Packaging Trends in the UK

Recently, we took a trip to London to see up close what’s going on in the world of packaging in the UK. In recent years, hard discounters like Aldi and Lidl have been gaining immensely in popularity in the UK, causing them to grow at a rapid pace. This has had a direct impact on the ‘Big 4’: Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.

They’ve started to notice that they’re losing out on a lot of revenue in their price entry assortment. Being in London, the centre of it all, we noticed that there’s currently a lot of movement in packaging trends, as though retailers are starting to prepare for the bumpy road ahead - both due to the success of hard discounters and in preparation of Brexit. 

The two main trends we identified are: 

1)  A new pragmatism and plain and simple qualityin packaging

2)  More playfulness in the visual identity of large retail brands

Trend 1: a new pragmatism and austerity in packaging

The first trend we identified during our visit to the UK is a new pragmatism and austerity in packaging design. No more over the top, loud and lavish designs. The designs are still beautiful and well made, but it’s all about getting closer to people and connecting to their current mentality. Contemporary consumers in the UK are more worried about their spendings - this could very well be a result of Brexit. Around Christmas, for example, online retailers got into an enormous panic since people were buying far fewer Christmas presents online than before. Online retailers responded by putting their prices down, which meant regular retailers had to follow suit if they wanted to prevent a massive dip in revenue. So money worries are on everybody’s mind, and it’s important to respond to that in packaging design. What people today need is a clear identity and a safety net. This is reflected in the clean, clear and soberderpackaging designs that we saw in the UK. The private labels in particular are leading the way with this trend, showing what the brand stands for through pragmatism and austerity. 

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Trend 2: a more playful visual identity

The second trend we observed is that retail brands are really paying attention to new start-up brands and innovative companies and products. By working with private brands and in this sense going along with the times, large retail brands like Morrisons are allowing themselves a more playful visual identity. Around Christmas time, for example, Morrisons (which has a logo of a growing tree) turned that tree into a Christmas tree. 

Up until about 7 years ago, nobody was allowed to lay a finger on the visual corporate identity. Now, all that has changed. After all, visual images have a limited shelf-life. Since the advent of smartphones, people are being bombarded with visual images, videos and content all day long which means it’s hard to keep their attention - they simply get bored much faster. Brands have to adapt to people’s needs in order to stay interesting and relevant. And in order to do this, they have to allow themselves to play with the corporate identity. You can see how retail brands in the UK have been responding to the consumers’ use of smartphones and online shopping by changing their visual identity and rotate private label design. Retail brands have alternating seasonal images, different logos and other rotating visual expressions. There used to be a saying: “You have to create a buzz in your store.” This saying still holds true, except the buzz that used to last 3 months before having to change the visuals in the store now lasts just 3 weeks!      

When it comes to playing this game, private labels do a far better job than A-list brands. A-list brands are more stuck to their corporate brand and identity, whereas private labels enjoy a lot of flexibility allowing them to move forward with the customers and the market.

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Towards a new UK retail strategy - individuality and countless little brands

Back in the day, retail brands were more alike. Now, it’s all about individuality. Everyone is doing their own thing and has their own product-market combination. They’re occupied with venture-brands, clean-slate-brands, and exclusive-brands as a counterweight to the hard discount strategy that’s dominant everywhere. Look at Tesco’s new tertiary price-entry brands. Every product category now has its own brand with its own visual identity. In a sense, they’ve gone from being one big brand to dozens of little brands that can fulfil this need for diversity and experience that contemporary consumers have. The fight against hard discount giants Lidl and Aldi is dominated by being in tune with consumers’ needs and struggles, being more flexible and playful, and covering more ground by branching out into many different brands for each product category.