Brand Owners and Experts Discuss the Digital Advantage (Includes Audio)
"The packaging is the hero. It's the first point and the last point where our customers make contact with our food product and brand."
That was how Lisa Sohanpal, founder and CEO of Nom Noms World Food, assessed the contribution of digitally produced packaging to the success of her line of internationally inspired, ready-to-eat meals. She and branded packaging authority Ron Sasine (Hudson Windsor) briefed the Digital Packaging Summit on why digital output is crucial to small and emerging brands and how digital packaging printers can partner with this new breed of customer.
Working with co-manufacturers, Nom Noms World Foods combines a series of spice blends with protein, vegetables, and fruit to create complete meals that can be heated and served in two minutes. Sohanpal said that through these boxed and pouched repasts, which reflect the cuisines of India, Africa, Malaysia, and elsewhere, "we bring the world closer through our food and packaging."
AUDIO: Lisa Sohanpal on the importance of creating engaging retail packaging
The line currently consists of about 15 SKUs, and Sohanpal said that retailers including Walmart and Whole Foods are pressing the company to develop more varieties. This creates complexity by adding SKUs and shortening product development cycles – business realities that packaging suppliers aren't always responsive to.
An obstacle for brands such as hers, Sohanpal noted, can be hearing "the same story" from packaging suppliers about the economics of producing in the limited quantities she requires.
"The challenge is always the volume, and the cost implications," Sohanpal said. The packagers she prefers to work with are the ones "willing to explore the possibilities, and not say no."
Sasine, whose extensive résumé includes seven years as director of packaging for Walmart, said that digital packaging production removes "traditional bottlenecks" for brands like Nom Noms by eliminating physical prepress (plates and flexo sleeves) and automating workflows, thus compressing development cycles from months to weeks. A similar example, Sasine said, stems from the 2019 Paperboard Packaging Council's Carton Competition, in which the packaging for Kroger's Home Chef meal kits earned the distinction of Digital Application of the Year.
"The linchpin to the whole thing is digital output," he declared.
AUDIO: Ron Sasine on the advantages digital printing brings to food brands seeking increased product flexibility
Sohanpal agreed that with digital, it's now possible to translate graphics and artwork into packaging much more rapidly than before. She recounted meeting the deadline of producing 14 packaging SKUs within three weeks to avoid a launch delay that would have set the brand back by a year.
Packagers who regard tight turnarounds like this as a "brand problem" they don't have to solve are missing the point as well as an opportunity, Sohanpal contended. "Our success is your success, potentially. Say, 'yes, we will do this.'"
AUDIO: Lisa Sohanpal on why it's important for package printers to embrace new, creative packaging concepts
Digital packaging technologies are changing attitudes on the producer side, Sasine observed. In the beginning, he said, digital production "was all about making the life of the printer more convenient," he said. Now, however, printers are learning to turn their digital presses "outward, rather than inward" as they strive to become more effective partners for innovative brands.
Support like this, he said, is what enables "smaller, niche-y brands" to stand toe-to-toe with the biggest names in the consumer marketplace.
He told the audience that in order to prove to them what they can do for brands, "I need all of you to go shopping." Spending a month studying the creativity displayed on retail shelves will tell printers more about what innovative brand owners like Sohanpal are thinking "than a month in your offices, or on the road," Sasine said.
Sohanpal treated the conferees to a recorded demonstration of how Nom Noms has combined packaging with augmented reality (AR) to create in-store "retailtainment" experiences along the lines of the famous Pokemon Go phenomenon of a few years ago.
With Nom Noms packaging as the AR triggers, shoppers can step through portals into the Moroccan desert, the Taj Mahal, and other exotic locales, including encounters with virtual elephants. The experience also offers digital tokens that can be redeemed to help feed hungry children. (For every meal that Nom Noms sells, it donates one to a child who needs it.)
AUDIO: Lisa Sohanpal on the value augmented reality brings to Noms Noms' packaging
Sohanpal reiterated that she wants to work with printers willing to work with her. She urged providers to "make yourself known" to smaller brands that will repay the outreach with their loyalty.
When Nom Noms World Foods finds printers like that, she added, "we're not moving. We're not changing."