Friday, December 7, 2007

Shelf life

Having spent many years in the Middle East, I can’t forget what our highly packaged world has lost in terms of Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy. The rise and rise of stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s seems to reveal our growing desire to connect more sensually with food. That means being able to see it and smell it, as well as touch and taste it – once the hygiene inspectors have given the nod. The French understand. Sociologist Claude Fischler from the French National Center for Scientific Research asked a typically French question, “If you are what you eat and you don't know what you're eating, do you actually know who you are?” For retailers, letting us get closer to the food we eat is not easy. How do you remove as much packaging as possible to give shoppers a better idea of what it is that they are going to eat, and run an efficient operation, keep costs and waste down, and end up with the manufacturers still talking to you?

Ten years ago the answer was easy. Packaging was about operational efficiency. It was a bit of appeal on the side and went unchanged for years. Everyone said shoppers liked it that way; it helped them find what they were looking for on the shelves. Then design entered as a competitive differentiator and all that logic was abruptly thrown out the window. Suddenly manufacturers didn’t back off from packaging that winked and blinked, made noises and smelled great. Packaging went into constant Beta. There was sure to be an even better idea out there somewhere. I love the buzz around design and the store, but have a warning as well. Winners aren’t fixed on grabbing attention with the latest gimmick. They are passionate about attracting shoppers with understanding and engagement, meaning and empathy. It's about fantastic packaging that makes people’s lives better, more fun and easier.