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The usability of small- and micro-portion packages

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Microportion

As the upward trend of consumers’ personal weight in developed countries steadily increases, consumers are getting progressively more concerned about high-calorie, high-portion size drinks. They are also concerned about their general health, creating an interest for wholesome foods from far-away and ethnic places. These two trends have caused interesting responses from food conglomerates and soft drink manufacturers.

Smaller Portions

This is one of the underlying trends for manufacturers to move towards smaller packages while luring consumers with highly attractive packages like aluminum bottles. Obviously, package attractiveness is a major factor especially in soft drinks as it drives sales at POP. As Coke painfully found out in the mid-80’s with its disastrous introduction of the New Coke, soft drink purchases are not necessarily driven by taste, but by strong branding. More expensive package formats, like aluminum bottles are especially advantageous for brands that are package design focused. Of course, Coke is the leading example of that.

Pepsi led the transition to PET bottles in the ’80’s, by pushing larger formats like 2 liter PET bottles, to strip Coke of its iconic bottle design. The iconic bottle was an advantage that Pepsi tried to imitate for many decades unsuccessfully, until they figured out a game-change tactic was the better approach. Coke’s iconic bottle design could not be effectively implemented in PET. As a result, in the transition to PET bottles, Coke was effectively stripped of its iconic bottle design. And that was exactly what Pepsi wanted. Fast forward to 2010, it is not too difficult to see who is leading in the aluminum bottle format. Not surprisingly, it is Coke, because it naturally gives Coke an opportunity to bring back the iconic design.

While all of that is great for Coke, what does it mean for consumers? Well, unfortunately, consumers are giving up the additional portion, only to pay for the more expensive package, which arguably has no value for them other than coolness.

High-value added foods and beverages

In the last decade, an increasing number of products have appeared in the marketplace driven by consumers’ desire to try wholesome products from around the world. New products ranging from Activia packed in 4.4 oz packages, to truly ethnic products like kefir, showing up pretty much everywhere, complete with superior health claims and small, if not tiny packages. Since most of these products are priced at a premium, the portion sizes are driven down to bring the per unit price lower, while increasing the perceived value of the product.

While all of these trends have a significant impact on consumers, especially from a product availability and pricing point of view, one of the less discernible impacts is the one on product usability. Products like the 250 ml aluminum bottle, from a portion point of view, is squarely in child portion size category, previously belonging to carton package products packing products like Hi-C. In contrast, the newer package formats are mainly targeting adolescents and adults.

We find these products too small to handle for adults, with a smaller (than normal) opening that is too small for adults for drink-from usage. Openability also suffers when the cap is smaller than 20 mms. The ratings for package usability for a Coke aluminum bottle are as follows:

Details:

  • Size: 250 ml
  • Opening: twist-off cap

Pros:

  • Attractiveness: high
  • Closing: recloseable, unlike a can
  • Structure: solid

Cons:

  • Opening: small cap for adult hands
  • Handling: too small for adult hands
  • Closing: recloseable (but the portion is too small to be consumed in more than one occasion)
  • Drinking: too small an opening for an adult
  • Lip contact: aluminum is not the best contact surface for lips.

Conclusion and Scores

This package provides innovation only from a branding and attractiveness perspective, but not for other dimensions. It is good for Coke, as the package would stand out in a POP environment driving sales. From a consumers’ perspective, the usability scores of our heuristic assessment are as follows:

Opening Star
Drinking Star
Closing Star
Handling Star
Overall Star

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The usability of small- and micro-portion packages, 3.3 out of 5 based on 3 ratings