April 2, 2019
Column | big picture

It is time to reimagine grocery packaging

If automated stores and home delivery change how we shop for groceries, then the way these products are packaged should also change.

By David Maloney

Last month, I discussed how supermarkets will need to change to meet the challenges of e-commerce fulfillment. To make a profit, stores need to become more efficient at picking orders and preparing them for customer pickup or home delivery.

Along with revising supermarket layouts to accommodate automation (essentially transforming them into mini-DCs), this model will also require changing the way products are packaged to allow for more efficient handling and delivery.

The packaging for most of today's food and consumer goods is designed to catch the consumer's eye, with bright colors and bold graphics. Packages may also incorporate clear plastic to make it easy for buyers to see what's inside.

Sometimes, the larger the product, the more attention it gets. How many of us have bought a food item that is much smaller than the packaging surrounding it? Yes, I know we're told that "some settling of product occurs during shipping," but I think we all know that's really not a good explanation for why a potato chip bag is only half full.

How products are placed on store shelves is a science. Manufacturers vie to have their goods placed at eye level to make them easier for consumers to see, which of course results in higher sales. Stores typically place higher-margin items in these sought-after positions for the same reason.

Aisle end caps are another coveted space, and often packaging is designed to stand out when positioned there, including multisided images that can be read from more than one angle as a consumer turns the corner to the next aisle.

So, if products are packaged for consumer attention, how should packaging change when customers are no longer picking their own orders?

Space will be at a premium in tomorrow's grocery stores. Therefore, products need to be packaged with as little waste as possible to optimize space in the automated equipment, delivery vehicles, and lockers or kiosks that serve as collection points.

Consistently shaped packaging should also be adopted for grocery items. Products in square cartons are easiest to handle, slot, and stack. Products should also be designed to fit easily into standardized (and nestable) delivery containers.

Reimagining grocery packaging should help to offset some of the additional picking and delivery costs within our stores of the future. Without expensive eye-catching graphics, such packaging will be less costly to print and require fewer surrounding materials. That means less waste for the supermarket, the end consumer, and the environment.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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