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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Think outside -- the box is important

Finding the right packaging for your product takes

Finding the right packaging for your product takes some careful consideration and shouldn't be an afterthought, say experts. A box like those from Tiffany is a signature. Credit: KRT

Looks aren't everything -- unless you're talking packaging.

Today's consumers prefer minimal packaging, as well as recyclable packaging, according to a survey by the Natural Marketing Institute.

Finding the right packaging for your product takes some careful consideration and shouldn't be an afterthought, say experts.

"People should think about packaging first, not last," says JoAnn Hines, a Kennesaw, Ga.-based packaging consultant known as the "Packaging Diva." Often, "entrepreneurs don't think about it until it's too late," she says.

That's a mistake.

A product's package is "the last opportunity to influence the purchase decision before checkout," explains Gwynne Villota, senior business director at NMI, a market research firm in Harleysville, Pa.

Last year, an NMI survey found three-quarters of Americans believe many products are overpackaged, says Villota.

"Minimal packaging appeals to consumers," she notes. They realize it makes financial sense, since less packaging could result in savings for the company, which could trickle down to consumers.

Choosing green packaging. Seventy-five percent of Americans would like recyclable packaging for food and beverage products, NMI found. The sentiment likely extends to other categories, says Villota.

The trade-off is that environmentally friendly packaging options in many cases cost more, says Hines. But in some cases costs are getting less prohibitive.

Packaging Trends Inc., a 33- year-old packaging design and production firm in Hauppauge, says it's using greener materials in some packaging.

Materials made of paperboard certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which sets standards to promote responsible management of the world's forests, used to be 10 percent more expensive than conventional materials, said Packaging Trends chief executive Richard Gorman. But now they're about equal in price, he says.

Packaging costs vary widely depending on quantity, materials and complexity of design, but they could range from 10 cents per package for an overwrap in flexible plastic to $2 to $3 for an elaborate package, he notes.

When choosing packaging, research what's already on store shelves, suggests Hines. Visit several different retailers, from boutiques to big-box stores. Look at other categories besides your own to get ideas.

"Try to stay on the safe side of what you know works from comparable products," she suggests. "Let the big boys figure it out."

Sometimes the product dictates the packaging, says Roberta Perry, owner of Scrubz Body Scrub Inc. in Bethpage, which sells sugar-based body scrubs and skin care products.

For instance, Scrubz' lip balm made of pure shea butter couldn't be put in a traditional tube because it would melt in warm places. It had to go in a screw-top container, says Perry, who recently redesigned her packaging on several products and says the changes have paid off.

Little changes, big results. One product, Lipz Service, a lip scrub and balm, has done particularly well. Perry made several changes, including putting labeling on the front of the jar instead of on the top and bottom, and has seen sales spike.

She got similar results for her men's Shavez line by changing the label to appeal to male consumers by using less feminine colors. "We notice guys reaching for it now when they never did before," says Perry.

Sometimes it takes some testing before getting it right.

Hines suggests seeking advice by going into a store, pulling a package off the shelf and asking consumers what they like or dislike about it. "You get great feedback," she says.


Twenty-four percent of consumers say when they see something that's overpackaged, they will look for something else to buy.

Source: Natural Marketing Institute

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