June 22, 2018

Virtual Reality: The Unsung Hero of Brand Packaging

By Doug Baker, Vice President, Industry Relations, Private Brands, Technology & Julie Pryor, Director, Emerging Brands, Food Marketing Institute

If there’s one constant in the CPG industry, it’s that brands are always searching for the best ways to get their products noticed on the store shelf. It’s more important than ever to create packaging that can stand out in a (very congested) crowd. Think about it: there’s a lengthy, detailed process involved with taking a new product packaging concept to market—but there are many areas where emerging technologies, like virtual reality (VR), are starting to give brands a leg up from the competition.

Technologies Enhancing Food Retail

Technologies like VR, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain are no longer strangers to the retail space. For the grocery sector, we’ve seen stores embrace mobile apps and geolocation, as well as, advanced and integrated POS systems. And when it comes to package design, VR has taken shape as a way to prototype and gain valuable insights into the mind of the customer.

“There’s a ton of value in working with and within virtual. Package design is a part of that,” said Mark Hardy, CEO of InContext Solutions, which has developed a VR framework to help retailers improve costly operational work. “Instead of having to build out physical prototypes, teams can now design or upload different packaging options [virtually], and then test each within a simulated store to get immediate and accurate responses from real shoppers.”

Virtual Reality Meets Product Marketing

Hardy makes the point that while new packaging might look great on a white background or when shown to survey respondents on a piece of paper, it might fall flat when viewed among the many brands that inhabit a category.

“There are factors like size, color, readability, and how it stands out from the products around it that can influence purchase decisions at the shelf,” Hardy said. “That’s where VR has the advantage.”

In the past, brands might have shied away from making packaging changes without long, drawn-out testing and analysis. Yet with virtual reality simulations, a new packaging concept could quickly and efficiently be digitally visualized and tested with real shoppers to get real-time feedback—meaning it can make it to the shelves in record time and on budget.

Or, conversely, sometimes a new package design isn’t the way to go—in which case learning that before bringing it to market is invaluable.

“We had one client who wanted to test two new packaging iterations against the current product design,” said Hardy. “They tested each with our virtual research services and found that the current design performed much better with shoppers—neither of the new designs would maintain the brand’s sales. They were able to stop production on a new design, saving them half a million dollars.”

With the many obstacles retail already faces, embracing new technologies to save time and money is a no brainer. Virtual retail solutions can help relieve some of the external industry pressures food retailers’ face, and instead focus efforts on creating eye-catching products that resonate with today’s shoppers and their changing needs.