Supermarket shelves have seen a radical change in the last few decades. Not only has the packaging artwork style changed and package styles become more sophisticated, but even consumer priorities have changed, as well as the priorities and needs of the supermarkets and retailers themselves.
While some brands opt to go back to their "retro" or "classic" design for a season to catch the eye of customers, many of the strategies behind the scenes that have to lead to the success of producers and retailers will only become more automated and more flexible.
Retail Ready Packaging- Secondary Packaging That Works For Your Customers
The rise of shelf and retail ready packaging has greatly helped to facilitate efficient and consistent restocking. Products need to be shipped in cases anyway, but with the addition of strategic perforations, all an employee needs to do is move the case from the pallet to the shelf, remove the lid or tear-away section from the case and the display is ready to go. A win-win for all.
Over time, producers and case packing machine manufacturers have been able to get more and more creative with perforations, forming techniques, and dial-in their speeds and OEE. Even "mixed cases" which showcase a variety of similar products in a single case are a small but growing segment of shelf ready display packaging, particularly with European-based grocery stores like Aldi and Lidl.
These companies often have retail-ready requirements of their vendors, regardless of the producer's level of automation in producing these mixed cases. Many of them are hand-packing each mixed case, some are hand-feeding a case packer, and a few have been able to find and justify investing in a fully automated solution for mixed case packing.
The Rise of Grocery E-Commerce Brings Challenges to Retailers
Retail ready packaging and mixed case packing are convenient, efficient, and are becoming more and more in-demand in the food packaging world, especially as e-commerce grocery shopping has exploded in the last year and a half with the COVID-19 pandemic. Grocery e-commerce was a 2 Billion dollar business two years ago, which grew to 9.2 billion at the height of the pandemic. While some demand has dropped off as vaccine accessibility has grown in the US, 70% of the volume has been retained as of May of 2021.
This retained volume has caused retailers to want a piece of the action, offering their own fulfillment services and causing friction with big names like Instacart. Many of them have begun thinking about what changes will need to be made to meet demands more effectively, with many tossing around ideas like dedicated fulfillment space, the use of co-bots, and investing in higher levels of supply chain data visibility.
And unsurprisingly, packaging has the potential to greatly contribute to the success of these initiatives.
Making Efficient Use Of Dedicated Grocery E-Commerce Fulfillment Space
Buying or designating a dedicated fulfillment space for e-commerce is likely not something that has been on retailers' radars until the last 5 years or so, but as retailers like Walmart and Kroger struggled to keep up with pick up orders placed online and fulfilled by store employees, the need is becoming more urgent.
At today's volume, having a dedicated space that is laid out efficiently, with high access to products, as well as space for order packing and storage, has started to turn from a "nice to have" for some retailers, to a "need to have".
The merchandising needs of your customers are likely different than those of your employees when it comes to picking and packing items. Retail packaging artwork is designed to captivate it's audience with romance copy, insignias and other branding, whereas products that have already been "chosen" by a customer via e-commerce need to be easily identified and assessable by employees.
For grocery e-commerce, different case sizes, perf patterns and plain artwork is already being adopted for some shelf ready packaging solutions, and having a highly flexible case packer solution that can adapt to these different sizes will continue to become more necessary.
Staffing Challenges Call for Higher Automation
Just like many food and consumer goods producers, retailers and grocery delivery companies run into staffing challenges, so tools like retail-ready packaging help to make actions like restocking more efficient and help grocery delivery service employees to fulfill orders efficiently as well.
But higher automation has to start further up the supply chain to maximize the efficiency and accessibility of products, and that starts at the production level. Effective case packing today involves a high level of automation, which is enabled by a case packer's level of integration, machine flexibility and OEE.
Using a single source for your entire packaging line not only can ensure you get the level of integration needed to run your line (or even multiple lines) with one operator, but the compatibility of the line components ensures you get the performance you expect from your packaging line.
The Future of Flexible Case Packing Machinery
Looking ahead to predict the future needs of customers and retailers is always a gamble. Many of the changes and challenges brought forth in the last couple of years never could have been predicted - but the most resilient businesses are the ones that were able to adapt. That is the nature of evolution, right?
The foundation of resiliency in business is the ability to adapt - and we like to think of adaptable and flexible as nearly interchangeable characteristics. Of course improvements in speed, accuracy, and automation will continue to come to market, as will advancements in reducing case packer foot print sizes, but prioritizing and retaining machine flexibility is imperative to continue to set folks up to prevail during turbulent market conditions.