The Retail Institute’s presentation focused on how our consumer research can be beneficial for product innovation processes. The presentation highlighted the stages of the innovation process where consumer insight is particularly valuable, whether it is for identifying market opportunities, informing new product strategies or testing fully-developed concepts. We demonstrated this using three case studies of our previous work relevant to BAMA’s audience of technologists, brand managers and innovators.
The first case study was an innovation project for Air Wick, which helped the manufacturer to develop a disruptive new product based on a deep understanding of consumer preferences using Kano analysis and Kansei engineering. Although this work is now several years old, it still holds strong relevance because of the methods used and the success of the product which came from its distinctive look, feel and ergonomic design. A second aerosol-related case study examined a product which was already developed and for which the client needed research to validate the business case. Our final case study focused on work we have done for a glass packaging company, which aimed to answer some of the big questions about how consumers perceive premium FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) products. The report we provided has been used as a tool by the client to demonstrate the value of incorporating certain package design cues to convey a premium effect. This aids collaboration between brand owner and manufacturer in designing appealing products that still meet technical requirements.Our presentation was received with interest and led to many interesting conversations. A subject which came up repeatedly was that of sustainability and the high profile of packaging in the media during recent months. At the end of the presentation, we were asked about the future of packaging, and the environment. This is a huge topic, touching on technological developments, potential government interventions and changing consumer behaviour. Further complexity comes from questions about who is responsible for plastic pollution, how environmental impact should be measured and what solutions are likely to be effective in today’s diverse and demanding retail context.
Are people willing to pay more for more environmentally friendly packaging?
Existing solutions cost more, either because of production scales or the loss or functionality provided by single use plastics. Our position is that a greater understanding is needed of public perceptions of packaging and how attitudes and behaviour may be changing as a result of the public debate about plastics. The Retail Institute plans to build on its knowledge of consumers by conducting research to ascertain current attitudes and media influences and link this to shopping and recycling behaviours. The aim is to understand what kinds of pro-environmental innovation is likely to most effective and what communication strategies may be necessary to ensure commercial success.
However, the idea of environmentally friendly packaging is bigger than just the consumer angle, and this was apparent throughout the Innovation Day. Topics covered included a method for labelling salvaged cans so that they can be re-used, creating lighter cans which are still shaped for customer appeal, and methods for ensuring quicker, more efficient production and testing processes. All of these can help to improve the carbon footprint of consumer products even if the technicalities of the innovation are not always apparent to customers.
The size of the issue was expertly summarised by Professor James Clark, Director of the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York University, who discussed ‘green chemistry solutions for a circular economy’ and described how changing consumption patterns are leading to the exhaustion of some chemical elements and fossil carbons becoming more and more difficult to extract. Solutions may include diverting biomass to chemical production – another solution dependent on customer buy-in for commercial success.
The day was a great opportunity to connect and re-connect a many companies and also gave us plenty to think about for our future research. It also has helped to further establish our partnership with BAMA, an arrangement which allows mutually beneficial knowledge transfer between academia and industry.