Over 60 years ago, expert psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, a crucial breakthrough for understanding human behaviour and requirements, and it is still used today.
The most important of the needs outlined in his pyramid are the ‘Basic,’ or ‘Physiological’ needs: food, water, shelter and warmth.
Basically, the things essential to keep you alive.
But why is this relevant to packaging? Because what we’re talking about here is how everyone gets some of these most important requirements.
If a person can’t open the package to consume food or water to keep them alive, it is more than a little problem.
Without being dramatic about this, it is a matter of life and death, or at the very least nutrition.
Even the most able-bodies and healthy people know the frustration of not being able to open a package, whether it be food or electronic goods or a packet of pens.
But for an increasing number of Australians, the ability to open many packages is impossible.
“In packaging, there has been a shift towards portion control items andsmaller pack sizes.
“Statistics show that there are 6.4 million people with arthritis or a disability in Australia, seven million people are 50-plus, 1.7 million have problems with their eyesight,” Fergal Barry from Arthritis Australia told Food Magazine.
“If you combine the over-50’s with the number of people with arthritis or a disability, that means one in two are facing some kind of restriction with opening packages.”
“When you to open a jar if pickles, for example, you’re actually performing several tasks at once.
“You’ve got to pick it up and hold it, so the weight and shape of the jar impacts that.
Then there’s the friction, if it’s damp for example, it might be more difficult to hold.
“Then there is the labelling and font size and the effectiveness with how messages are communicated.
“And then the lid!
“The width and the depth of the lid will come into play, as will breaking the seal and resealing it.
“So because it is a combination of tasks, it becomes more difficult.”
Dealing with an ageing population
Our ageing population is growing quicker than medical and assistance services can keep up with, and a recent report found that more than 40 per cent of older Australians living in community housing are “malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.”
Much of this malnourishment can be attributed to the quality of food elderly Australians have access to, how easily they can prepare it, but most importantly, if they can open the packaging it comes in.
And it’s not only in their homes that elderly people are struggling to open food packaging, with those in hospitals often not much better off, as Jacky Nordsvan, Packaging Specialist at Nestlé, told Food Magazine.
“The report by the health services basically showed that poor ease-of-use food packaging is a significant contributor to malnourished elderly in public hospitals,” she said.
“Particularly in public hospitals, where the food is bought in packaged meals, this obviously makes it more difficult for patients to feed themselves.
Nestlé is leading with way in accessible food packaging, to address the needs of not only elderly Australians, but everyone who has ever struggled to get a package opened.
“As they get older, people are less likely to want to ask people to do stuff for you, so it is a real problem we need to address.”
This is where a bunch of Maslow’s other needs on his hierarchy come into play, including safety needs on the rung up from the most basic of needs, all the way up through the self-esteem needs including achievement and respect, to self actualisation needs at the top of the pyramid, which includes talent and fulfilment.
When you look at it like this, and think that packaging is often overlooked by the majority of society, it makes you realise that more has to be done in this market.
1 in 2 Australians struggles to access packaging
“It’s not just focused on that [elderly] part of the population, anything that is hard to open that we can make easier is good for all consumers,” Nordsvan said.
“The reason we’re seen as leaders in the area is because at a packaging conference a couple of years ago, we laid out our packaging and asked people if they could open it and they could use their hands or a knife of hammer and we even had a little mannequin of a husband when it got that hopeless and I think that had our packaging reps been there they would have been mortified about how hard it was.”
Nestlé is one of the partners in Arthritis Australia’s mission to improve packaging accessibility, which Barry points out is about more than just getting a package opened.
“The British use the term ‘openability,’ but I think it suggests by its very nature that it is just about opening packaging, whereas the term we use, ‘accessibility’, is much broader than that,” he said.
“There is more to ‘accessibility,’ there is the openability requirement, which is about being able to open a package.
“There’s the labelling, and people’s ability to read messages and other communications, and lastly the cognitive elements, which is the ability for the consumer to understand messages.”
The collaboration of Arthritis Australia, NSW Health and a number of other manufacturers is a huge step forward for not only developing accessible packaging, but making consumers aware of the importance of doing so.
Fighting for a spot
With all the mandatory information, such as nutritional guides and ingredient lists, added to the essential marketing aspects, on packages which are frequently being cut down to create portion-sized offerings, it’s very crowded place these days.
Add to that the pressures of the high Australian dollar and its impact on exports as well as the strain placed on companies through the supermarket price wars, and you have a very competitive, difficult situation for manufacturers and suppliers.
But if companies are willing to innovate their packaging, like Nestlé has, they will find that they have an extra selling point in the market.
While there will be some costs to changing current packaging to make it accessible, Nordsvan explained that the most crucial way to cut those costs is to consider these needs in the design stages, not when it has been launched and problems identified.
“If you put the consumer in the front of your mind when designing packaging, it is a driver for innovation and when we compare designs, we come up with improvements,” Barry explained to Food Magazine.
“For manufacturers and brand owners in this country with private label increasing in the way that it is, how do you compete with China on cost in Australia?
“We have the Accessibility Benchmark Scale which ranks packaging from a plus eight to minus eight, so if a supermarket is trying to decide between two companies supplying private label packaging, and these isn’t much difference on food quality or price, but the packaging is higher on the accessibility scale, it could win the contract.”
“Now you can say ‘ours is a plus-six and there is a plus-two so ours is far easier to open and will make more sales because unlike us, they have already eliminated parts of the market.’
“It could be your brand that gets deleted from shelves.
“Failure to act when the competition is innovating will lose you the business.
“It will help win business for some, but it will lose it for others.
“And if anyone is sitting there saying ‘that won’t happen,’ well it already is.”