Consumers throughout Europe believe that bottled water should be offered in packaging that is safer for the environment. That is a key finding of research undertaken by multi-packaging specialists Hi-Cone into bottled water packaging in France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
Hi-Cone says that a major concern among European mineral water producers is to find packaging solutions that help to control costs and satisfy consumer demands. In the market research, consumers expressed strong sentiment in favour of more convenient and environmentally friendly multipacks for bottled water. This is typified by the growing popularity of eight pack, half litre PET bottles among French consumers of all ages for on-the-go consumption.
The research showed that bottled water consumers in Europe fall into two categories: those who respond well to brand visibility and are influenced by shelf appeal, and those classified as ‘purists’ for their preference for packaging that shows the clean, natural features of the product. Both types of consumer, however, agree that alternative packaging concepts are needed for bottled water multipacks. They are well represented in all four countries and concern for the environmental impact of packaging is stronger in the purist group.
Concerns shared by survey respondents about bottled water packaging included:
Over packaging: Consumers believe there are too many PET bottles disposed in the environment, even though a large majority are recycled.
Lack of functionality: There is a strong preference for packages that are easy to carry and open, convenient for storage, and generate less waste for disposal.
Cost: Consumers believe minimal packaging is a lower cost alternative.
Poor distinction: Bottled water purchases are motivated by brand recognition, product availability and, above all, price because the brands have little differentiation with a few exceptions.
The research revealed certain differences between the four countries. In the UK, bottled mineral water is viewed as an indulgence because of the cleanliness of the public water supply. While the product represents purity, freshness and healthy lifestyles, this is compromised by the perceived negative environmental impact of the packaging. However, British consumers appeared undecided about which packaging options are best for the environment or least harmful to it. Only the most committed ‘green’ consumers said they would sacrifice convenience or pay extra for environmentally friendly packaging options.
In Germany, consumers drink bottled water primarily as a healthy lifestyle choice. German consumers are drinking more water in different circumstances and locations, which has fuelled growth in PET multipacks of smaller bottles. Multipacks are preferred for this convenience, while in terms of environmental considerations, consumers prefer multipack options that generate less waste and offer convenient transport and storage.
In Spain, where bottled water is popular as an alternative to the tap, shrink-wrapped six-packs of large and small bottles are the most common water multipack. Consumers associated elaborate packaging designs with competitive brands, but also believe flashy or excessive packaging overshadows the austere natural aspects of water. Simpler or minimal packaging designs are associated with generic brands, and are viewed as better for showing purity. Spanish consumers are concerned about the environment and feel obligated to recycle and generate less waste. However, they believe that bottled water companies should be responsible for providing more environmentally friendly packaging and not pass any extra cost onto consumers.
French consumers are avid drinkers of bottled waters. Like their English, German and Spanish neighbours, they are concerned about the environment and believe bottled water companies should offer packaging options that are safer for the environment. French consumers responded well to the concept of minimal packaging and also believe photodegradable plastic is less toxic to the environment.
According to Ton Hoppenbrouwers, business unit director Europe for ITW Packaging, the Hi-Cone research clearly shows that European consumers expect something new in terms of bottled water packaging and will look favourably on companies that respond to this burgeoning demand.
“Companies are getting the message about minimal packaging, but they have to reconcile this with the need to differentiate their brands on shelf,” he explains. “From Hi-Cone’s perspective, we are advising that these goals are not incompatible. Truly minimal packaging solutions are available with ring carrier multipacks, and these packages can also provide excellent shelf visibility.”
As a result, Hoppenbrouwers says, several European bottled water companies are exploring Hi-Cone’s new BrandPak™ multipack solution. This provides an alternative to shrink wrap that enables companies to display eye-catching graphics on their packaging and achieve valuable on-shelf differentiation without excessive plastic waste.
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