Packaging innovation: “The problem is not to find ideas… but rather to find what the problem is”

vincent-ferryVincent Ferry
Packaging Manager
Danone Research

Successful innovation is a subtle mix of boldness and simplicity. “Why didn’t we think of it before?” – this remark about innovation precisely demonstrates that it is successful. In order to find a good idea, however, the right problem should be found first. Simplicity and meaning are in fact the two fundamentals necessary to design tomorrow’s packaging.

Innovation is above all a matter of finding the “true” problem to be solved; the one with potential. At Danone, our new yogurt pot, Kiss, is a major example. Firstly, its name shows the search for simplicity: “Keep It Simple and Safe”. It was undertaken because the packaging of Danone Fresh Products had to be simplified. Thus, this brings consistency in the range and message and results in true differentiation on the retailer’s shelf thanks to its look and ergonomics. It has improved our operational flexibility through standardization. Lastly, Danone has thus initiated a return to basics by drawing on its roots and DNA: displaying its products in an original and friendly manner.

As a result, both packaging differentiation and ergonomics have been achieved with the Kiss pot.

Reinventing the yogurt pot

The concept struck me during the Danone Convention in February 2009 : the special series of yogurt pots made for our 90 year anniversary aroused in me a creative flash. I told myself that the Danone pot had to be reinvented. Although the idea was simple, yet it had to be achieved with a modern technology adapted to the contemporary world. And above all we had to convince the group’s senior executives to adopt it.

The design work consisted in analyzing and meeting the consumers’ needs while considering the numerous constraints (economic, industrial, logistic, environmental, legal …), in order to shake them up and enhance them in the end. In total, the development lasted two years in which we carried out an industrial pilot with ARCIL, our machine supplier, as well as consumer tests.

The group then decided to make a first “life size” launch in Spain in July 2010 on 5 of our brands. Since Spain owns ERCA machinery, this configuration made it possible to include the constraints of our two main suppliers by defining a standard fitting for the single pot concept, whatever the machine used.

Concurrently with the new packaging, we also improved our recipes and made our store displays more appealing. Velouté was the first brand to benefit from the repackaging in September 2012 and recorded a 20% growth in volume.

Integrating new machines and transforming the existing ones

This in-depth transformation obviously mobilized many resources within the company. It required that the company invest in new machinery. In particular, we changed the molds, the cutting devices, sealing pieces, and adapted conveyors and the wrapping system.

In the end, this work greatly exceeded the purely technical perimeter. Kiss is more than a product: it is a unifying concept.
We had to organize the support of our personnel through, in particular, training, and redesigned our plants (moved walls, changed ceilings, gutters and tiles, reorganized our stock…), without stopping production. A true challenge! Today, we have upgraded half of the machinery with, overall, performance exceeding the set objectives.

Rethinking packaging

The objective of Danone Produits Frais France is to reduce or remove packaging, when possible, in order to improve its carbon footprint while retaining satisfactory protection, display and consumer information levels. April 2010 was a significant step with the removal of the secondary packaging on the Activia and Taillefine brands – 1,600 tons of cardboard saved, i.e. the equivalent of 2,500 tons of CO².
Then, in April 2011, four brands reduced secondary packaging on their large formats – i.e. 1,000 tons of cardboard saved or 1,800 tons of CO² equivalent.

In the wake of Activia and Taillefine, Velouté is starting its metamorphosis. Until now, we could not remove secondary packaging because the former pot had no individual decoration. Thanks to Kiss, it is now possible.

We must bear in mind that packaging plays a major role in the life and identity of the products. They contribute to their protection, make them easy to find on the shelves and display consumer information. The difficulty lies mainly in graphic design. Basically the same brand visibility and amount of information must be conveyed over a smaller printing surface. A true challenge for graphic design agencies! What is at stake is worth the effort: from an environmental point of view, cardboard represents a total of approximately 20% of the packaging carbon footprint!

Choosing the right materials

The choice of materials is another research area. To minimize the environmental impact, eight levers have been identified: reducing packaging quantity, increasing transportation density, recycling industrial waste, using recycled and plant-based materials, integrating the existing collecting, sorting and recycling channels, favoring 100% consumption without waste and giving materials a second life.

In the years 2006-2007, we used expanded polystyrène on our yogurt pots, which resulted in reducing the quantity of packaging and decreasing the weight of the pot by 20%. Regarding the Kisspot, we wish in the future to reintroduce expanded polystyrène. The first tests have just started.

Constantly reinventing ourselves

And we are not going to stop there in terms of innovation. We must reinvent ourselves every day! I recommend relying on common sense and respecting the rule “let’s keep on simplifying”.

Successful packaging connects consumers to their product. Let’s not forget that packaging is the first media that is in contact with them. They have it in hand when purchasing and consuming. It must therefore enhance the outlet shelves and convey a strong message. Successful packaging also connects the manufacturer to its partners and suppliers. What Kiss does within the company can also be seen outside. Kiss is the showcase for Danone’s expertise and its ambassador. Successful innovation is like hitting a strike at bowling: when the ball is launched in the right direction with the right energy, striking is systematic. To achieve this, technique, experience and a lot of common sense are needed!

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