Now that deli executives are realizing the potential for packaging as a medium for marketing, the next step is a brand identity, said industry experts. In fact, some progressive retailers are already branding their own food-service items through packaging to differentiate them from their competitors' at a glance.
"Anonymous packaging doesn't do the retailer any good," said Howard Solganik, president of the consultancy Solganik & Associates, Dayton, Ohio. "Identity programs are critical for their success in fresh prepared foods. As more and more of the business shifts to the fresh side, an identity is an integral part of packaging, as much as it is to a consumer products company."
When a retailer uses containers that convey its logo, it should remember, however, that consumers shy away from packaging that looks too slick. "If it looks too high-tech, they'll not believe the product is fresh," he cautioned.
Solganik said the retailers who are already on this path include D&W Food Centers, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Genuardi Super Markets, Norristown, Pa.; Larry's Markets, Seattle; Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis, and Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va.
Marcia Schurer, president of Culinary Connections, Boulder, Colo., said she, too, sees a greater emphasis being placed on marketing a store's name through food-service items.
"For the retailers who are interested in promoting their own brand names, I see a lot more labeling taking place. To logo the products, sleeves or bands are going around them," she said. "For example, using banding, Harry's in a Hurry in Atlanta was using a clear lid and putting a paper band around it that had been logoed with the retailer's name so that it was branded to the consumer."
Shurer cautioned that product visibility is always an issue in this situation because American consumers want to see what the food looks like before they purchase it, unlike European shoppers, who are used to buying prepared foods at the supermarket and do not need to be reassured that they are getting a quality product.
The future of packaging, she said, might be a vacuum-sealed or modified atmosphere container like the ones some fresh pastas come in, that would extend the shelf life of prepared foods.
"The idea is not to make a product that will last forever and ever, but the retailer has to educate the consumer so that he understands that it is still a fresh product," Schurer said.
She gave some examples of retailers who are progressive in their food-service packaging: Ball's Food Stores in Kansas City, Kan.; H-E-B Grocery Co., San Antonio, and Fresh Fields, Rockville, Md.
Dan M. Giacoletto, director of merchandising at Orval Kent, Wheeling, Ill., said the packaging industry, in turn, is becoming more responsive to the needs of retailers.
"As a whole, the packaging suppliers are becoming aggressive in designing products that not only hold the products well and get them to the consumer in good condition, but also really help to market the items," he said.
"Suppliers are taking packaging and making sure that it is cubed right -- that retailers have the ability to get as many facings into a case without losing the integrity of the display. They are stackable. The lids seal more securely. For printed packages, there have been great improvements in screen art processes," Giacoletto said.