Demographic Segmentation Becomes Common Packaging Strategy

Sept. 12, 2006
Demographic segmentation, the time-tested tool of mass media advertisers, is becoming a more common packaging strategy as food companies develop line extensions to appeal to every conceivable sliver of the population.

Marketers are creating products for segments based on ethnicity, gender, age and household size — and creating packaging to appeal to individuals within those demographic categories.

One of the most attractive segments, based on purchasing power alone, is the U.S. Hispanic population. Research from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia (, Athens, Ga., indicates Hispanic consumers will control $1 trillion in spending power in 2008, up from $653 billion in 2003.

“Marketers are seeing the numbers. Hispanic-Americans are spending money on their brands, so marketers are spending money to reach them,” says Nancy Brown, managing partner with strategic branding firm Colemanbrandworx ( and head of CBX’s Minneapolis office. “More and more companies are getting off the fence and saying, ‘We want these consumers. What’s a motivating way to get them?’”

Pillsbury Polvorones are colorful shortbread cookies that are a holiday treat in the Latino community.

As an example, General Mills Inc. (, Minneapolis, reportedly spent $10.2 million on Spanish-language media in 2005, and just last month launched a three-times-a-year magazine, “Que Rica Vida” (“What a rich life”). Cocina Betty (Betty’s Kitchen), which opened last year as a separate section of product development center Betty Crocker Kitchens, launched a churro-flavored version of its Bugles corn snacks, and developed an entirely new product for the Hispanic segment: Pillsbury Polvorones.

Polvorones are a colorful Spanish shortbread cookie, a holiday treat in the Latino community. The paperboard packaging is “very colorful and celebratory,” says Brown, whose firm designed the package. Much of the copy on the package is in Spanish.

Brown adds that the package graphics “leverage the Dough Boy, which is a big equity for Pillsbury. The company used the back of the package for serving tips and to leverage the Pillsbury-in-Spanish website, which brings these consumers into the broader franchise.”

Recognizing the strong brand loyalty of Hispanic consumers and the segment’s above-average affinity for Bisquick, brand owner General Mills also has begun to put Hispanic-inspired recipes on the back of Bisquick packaging.

What women want

Gender-based segmentation is another increasingly popular strategy for product and package development.

“There does seem to be an increase in the number of food and beverage products in the USA that bear a gender-specific positioning,” says Tom Vierhile, director of Productscan Online at Datamonitor Naples (, Naples, N.Y. “For women, we tracked 240 new product stock keeping units that launched in 2005 vs. 71 in 2004, 93 in 2003, and 174 in 2002,” he adds. “For men, the number was 127 SKUs for 2005 vs. 35 for 2004, 36 in 2003, and 39 in 2002.”

The growth in food products for women is occurring in categories ranging from nutrition bars to wine. Clif Bar & Co. (, Berkeley, Calif., recently launched the Luna Sunrise bar, a morning nutrition bar created specifically for on-the-go women.

Clif Bar conducted product concept testing to determine what ingredients in the Luna Sunrise bar resonated most with women.

The Luna Sunrise bar packaging, a flexible pouch, uses the brand’s signature blue and yellow palette but reconfigures the colors to make yellow dominant. Clif also varied the graphics on the packaging to connote morning, replacing the moon image with a sun image. In addition, the icon of a solitary dancer appears on the Luna Sunrise pouch instead of three dancers.

The company conducted product concept testing to determine what ingredients in the Luna Sunrise bar resonated most with consumers. “One of the things we learned is that we had packed this product with so many different nutrients that we had to do a good job of communicating what it all was,” says Kristel Cerna, Luna Bar brand director at Clif Bar.

To do that, the company created an easy-to-read nutrition chart for the package’s back panel that breaks out the ingredients into three categories:

  • “Start Your Day,” which includes the organic ingredients, heritage whole grains, fiber and soy protein.
  • “Nourish Your Body,” which lists vitamins and minerals.
  • “Sustain Your Life,” which provides the antioxidants.

“We’ve found a lot of people have heard the nutrition buzzwords through the media, but they don’t always know what the nutrients are doing for them,” Cerna says. “We’re trying to help educate them.”

At the opposite end of the consumables spectrum, O’Brien Family Vineyard (, Napa, Calif., uses packaging to help position Seduction, a Bordeaux blend, as a red wine for women.

The Seduction bottle is merchandised in a sheer red gift bag, and an “O” printed in metallic gold on the front label shines through the fabric bag. The sensuous brand story carries over to the back label, where copy describes Seduction as “a voluptuous wine with sensual flavors and a velvet kiss.”

Other vintners also are climbing on the wine-for-women platform with labels like “White Lie” and “The Mad Housewife” — and with good reason. According to wine industry reports, women drink 60 percent and buy 77 percent of all wine consumed in the U.S. In fact, “Women control about 80 percent of all consumer purchase decisions. Despite the rise in equality, women are still doing the majority of shopping,” says Matthew Adams, a consumer analyst at Datamonitor.

Think small


With the growing concern about childhood obesity and marketing’s role in propagating it, licensed kiddie characters are no longer just for junk food and soda.

Kids Only Bottled Water sports labels featuring Scooby-Doo, Bratz, Superman, Spiderman and others. And San Francisco-based Del Monte Foods ( is rolling out canned vegetables with labels featuring Sesame Street characters. The products — green beans, peas and corn — are sold in multipacks. The labels and multipack carriers include games and activities as well as images of Elmo, Grover and Cookie Monster. Del Monte licensed the characters from Sesame Workshop and is partnering with the nonprofit in its Healthy Habits for Life initiative.

“Kids like to play with food and with packaging, and our goal was to make our packaging interactive so kids have the opportunity not only to interact with the green beans but also with the package,” says Tim Snyder, marketing director for Del Monte Vegetables. “Fewer than 15 percent of elementary-age kids eat the right amount of fruits and vegetables. This is our way of encouraging healthy habits.”

Elmo, Grover and Cookie Monster should be healthy for Del Monte’s bottom line, as well. A Sesame Workshop study showed preschoolers’ intake of broccoli increased 28 percent when the product was branded with a Sesame Street character.

Changes in household size are reshaping packaging, as well. The growing populations of singles and empty nesters are driving down household size and driving up demand for products that meet the needs of the small household. In particular, small households typically consume food more slowly than larger ones.

Processors are helping small households minimize food waste by developing more protective packaging and smaller package sizes, including single servings or downsized multipacks.
When Bimbo Bakeries USA (, Fort Worth, Texas, introduced its Oroweat Premium Buns this summer, it included a four-count package in the line-up. The four-count pack came in response to smaller households’ requests for an alternative to the conventional eight-count size.

St. Paul, Minn.-based Land O’Lakes Inc. ( targets smaller households with Land O’Lakes Butter in Half Sticks, which comes in a half-pound rather than a one-pound package. To ensure product freshness during the period it takes a small household to eat a half-pound of butter, Land O’Lakes wraps the half sticks in its proprietary FlavorProtect Wrapper. According to the company, the wrapper safeguards the butter’s flavor better than a conventional wrapper and keeps odors out.

In a small household, keeping meat and poultry fresh — or at least free from freezer burn — can be a problem. Sealed Air Corp.’s Cryovac Food Packaging Div. (, Duncan, S.C., meets this need with its Cryovac saddle pack-style package.

Designed as a multi-unit vacuum package for fresh chicken, the flexible package has six perforated pockets. Each pocket holds two pieces of chicken. Consumers simply tear off the amount they want to prepare and refrigerate or freeze the rest. The package is leak-proof, and vacuum packaging protects the product from freezer burn.

The age factor

Finally, the consumer’s age offers an opportunity for demographic segmentation. Children, teenagers/young adults and seniors are the key audiences for targeted packaging.

Food and beverage products developed for children typically include graphics that appeal to kids, but the package structure also can play a role in meeting this age group’s needs. Beverage bottles with a small “waistline” make it easy for kids to grip the container, for example.

Squeezable packaging appeals to children, especially if they can eat directly from the pack — think Yoplait Go-Gurt tube. J&J Snack Foods Corp. (, Pennsauken, N.J., this season launched retail multipacks of Minute Maid soft frozen novelties in squeeze tubes.

For another important distribution channel — schools — J&J packages Minute Maid Juice Bars in a triangular, easy-open, form-fill-seal pouch. The company chose the same pouch, the MPak from Milliken Chemical (, Spartanburg, S.C., to package its Icee Freeze novelties for retail sale.

Both the graphics and the overall style of Icee’s pouches and cartons, featuring the Icee Bear character, were designed to appeal to the kids demographic.

The Icee pouches and cartons feature fun, colorful graphics, with the Icee Bear character prominent on the carton. The products and the packaging structure and graphics were all designed “to appeal to the kids demographic,” says Alissa Purcell, senior marketing specialist-retail at J&J.

For kids’ beverages, Tetra Pak (, Vernon Hills, Ill., has developed the Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear package, an aseptic stand-up pouch. The transparent, squeezable package launched initially last May in Mexico with a children’s juice product. The pouch has smooth sides and no sharp edges, and its slim 6.75-ounce design makes it easy for kids to handle.

When children grow into teens and young adults, the packaging strategy must change to suit their developmental stage. Jones Soda Co. (, Seattle, has done a masterful job of using packaging and other marketing tools to attract 12- to 24-year-olds.

Recognizing the importance of interactivity in marketing to this demographic, the company offers a veritable interactive playground for young people at its website. Among other things, visitors can submit their favorite photos for use on Jones Soda labels. New images are rotated in frequently.

Jones Soda CEO Peter van Stolk says there are three keys to appealing to the 12- to 24-year-old demographic: “Stay relevant, be fun and be interactive. Make sure the packaging is fun and exciting — that it captures their attention as well as conveying the brand message.”

To appeal to the 12- to 24-year-old demographic, “The three basic foundations are: Stay relevant, be fun and be interactive. Make sure the packaging is fun and exciting—that it captures their attention as well as conveying the brand message,” advises Jones Soda’s CEO Peter van Stolk.

At the other end of the age continuum, elderly consumers represent an important demographic. To create packaging that attracts these consumers, functional features such as ease of opening are more important than package graphics.

“The Nestlé Country Creamery product was actually designed with older consumers in mind. Since it is easier to open than paperboard cartons, and since it is resealable, it keeps the ice cream fresher longer,” says Datamonitor Naples’ Vierhile.

The Nestlé package, a 1.75-quart, oval plastic tub with an easy-open lid, has molded ribs for ease of gripping. However, the package includes no overt appeal to older consumers.

Another product covertly targeted to older consumers is Hellmann’s Easy Out! Mayonnaise from Unilever (, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. The Easy Out! Package is a 24-oz. plastic squeeze bottle with rounded shoulders.

“This seems to be designed with arthritis sufferers in mind, since it doesn’t require scraping, digging or shaking to get the last of the contents out of the bottle — difficult acts if you are older and suffer from arthritis,” Vierhile says. The reason for downplaying these packages’ senior-friendly features may not be intuitively obvious, but it does demonstrate the brand owners’ savvy about the senior segment.

When designing packaging to meet the needs of seniors, a population where hand strength, flexibility and other physical debilitation is not uncommon, “You have to make sure you don’t pander to them with design cues that say, ‘This is for people who are debilitated,’” says Ken Miller, managing director at industrial-design firm laga | One80 Design (, New York. “When you do that, not only do you alienate your target, but you alienate everybody else who thinks it’s for elderly people. It’s a double whammy.”