Creating Sustainable DTC Packaging

Direct to consumer marketing agency Bigeye discusses impactful DTC brand packaging with Brandon Frank, President of Pacific Packaging Components in Los Angeles.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: As millions of views of “unboxing” videos on social media demonstrate, packaging is an important part of the customer experience. Industry expert Brandon Frank explains how evolving consumer attitudes are leading brands to embrace sustainable packaging solutions. Brandon shares the inside story of innovative packaging his company, Pacific Packaging Components, developed for premium beauty brand Drunk Elephant, and his role as a member of Credo’s Clean Beauty Council.

In Clear Focus: Creating Sustainable DTC Packaging

In Clear Focus this week: As millions of views of “unboxing” videos on social media demonstrate, packaging is an important part of the customer experience. Industry expert Brandon Frank explains how evolving consumer attitudes are leading brands to embrace sustainable packaging solutions.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Consumers’ perceptions of products are affected by intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Intrinsic cues are a product’s specific attributes, such as their sensory properties: what a product looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds like. Extrinsic cues are purchase consideration factors, which in a retail setting, typically include point-of-sale displays, product placement, and the packaging that surrounds or contains the product. Of all the extrinsic cues, packaging is one of the most important since it’s often a brand’s first physical touchpoint with the consumer. Packaging needs to be impactful on store shelves, and, depending on the product, may also incorporate claims, descriptions, and ingredient lists. Designers also have to consider the weight of packaging, their physical dimensions, the visual form, opening and closing mechanisms, as well as color and texture. Packaging is then a really important consideration in the marketing mix. Being impactful on a store shelf while also looking good on a kitchen table or a bathroom vanity presents unique challenges and opportunities. Combining marketing elements into the design of a product’s packaging has been dubbed “packvertising.” For designers, this offers ways to bring a brand’s proposition to life on the shelf or online. And, as millions of views of “unboxing” videos on social media demonstrate, packaging can actually be an important part of the customer experience. To talk about how companies can use packaging to amplify a brand’s qualities, I’m joined today by a packaging industry expert. Based in Los Angeles, Brandon Frank is the President of Pacific Packaging Components, which this year celebrates 50 years in business. Brandon is also President of the Southern California chapter of the Institute of Packaging Professionals. Brandon, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Brandon Frank: Thank you very much.

Adrian Tennant: So, could you tell us about Pacific Packaging Components’ history and what the company offers today?

Brandon Frank: My grandfather and grandmother started the company, like you said, about 50 years ago and my parents joined the company about 40 years ago. And so I was basically raised in the world of packaging. I like to joke that I knew about net finishes before I knew my ABCs, but that’s not probably totally accurate. And it was set up as a packaging distribution company. And that’s what we still are today. And so for, the listeners that don’t know what that is, basically we represent the customer and we figure out what they need from a packaging perspective. And then we go to our preferred vendors around the world and find the perfect manufacturer for their specific situation. And then we broker the deal. We buy the packaging from the manufacturer and sell to the end customer and manage the entire supply chain.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of businesses do you serve? Is there a specific vertical that represents a significant portion of your business?

Brandon Frank: So I like to say that in 50 years, we’ve learned how to get in trouble in a lot of different ways. But we’re in three primary industries: beauty/personal care, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical and nutraceutical. I would say that our main specialty though is in primary rigid packaging. So think of like, glass bottles and jars, plastic containers, dispensers, closures, tubes, things like that.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned one vertical for your company is beauty and skincare. I understand that you advise several companies in this space, and that you’re a member of the Credo Clean Beauty Council. What does your role with Credo entail?

Brandon Frank: So, the title they gave me was Sustainable Packaging Expert and I’m always quick to qualify that there are brilliant people in the sustainable space, and I don’t consider myself at their level but I am certainly passionate about the topic. And so Credo is a really innovative retailer – they’re actually the largest clean beauty retailer in the United States. And their whole focus is to do things the right way. And so they started with ingredients, basically creating approved and unapproved ingredients for all their products. And so, if brands weren’t able to fulfill those obligations, they couldn’t sell their product through their channel. The next step was to create a sustainable packaging guideline that would inspire brands to choose more sustainable packaging. And that if they didn’t comply with the standards they were setting, then again, they wouldn’t sell those items through their platform. And so they brought me on to basically help craft and create those guidelines and then to serve as a resource to all of the brands currently in Credo and that are trying to get into Credo, to be able to help them make that transition to more sustainable packaging.

Adrian Tennant: Now Credo is an example of a retailer that’s really engaged in the “clean beauty” movement. How do you define “clean beauty?”

Brandon Frank: It’s a great question and I think there’s a lot of different ways to answer it, but generally I see clean beauty or even the topic of sustainability as looking at the entire value chain. And choosing ingredients or materials that are going to be more sustainable, more renewable, easier on the planet, far more natural or more organic sources. You know, there’s always going to be an impact to any type of consumer product, but I think it’s trying to minimize the impact as much as possible.

Adrian Tennant: There’s a lot of competing sources of information about what makes a beauty product clean. What are some of the things that consumers really need to watch out for?

Brandon Frank: I think that the actual ingredients in the product tend to be the primary focus. And so Credo, for example, has their quote-unquote “dirty” list. And that dirty list has a list of ingredients that are the really big no-nos  for their brand.

Adrian Tennant: Now Pacific Packaging Components developed custom packaging for the skincare line Drunk Elephant. How did that partnership originate? And what did the design process look like? 

Brandon Frank: Tiffany Masterson is the founder and owner of Drunk Elephant – and they actually recently sold to Shiseido – but when we started with that company, they were still relatively small and still getting started. Their story with Drunk Elephant is very consistent with a lot of our kind of interactions and processes that we have with a lot of our other brands to where it starts off with a vision from the founder or from the owners or from the people in charge of kind of developing the packaging. And we were right there to basically guide and support and to go bring those things to reality. The other part too, is that we knew that there was going to be scaling with Drunk Elephant. She had a great idea, a great concept. And so we were expecting really great things. And so we weren’t just trying to supply the first round of packaging, but we were looking down the supply chain as well, to be able to make sure that as the brand grew, that there weren’t going to be supply chain issues from a packaging standpoint. But the creative process is really different, you know, for everybody. Sometimes it’s really straightforward and it’s really easy to be able to deliver on what the vision is. Other times it’s a little bit more fluid and a little more dynamic. And I think our agility is a real benefit in that regard because if things start to pivot away from kind of the initial concept or we’re going in a different direction, we have no problem changing manufacturers and going to someone else that can accomplish what we need to in order to make the customer happy.

Adrian Tennant: A lot of direct-to-consumer brands engage with social media influencers to reach potential customers. At Pacific Packaging Components, you develop “influencer kits” for brands. Can you tell us more about those?

Brandon Frank: So influencer kits are basically a way a brand can create a special gift that features their brand,  that gives that kind of special feeling of opening something really unique and innovative. It’s kind of like their own brand, their own vision, their own products, all encapsulated within this box. And sometimes it has a really big focus on the story of the brand or what they’re trying to accomplish; other times it’s filled with lots of different products. And we can make some really creative ones. We’ve had some, with even little mini flat screen televisions that when it opens the video starts and it has an explanation of what’s in the pack. And then from there, the influencers are encouraged to be able to try the products, document what they think about things, review it online, and hopefully tell their followers to go and check it out.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the differences, if any, between packaging components used for beauty and skincare products versus food  packaging? Are there any regulations that you have to take into account when dealing with food or drink?

Brandon Frank: Yes, absolutely. Really any time, you know, it’s going to be a CPG product there are going to be regulations that are going to be relevant, but if it’s going to be food beverage, anything that’s going to be ingested, there are strict laws through the FDA and other governing bodies. With beauty and personal care, there’s kind of less barrier because most of the products obviously are not being ingested. They’re kind of more topicals. But it’s still a really good idea to be able to use products and develop products that can be certified to some degree.

Adrian Tennant: What tend to be the best materials to use for safe food packaging?

Brandon Frank: Boy, that’s a big question, ’cause you could approach it from a lot of different standpoints. So most of the time with food and beverage, the packaging has to be functional. And so it has to protect the product, it has to extend the shelf life or do other types of just really functional, practical things. Usually the cost of food and beverage packaging tends to be one of the most important drivers, because of the margins and the cost of those goods are usually relatively low. For beauty and personal care packaging, the cost of the packaging is significantly higher and usually the price points for those items are also higher. But beauty customers tend to want to feel the quality of the packaging. It’s kind of a representation of the product itself. For food and beverage, it’s a little bit less so, at least that’s been my experience.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Karen Hidalgo: I’m Karen Hidalgo, Associate Account Manager at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising account professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with your audience. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant:  Welcome back. As I mentioned in the introduction, brands that invest in packaging design do so to make them distinctive and instantly recognizable to potential customers. CPG giant Proctor and Gamble refers to this as the “First Moment of Truth” – that is when a consumer chooses to purchase one brand over competitors. Of course, during the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen more e-commerce activity and a greater focus on hygiene. In other words, consumers are discovering another moment of truth: after they’ve used the product, they must dispose of the packaging. International research from Ipsos undertook a study published on Earth Day this year, which found that globally, “dealing with the amount of waste we generate” is a top environmental concern for around one-third of people, just behind “global warming and climate change” and on a par with “air pollution.” Research from Ipsos also shows that “avoiding products that have a lot of packaging” is one of the key actions that a majority of consumers – 57 percent – say they’re likely to do to limit their own contribution to climate change. To quote from the Ipsos study, “if the finished packaging has a large number of components and materials, if it has a high use of plastic and, or is not obviously able to be recycled, this might well have an impact on whether that product will be purchased again.” To talk about this, let’s return to our guest this week, Brandon Frank, President of Pacific Packaging Components. Brandon, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Harrold of Mohawk Fine Papers in New York in an earlier episode of our current season. Chris told us about Mohawk’s Renewal line of papers that use non-traditional fibers, such as hemp, straw, and cotton scraps, which are a by-product of denim and t-shirt manufacturing. Chris explained that younger designers were really drawn to these papers for use in packaging projects, in part because they demonstrate respect for the environment and an embrace of sustainability principles. We know that the youngest consumers – Generation Z – are very concerned about environmental issues. How is Pacific Packaging Components approaching the use of sustainable and recyclable materials?

Brandon Frank: Sustainability is incredibly important to us. And it’s been something that has kind of been, I would say, a focal point of how we’re viewing our own company and then the kind of industry as a whole. Obviously, we have been producing millions and millions of units of plastic and glass and other types of packaging for the past 50 years. And, as a family company, I’m looking at the legacy – what are we going to be a part of for the next 50 years? And so we want to be a part of the solution, and we are, you know, actively trying to improve, not only the sustainability of packaging, but really looking at the entire value chain. You know, I think traditionally we’ve really approached packaging from two central points: is it going to be functional? And is it going to look great and is it going to be on budget? And what’s really required right now is we need to take our blinders off – consumers, brands, packaging companies, packaging manufacturers, everyone involved – and say, “What materials are the best to use right now, according to the capabilities of our recycling stream?” So it’s really looking at the end and saying, “Okay, how can we design and choose packaging right now that it is going to be recycled?” Because it’s not enough to make something that’s quote, unquote “recyclable” if it’s not going to be recycled. We see this a lot with tubes and monolayer tubes people call them recyclable all the time, but they’re never going to actually be recycled, especially here in the US. And so we’re taking a really active stand. We’re inspiring companies to be able to really consider and make sustainability a part of their brand and their ethos. You know, 81 percent of consumers in the US think that brands should be making decisions that are benefiting the environment rather than hurting. You know, we’ve seen the popularity of sustainability really come and go every decade for the last 50 years – It kind of comes, it’s really popular,and then it fades away. But something’s different this time. We feel like the levee’s kind of been broken on the topic of sustainability – whether it’s because of social media, or Netflix documentaries that have kind of shown the amount of plastic waste that’s in the ocean, but sustainability is going to be here to stay. And that’s why I think we’re seeing a lot of large multinational companies and brands like Credo that are making really big statements that 50 percent or one hundred percent of our packaging is going to come from recycled sources. Now, by 2025 is kind of a popular year right now. And we’re seeing massive investments on the recycling stream because there’s going to be this really big opportunity for all of these brands that are demanding post-consumer recycled residence – sorry, that’s what PCR stands for – basically, it’s ground-up plastic that turns back into resin that can be reused to be able to make more plastic items. And that’s going to be kind of the standard going forward is that if you’re going to be using plastic, then there needs to be a percentage of PCR in that plastic and the whole recycling stream is going to really improve to make sure that the plastics is able to be processed, cleaned, and turned into a really reusable plastic resin.

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you point out, sustainability comes in many guises.

Brandon Frank: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there’s some really practical parts about not reusing or touching lots of packaging, too. I think the days of going into a retail store  and touching a lotion pump that everyone else has touched and sampling things are going to be behind us. And there’s going to be a new normal going forward about those things. And there is an adverse relationship between those two, because really the most kind of sterile way to do it is to have a single use sachet that is opened, used, and then discarded. But even there, there’s going to be more opportunities for innovation. I’m seeing more compostable and biodegradable films, so if they do end up in the landfill that they’re breaking down a lot quicker.  You mentioned fiber-based earlier: I think fiber and different materials in fiber – so paper, hemp, mushrooms, sugar cane, corn stock, – I mean there’s going to be a lot of different, more renewable, natural sources that are going to be used to be able to make packaging that can be effective, that can be affordable, and it will hopefully look good too.

Adrian Tennant: How do you work with design agencies that want to build sustainability into their packaging designs?

Brandon Frank: So most design companies, I’ll be real honest, don’t have a lot of packaging manufacturing experience. It’s really rare to find a really good designer that knows kind of the manufacturing limitations when it comes to sustainable packaging. And so we’ve tried to work as closely as we can with those designers, whether they’re inside of the organization or they’re of a private firm, because really it’s a partnership – ‘cause the customer is going to end up telling the designer, “We want to do this.” And then they’re going to try to draw it up and create it. And before they go through all the trouble of creating this, they need to run it by us and say, “Hey, is this even possible?” You know, “Can we put this number of colors on a glass bottle?” Or, you know, “Can we really do a 360-degree artwork on this type of tube?” Or something like that. So, I’d say it’s a really great partnership and a lot of collaboration and communication.

Adrian Tennant: For designers that are new to packaging design, what are some best practices that you can share when it comes to packaging for say, beauty and skincare products?

Brandon Frank: When it comes to sustainability, one trend that we’re really seeing is don’t make things too complicated. Try to simplify the designs, simplify the amount of materials that are being used, if it can be eliminated or can be reduced, make those decisions. You know, hot stamping was a really popular way to kind of make your item pop. It’s like having a – basically like a metallic look or metallic decoration on the outside of a bottle. Well, for plastics or even glass, having metal on the outside of the packaging is not a great sustainable form of decorating. And so we’re seeing less and less hot stamping. Now people are saying, “You know what, let’s just stick to one pass. Let’s do you know, maybe just multiple colors. Let’s try to achieve that as close as we can with a silkscreen deco.” And so that’s kind of just one example. I think how sustainability is coming into the design process and designers are kind of modifying what they’re doing to kind of accommodate those goals.

Adrian Tennant: Now you mentioned that you foresee new consumer behaviors emerging from COVID-19. What are some of those behaviors that you’re most excited about for the future of packaging?

Brandon Frank: Well, I think, you know, I mean, certainly online shopping and e-commerce is only going to continue to grow. And so I think brands are going to continue to look at the packaging that’s being sent to the brand. I have three young kids and my wife ordered a brand, I think it’s called Hello Bello or something like that. But the box came and there were a bunch of diapers in it and lotions and, All sorts of different baby items, but the box on the outside could actually be converted into a Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin and the kids could interact with it by kind of punching out these different designs on all four sides of the box. And then it would all come together and it would be this really cool thing. It even had a handle on it. I think that the kids could put stuff in and the moms or dads could easily move it around the house. And so typically that box would just be a box. It would show up and it would be discarded. But now it’s coming into our home and we’re actually using it. And it’s having a second life as a toy before it’s being – hopefully – recycled. And so I think there’s going to be more opportunities for creativity in that regard. There’s some really popular blogs out there about how to convert plastic bottles that you’ve consumed into other really helpful household items or in your garden. How to reuse glass packaging by having refillable pouches sent to the house and then you refill this beautiful glass soap dispenser that has a really durable pump on it. So you’re not going out and consistently ordering or buying or having shipped, just more plastic bottles. And so  think that’s going to be one of the significant trends going forward is that there’s going to be a lot of innovation with refillables and reusable packaging, and then also creating fun and innovative packaging that maybe has a second life within the home before just thrown away.

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, it’s interesting, you’re the third generation of a family business. If you hadn’t been working in the family of business, what else might you have done?

Brandon Frank: So, my grandparents and my parents actually had a rule that before I could have a leadership role in this company, I had to go out and the way they said it was, I had to “go make mistakes on someone else’s dime.” And so I went to college and got my degree and right out of college, I pursued a career in real estate. It was a startup company. We did 1031 exchanges into tenant and common properties. And predominantly we’re doing online advertising to be able to find our customers. A fascinating startup experience. And then from there  – I’m a big soccer fan and really enjoyed playing and coaching. And so after I had this stint in startup, I kind of missed just coaching. And so then I went back and I became a soccer coach again, and started running a summer camp in Maine – an all-boys, residential summer camp. I did that for four years. During that time, it was a lot of leadership, a lot of on-the-job training in terms of bringing a group of people together, crafting a clear vision for us, and then making sure that I was taking care of everyone and making sure everyone was having a great summer. And then from there, I’ve always fallen in love with brick and mortar businesses. I don’t know if it’s just because I like going in the opposite direction of the direction society’s going in, but I kind of started from scratch and went to work for a friend that owned a bunch of retail stores across the country and learned the business from him, and then opened up my own store, that I built up for three years and then I sold it to also a good friend of mine. And it was at that time after all those experiences that I felt ready to be able to come back home and end up where I kind of knew I was going to end up anyways, back here at the family business.

Adrian Tennant: What are your daily sources of inspiration? Are you a reader? A podcast listener? Music listener? What’s your thing?

Brandon Frank: So being a kind of lifelong jock and athlete, my best meditation is my daily workouts. I turn 40 next year and I have this goal of doing an Ironman, which is a really long triathlon, and it hurts a lot to do it. But it’s kind of been this goal that I’ve wanted to do. So I try to wake up early every morning, four thirty, five o’clock, and go for a good long run, ride, or a swim. I also try to do as much as I can with my kids. And I’ve gotten them into bike riding at an early age, so when I’m running, they’re usually riding their bikes next to me. I try to make that time as special as I can. I do like to read, but I really like the convenience of audio, of podcast news and other sources. I don’t have as much time as I like, so I tend to just do 15, 20 minutes of three or four different news sources in the morning to just kind of get caught up on what’s happening. And then, I love books on tape as well. So usually when I’m riding a bike or I’m running and I’m listening to some sort of audible, book recording

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, if listeners want to learn more about Pacific Packaging Components, where can they find you?

Brandon Frank: Yeah, so I encourage you to go to our website, PPCPackaging.com and it’s really easy to connect with me on LinkedIn as well. You can search for just Brandon Frank. I’m pretty active there. Or you can shoot me an email at brandon@ppcpackaging.com.

Adrian Tennant: Brandon, thank you so much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Brandon Frank: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: According to data from McKinsey and Company, across 21 international markets they surveyed, an average of 29 percent of consumers said that compared to before the Coronavirus outbreak, they’re making more buying decisions based on healthy and hygienic packaging. And as we heard earlier, while consumers’ desire for sustainable packaging designs presents significant challenges for manufacturers and retailers, it also presents opportunities. Brands today have much greater permission, it seems, to more radically reinvent their packaging solutions potentially resulting in greater engagement with consumers. Thanks to my guest this week, Brandon Frank,  President of Pacific Packaging Components in Los Angeles. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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