In my previous article about “Packaging For The “Radical Chic” Culture” I detailed the general development in the market, the requirements of the consumer in relation to the packaging and gave some examples for the one-dish lunch. We have discussed now the simple part of the future food service packaging and have to move to the more complicated part: the packaging for complete free-choice multi-item meals, or the composite meal, as I prefer to call them.
But before we go to some design ideas for this segment, let’s have a look at the customer/consumer.
Who is the consumer?
Every contemporary market survey will tell you that the power of purchase is in the hands of the Millennials. As we are looking in this session at the future, I dare you to forget all about the Millennials as specified in the current market surveys.
The future of the food service industry, and consequently the related packaging industry, will be dominated by the, what I want to call the YZ-Generation. I define this as the group of young Millennials, say from the mid-1980s up to the present day, including what is coined as Gen-Z (The generation from somewhere around the mid-1990s to the present).
In other words the demographic, which is now between zero and 30 years old.
Gen YZ is the most diverse and multicultural demographic we have ever seen. In the U.S. to date: 55% are Caucasian, 24% are Hispanic, 14% are African-American, and 4% are Asian. With its numerous independent countries and tribes, Europe is culturally even more diversified. And don’t think that a Chinese, just is a Chinese. The diversification in China is tremendous. And so is the situation in the rest of the world.
This generation is the most digitally connected generation thus far. They have no idea how life was in a world without the Internet, mobile phones or iTunes. They utilize technology as a tool to engage people, share information, reach wider audiences and acquire customers. In addition, they are confident to serve as our future business leaders. They are open-minded, adaptable and ready to problem-solving at any moment. They consider themselves to be global citizens and are well prepared for the global business environment.
Gen YZ is an idealistic and often an ethical generation. They want to change the world, to feel that their work is of value to society, they love the idea of volunteer work, and they are increasingly discriminating between brands by looking for ethical behaviour and sustainability. They look for brands with clear values.
It’s an amazing demographic. Ethnic food is high on their wish list, like healthy, natural and organic.
In this light I predict the slow, but painful and inglorious end of the junk food outlets, as it’s not enough for them to introduce some “green” products. They have to erase the name of the chain and start anew completely.
You don’t believe me?
Once McDonald’s was the icon for progress and globalisation. The sweetheart of the youth. At this moment McDonald’s is linked to everything, which is evil. It’s not natural, authentic, original, honest and healthy. The new, hip breakfast bar, including fresh salads and whatever more, McDonald’s started in Australia only received derision and ridicule from the tweeting, facebooking and instagramming “food-bloggers”. And there are many more examples to give.
But there is more, Gen-YZ is turning the existing retail world upside-down. Look what happens with the large hyper and supermarkets. Look at the slaughtering among the “wrong-doing” fashion chains. Everywhere they are falling apart.
But what will be after the junk food era and the supermarket discomfiture? Well, in the first place, Generation-YZ gave us the high-quality street food culture through food trucks, they took care of the booming convenience stores and they are pressing for the return of the glamour on Main Streets or High Streets, whatever you want the call them.
And if you think that this evolution was unexpected, you have been living far away from reality. Look at the demographic again. A large and upward trending percentage of the population lives in cities, and retail for urban-dwellers should take into account that many of them walk, bike, take public transport and live in smaller spaces. That coupled with the one to two-person households of today, means that the weekly or monthly shopping trips to the supermarket have been replaced by the daily visit to the convenience, corner- or neighbourhood store.
The large hyper and supermarkets aren’t a frightful competition for them, as the overly busy consumer doesn’t have the intention to take his car to go outside town to a Walmart or Tesco, just to collect a meal. He walks, he bikes and he wants to pick up his meal close to his home or office, if possible in combination with some other necessities he needs from the grocery aisle.
On top of this, we have the growing influence of Gen-YZ. They are a buying power that exceeds the 1 trillion USDollar in the U.S. alone. They want simple, freshly cooked food and certainly don’t want to eat something that seems “manufactured”.
That all points to a glorious future for the small-scale outlets, as long as they keep sacred their specific often ethnic basics, as the remnants of the junk-food chains as well as the supermarkets will try to pollute these new movements.
This is the consumer. What does this mean for packaging?
Design Ideas for the Multi-Item Meal
The rush hour for a complete meal is after working hours, when the consumer goes home for dinner and decides to make a selection for one at a convenience store. The counter shows a wide range of freshly prepared hot and cold dishes.
Remember what I said: Imagine the consumer standing in front of a counter with freshly prepared food items and making a choice. She will point to various items she wants. She is creating something special for the end of her day. Packaging isn’t on her mind, only her high-end dinner.
The convenience store has a choice, either it dumps all items the customer is selecting into one large tray, or it decides to package the several different food items in separated receptacles.
The first option, of course, is the most simple solution. But also the one, which with high probability will disappoint the customer as the food items will be mashed together before she arrives at home.
This negative result can be diminished by using a compartmentalized tray. But that one misses the flexibility needed. As the customer making her choice and indicating how much she wants of each item, some items might not fit in a compartment, overflowing into another compartment. Furthermore compartments might stay empty, when the choice of the customer is restricted to a few items, leaving her with a large tray, half full of food.
Look at the slideshow above. This isn’t what it should be. It has to be more sophisticated, elegant and in line with the “radical chic” culture. The trays look cheap, and the mixing risk is too great during transport to home/hotel.
And then comes the final problem, when the customer comes home and wants to warm up her dinner. Does she have to scoop out the salads and her dessert first before she can put it into the microwave?
This isn’t a satisfying solution in line with the “radical chic” food culture.
The packaging has to have a maximum in flexibility. The maximum in flexibility you can reach with modular designed receptacles, which can be composed together into one take-away packaging.
This modular system not only offers the required flexibility, but also answers the shortage of storage space in a convenience store and the need of the barista to decide quickly which modules he uses for the volume of food the customer selects.
In the slideshow above we see just two sizes, but with a wide choice of possibilities. There is another advantage. Various food items, like sweet desserts, already can be stored in the counter in a module, so that the barista only has to pick up the module and place it in the final assembly packaging.
The next step is the take-away packaging. The selection made and the modules filled, they have to be assembled into one packaging to be allowed to take away. An elegant example, shown on the photo above, just is a bottom in paperboard, sturdy enough to hold 3 or 4 modules and a paperboard sleeve.
The advantages of this compact modular system continue when the customer arrives at home. She easily can take out the modules with the salad and the dessert and places the main dish items in the microwave. The design also can represent sufficient elegance to satisfy her to eat straight from the packaging if she wishes.
One last note. If the food outlet wants to give the customer the option to eat at home from a ceramic plate, as many consumers prefer, it can chose for a tear-away bottom. Some years ago Innovative Design of Scandinavia developed a tray whose bottom can be removed allowing an artfully arranged meal to be transferred from packaging to plate and still be intact.
Look at the photo below. This is, in reality, what the consumer wants to see as result of purchasing a ready high-end meal and serving herself at home, using the tear-away bottom.
I have reached the end of my article. I’m well aware that there are many more options.