumer demand alone. For example, if there’s consumer demand for a product, but manufacturers can’t make that product profitably, it doesn’t have much of a future (in its current state). So consumer demand can help to identify areas for innovation and packaging changes, but other factors like manufacturers’ requirements, retailers’ needs, and the overall marketplace must be considered as well. I like to say that ideal innovations will satisfy the needs of all the members of the value chain – this is the sweet spot.
WIST: To what degree are consumers aware of what goes into packaging and how the materials and processes affect the environment?
Erin Weinland: Consumers’ understanding of packaging, materials, and processes is very superficial. They have a basic awareness of things like recyclability and environmental issues, and they hold very general beliefs about paper vs. plastic. And there’s a small segment of the population that understands a little more – maybe about compostability, or carbon emissions. Even on a global scale, there are some consumers with a more sophisticated level of understanding, but on the whole, there is very limited awareness and understanding.
WIST: What is one major trend you’ve noticed currently in consumer behavior or demand?
Erin Weinland: There’s a very interesting trend happening right now in developed markets showing the desire to get “back to basics.” As trust in large corporations erodes, consumers are turning to products and brands that feel more authentic and honest. (Interestingly, the opposite is true in emerging markets, where brand names of big corporations represent something consumers can trust.) The barrier for big companies to deliver authenticity is high – consumers today are very skeptical. Part of this trend may be a reaction to safety scares and viral communication of those scares, and part may be driven by an evolving view of what wellness means. The result, though, is that consumers are looking for products that are simple and natural. And if these can be delivered in a way that simplifies the increasing complexity of their lives, it’s a true win.