Packaging Innovations Report: Do Premium Beauty and Sustainability make Good Bedfellows + Targeting Gen Z


Packaging in beauty is so much more than offering a protective layer for the product. Particularly for premium brands, where luxury materials, sensorial elements and other visual cues are all part of delivering an enhanced consumer experience.

Today’s consumers have high expectations from packaging. They want it to be visually appealing, with clear labeling and tick all the environmental boxes, enabling them to dispose of it easily after use.

Today’s smart brands use packaging to connect with their chosen demographic, not only in a physical but also a virtual sense, in order to make products stand out in any and every distribution channel.

Then, there's the question of sustainability. Can packaging be beautiful as well as being sustainable?Last week, I chaired the annual Packaging Innovations Beauty Forum in Olympia, where these topics were discussed. Here are some of the highlights:

Are Sustainability and Beauty Viable?

Listening to Jamie Mills, analyst, GlobalData, present on evolving packaging trends made me think about the disconnect that exists between what consumers want from beauty packaging and what brands are delivering.

Jamie presented data on the top 5 factors global consumers find most important in environmentally friendly packaging:

  • Recyclable (75%)

  • Reduce unnecessary packaging (72%)

  • Easy to separate materials for disposal (71%)

  • Compostable/biodegradable (71%)

  • Refillable/reusable (69%)

Yes, as far as premium brands are concerned, such considerations are rarely a top priority.

The primary focus of premium brands is aesthetics, not function.It’s all about the visual appeal which often involves the use of multiple types of material that are difficult/impossible for the consumer to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way.

Mass brands are doing it better and premium beauty brands need to look at recent responsible packaging initiatives, such as those cited by Jamie:

One stand-out example from the premium sector is the Dior Hydra Life Range which dispenses with unnecessary features such as leaflets and outer packaging, It uses a reduced weight of glass, therefore minimising packaging waste.

Dior’s initiative is the exception amongst premium brands and it is often left to the smaller, swifter start-ups to come up with sustainability ideas.

A Vision for Sustainability in Beauty

When Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao, founder of Malée, devised the idea of a premium fragrance and bodycare range based around natural active ingredients from Africa, her goal was to create a clean product without the guilt.

Not easy, she found, on discovering that every product is made by 100 different suppliers.Her dogged determination to work with each supplier to meet her sustainability criteria, has meant she was able to launch her range knowing the environmental footprint of the ingredients and packaging.

It wasn’t straightforward. “The challenge lies in matching consumer expectations with the reality of being a “green” manufacturer,” stated Zeze, whose research highlighted a conflict. It showed how the majority of consumers do not think that product labels provide enough information - and 48% think labels aren’t clear.

“How can consumers differentiate between environmentally friendly and other products or trust producers’ claims about environmental performance?” she asked.

Delivering a sustainable promise is a challenge that all manufacturers face and some are doing better than others. For example, Sephora/LVMH has introduced incentivised returns on empty bottles for recyclying while L’Oreal has a well-thought through sustainability strategy across the different brands in its portfolio.Zeze laid down her vision for a more sustainable future for beauty brands that included:

  • An industry-acknowledged green seal of approval that tackles sustainability from the consumers’ viewpoint.

  • Sustainable product and risk management to be followed by retailers and manufacturers.

  • Individual efforts by organisations in the form of sustainability report and indexes.

Using Packaging to Target New Demographic Groups

According to Sara Jones, Partner, Dew Gibbons + Partners, the industry needs to stop obsessing on millennials and turn its attention to the next age group down: Generation Z.Generation Z:

  • Born since 2000, it’s a boom generation

  • Despite their age, they have incredible direct and indirect purchasing power

  • They are digital natives, never having known anything but the internet

  • They are always online - Snapchat, Instagram and other visually driven social platforms

  • Through their smartphones and tablets, they are exposed to 1,000s of different types of content daily

  • Their world view is through the filter of social

Sara described how Gen Z are different in every way - in their social and digital behaviour, how they interact with their peer group and friends and where they purchase beauty products - 55% go to Amazon, Wal-Mart or Superdrug.

So what does this mean for beauty brands?

Sara highlighted areas where brands can focus their efforts to attract this demographic, including visual identity, packaging, language and messaging.

“If it’s not suitable for digital, it’s not suitable,” stressed Sara.Sara provided new ground rules for engagement with Generation Z:

  • Simpler, bigger, clearer icons - packaging must be able to work on and off line. Examples include ASOS and Top Shop beauty ranges that employ clean, bold, visual language with cute graphical icons depicting the products.

  • Bold, block colours -which are designed to be read on screen and offer easy navigation. e.g. Glossier plays with iconography online, offering stickers with purchase to personalise, play value and fun (launching soon in the UK).

  • Stand out shapes - lipsticks as an aspirational item for Gen Z to save for and buy. Examples include Louboutin cosmetics, which are pieces of art, such as the nail lacquer inspired by the Ballerina Ultima shoe.

  • Consistent Visual ID that is omni-channel ready. e.g. 3INA, pronounced Mina promises edgy creative fast cosmetics through the website and Covent Garden shop.

  • Personalised offerings - a sophisticated beauty version of Dulux. Examples: Shiseido Matchco’s personalised foundations via an app; Innisfree My Cushion foundation selection with personalised engraved compact.

Modern beauty consumers are even more demanding than the previous generations. They have very short attention spans and make beauty decisions based on personal recommendations, not what they experience in-store.

Beauty brands can best respond by being visually stunning and distinctive, wherever the brand setting. And above all, must be fully optimised for smartphone and social. This means a complete turnaround for beauty brands which have always been primarily store-focused.

Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

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