Nutritionals Packaging Can Boost Consumer Confidence

Distinctive packaging can help elevate the status of dietary supplements.


Erik Swain, Senior Editor


Consumers are more likely to question the effectiveness of nutritional supplements than they are that of pharmaceuticals prescribed to them by a doctor. To counteract skepticism and increase consumer confidence, nutritionals manufacturers are creating packaging that emulates a pharmaceutical package. This approach, along with the creative use of graphics, materials, and labels, will help attract customers and restore their faith in the market, say experts.

"People come to us wanting their product to look like a pharmaceutical package, with the feeling of integrity and quality," says Howard Thau, president of Sonic Packaging Industries Inc. (Westwood, NJ). "They may bring in a pharmaceutical package that they picked up and ask us to make it look like that. There is a lot of perceived value in demonstrating that it's not a baggie that someone filled in their basement. We try to get them to look past traditional packaging into strips, blisters, and other options that their competition may not have looked at."


Using sophisticated packaging for dietary supplements is one way to attract customers and gain their trust. And the creative use of labeling and graphics can help make brands more noticeable.

As public confidence in the dietary supplement industry has declined, identifying a nutritional product with the pharmaceutical industry has become more important than ever, says Adrian Possumato, technical sales representative for the Northeast and Puerto Rico region of Multisorb Technologies Inc. (Buffalo, NY). This may even extend to aspects of the package that are not readily apparent.

"There is a major consumer confidence issue in the dietary supplement market right now; it has eroded," he says. "At one point, there were four positive articles in the press for every negative one on the industry. Now, coordination between FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has exposed bad science—often rightfully so. The industry has been challenged to demonstrate efficacy and to demonstrate that label claims are accurate."

Possumato continues: "As a result of reports of product instability and degradation in the Los Angeles Times, on, and through other sources, the industry is going toward stabilizing product. If it is clear to the consumer that the manufacturer has invested in sorbents, or something to maintain stability, that can have a brand-building effect and increase consumer confidence in the product."

For instance, something as simple as using a desiccant can provide peace of mind to the consumer, even if he or she doesn't grasp what the feature is for, Possumato explains.

"In packaging, dietary supplements need to mimic what a pharmaceutical does," he says. "If a consumer takes an over-the-counter or ethical drug, often they will find a desiccant inside. But if they see that the nutritional equivalent does not have a sorbent, they tend to be suspicious and ask 'what is behind this stuff?' Sorbents, polyethylene bottles, induction seals, and the like move the package closer to a pharmaceutical image that nutritional manufacturers need to elevate their products in the marketplace."

Robert Crossno, national sales manager of Süd-Chemie Performance Packaging (Belen, MN), explains that consumers recognize the importance of protection measures like desiccants and tamper evidence for nutritionals. Protective packaging carries a lot of weight when marketing nutritional products.


Possumato has noticed that spending on packaging has "pulled back," so "we may not see a lot of the [pharmaceutical-like packaging elements] at this point."

Varied patterns and bright colors characterize UniLustre papers and boards from Unifoil Corp.

Sonic's Howard Thau advises nutritional supplement marketers not to turn a blind eye to packaging. "As the economy remains tight, marketers need to be creative in their product positioning and product launches and make the best of a tight marketing budget," he says. "A good package will do several things for them. It will set them apart from the competition and may get them additional shelf life, especially if you can give the consumer an easy-to-use package that adds to the buying experience."

Nutritional manufacturers could turn to graphics for help. "Some manufacturers have become extremely sensitive to graphics and labeling," says Cori Thau, president of Xtreme Printing & Packaging (Westwood, NJ). "They understand the importance of creating brand identity through consistent graphics that run across a variety of products. Whether it's a brand's logo or a catchy tag line on the package, the ability to deliver the same message time in and time out makes the consumer feel comfortable with that product. While exciting graphics are important, the quality of the package also makes a difference in preserving the quality of the product."

For those who want to take advantage of the benefits that attractive packaging offers, there are a multitude of technologies available. For example, Unifoil Corp. (Passaic, NJ) offers UniLustre, "a nonlaminated paper or board that has the same look as a laminated material," says Joe Funicelli, Unifoil's president and chief executive officer. He explains that UniLustre "makes for a brighter sheet than foil or film, prints as easily as plain paper, and is environmentally friendly. Plus, our proprietary process doesn't affect the moisture of the paper at all, so there is no brittleness."

There is no reason for cost concerns either, he says. "Seven to 10 years ago, using bright, holographic packaging was considered cost prohibitive for this industry. But today, the cost has come down so outrageously that it can be used on a $1 gum package."

These conditions reflect a level of sophistication that wasn't thought possible until recently, says Phil Naidrich, national accounts manager for Impaxx Eastern USA (South Plainfield, NJ).

"Even for nutritionals, shelf presence is greater now than it has ever been in terms of graphics," he says. "[Packaging] used to be just two or three colors, but now you see gradations, vignettes, gold and silver stamping, and high gloss on the carton and label. It is moving toward the look of the cosmetic industry, where they know that packaging sells. Private labels used to have very basic graphics, but now even there you'll see six to nine colors, gradations, and all kinds of different processes being used."

The comparison between dietary supplements and cosmetics is not as far-fetched as it might seem at first, because both industries have some very expensive products, Naidrich notes. "Printing on silver foil is expensive, but the products being packaged that way are expensive as well. The additional cost for the package is palatable if the product itself is targeted toward a higher-end market."


Some dietary supplement manufacturers may not be sold on using graphics to establish brand identity, but packaging can still play a role in how they attract the consumer. Even something as simple as using a gold cap instead of a white one can help the consumer remember the product, says Steve Nussbaum, director of marketing, O. Berk Co. (Union, NJ)

Süd-Chemie Performance Packaging has found that packaging dietary supplements in tubes instead of bottles is a way of making a product stand out, says Crossno. The tubes are suitable for effervescent and diagnostic packaging and are complete with functional desiccant stoppers. Also, the distinctive look of tubes offers significant marketing advantages. When compared with bottle packaging, tubes are the first thing customers will notice on the shelf, says Crossno. They take up less shelf space and can be designed for specific applications.

"We can do a five-color print job with all the information and logos that would be on a label, but it's on a tube," he says. "The inks can be faded into each other; it's glossy and looks very professional. And there is no material to come off or deteriorate."

Another way to increase product visibility is to use blister packaging, says Kent Sides, business manager, pharmaceutical films for Klöckner Pentaplast of America Inc. (Gordonsville, VA). He notes that a blister can be inserted into a carton for a billboard effect on the shelf, permitting more opportunities for brand awareness and promotions. Blisters can also incorporate a hang tab or be used as an end-of-aisle display, he adds.

Even on products not intended for retail sale, packaging can be used as something for consumers to remember them by. For example, Optigene-X LLC (Shrewsbury, NJ), which recently launched a DNA-repairing product line that is being sold primarily through physician offices and other resellers, is hoping that the package's portability and sophistication will make a positive impression on consumers and turn them into repeat customers.

"Packaging always should provide a message," says Larry Drappi, president of Optigene-X. "We went beyond the norm, putting our product in individualized packets to stay fresh and give patients an easy way to carry it back and forth. Also, more patients will comply this way."

Making supplements available in samples packaging may also expand market share. "Some manufacturers say the best way to attract consumers is through free trials," says Howard Thau. "Packaging is also critical to the sampling, trial, and cross-promotional business, which seems to be growing faster than ever before. Counter displays often have a saleable size and a trial size, so consumers can take a package to try. And with unit-dose samples, you can use the box to [attract] them as a way to get that free trial."

In fact, he notes, because "a lot of nutritional marketers are very aware of the importance of branding a product and a line, they are coming to us for sample programs—either for line extensions or the introduction of a new line. They want a unit-dose or sample pack to look like a mini-version of the full-size product you would see on the shelf—sometimes with catchy graphics so the consumer will remember it is the same product."


Reluctance to spend may be the only significant thing holding dietary supplement manufacturers back from using packaging and graphics to convey the legitimacy of pharmaceutical products and establish brand identity. But experts argue that the value of better packaging will eventually outstrip whatever extra costs are involved.

"When you launch a new line, it's hard to get the consumer to change from one regimen to another," Unifoil's Funicelli says. "With packaging, at least you can give them the sense that they are looking at something new or better. There is an appearance of superiority with brighter packaging that's a little more expensive than plain packaging. But the value should come back, many times over."

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