Cereal Packaging Design: How to Make Your Product Stand Out
The past several years have revolutionized the packaging industry, giving rise to a surge in e-commerce, shifting consumer priorities, and a push for sustainability. As a result, brands are racing to create fresh, positive experiences for their consumers, especially with packaging. Whether those experiences include features like recyclability, eye-catching graphics, or even augmented reality, we've seen innovations from manufacturers in health products, pet food, and more. Regardless of the industry, it's clear that the consumer experience now extends beyond the product.
While some cereal and granola brands have adopted new packaging designs, improved functionality, and even fully recyclable packages, cereal packaging has remained largely unchanged from its bag-in-a-box format since 1924. That's because until recently, it worked for consumers—it's functional, affordable, and offers plenty of real estate for advertising.
While there may be immediate cost benefits to keeping the same packaging equipment and processes, now is the time to improve the consumer experience and get ahead of other brands.
Below are the top three here-to-stay expectations consumers have for cereal products.
1. Reclosable packaging for their favorite cereals
Consumers have advocated for reclosable cereal bags for years now. It's been the subject of Pinterest pins, Twitter battles, and even customer feedback sections on leading cereal brands' websites. On these platforms, consumers cite freshness, shelf stability, product protection, and pantry space as reasons they want brands to switch to options like reclosable flexible packaging.
These consumers also want convenience: a mom in a hurry, for example, doesn't have time to search for a chip clip in a drawer or transfer a bag of newly opened cereal into a separate container. A millennial enjoying their favorite childhood breakfast doesn't want it to spill back into the box (and later onto the counter) when they put it away. A college student wants an easy time accessing a snack straight out of the box.
Social media comments show that consumers not only want the feature—they have a bone to pick with brands who haven't added it by now. With products such as granola, candy, nuts, and off-brand cereals featuring press-to-close zippers or sliders, consumers want brands to add the same convenience to their cereals. As most consumers aren't aware of packaging design complexities, a brand's inaction only leads to more frustration and confusion.
Eventually, cereal brands will have to use reclosable features to meet consumer expectations. We know some of the challenges cereal manufacturers encountered in the past: particles getting caught in the closure, printing difficulties on films, and concern about the billboarding effect.
Resealable Packaging Options for Cereal Brands
Fortunately, the packaging industry has made strides in all of these areas. Films are more compatible and capable than ever. Today's digital printing capabilities allow brands to create visual designs on flexible packages. And, manufacturers have higher-quality closures to choose from, including particle-resistant closures, double-lock zippers, and recycle-ready zippers for cereal pouches.
Bear Naked® Granola features a fully recyclable flexible pouch with reclosable features. Photo credit: FPA Magazine
2. Fully recyclable or compostable cereal packaging
For brands in every industry, sustainability is no longer an ideal—it's a must-have. Mostly Millennials and Gen Z have driven the push for sustainability. However, with increased concerns about climate change and single-use plastics polluting the environment, we can expect an even higher demand for recyclable, compostable, and carbon-neutral packages and products.
Most cereal manufacturers use two packages to preserve product integrity and freshness—the inner plastic packaging and the outer cardboard packaging. This dual packaging is unsustainable for several reasons. It takes more energy to transport; it creates more waste from the start; and, even if the cardboard box gets recycled, it still might end up in a landfill.
Even the bag-in-box option without the overbox results in +290% more GHG [(greenhouse gas emissions) than the flexible pouch], which is driven largely by the amount of packaging. The nesting of the pouches within the case ensures a very tight pack, with minimal amount of corrugated material needed for the shipping case. - Flexible Packaging Association (FPA)
The Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) conducted a study comparing life cycle scenarios between three cereal packages:
- Stand-up pouch
- Bag-in-a-box with an overbox (for e-commerce)
The FPA found substantial sustainability advantages in the flexible pouch over all other formats, particularly in water consumption and waste reduction. According to the FPA, "the bag-in-box option shipped with the overbox uses +708% more water compared to the stand-up pouch scenario. And even without the overbox, overall water impact remains higher (+421%)."
Photo credit: Flexible Packaging Association (FPA)
If we consider the entire lifecycle of a package, flexible packaging has long been the more sustainable option over legacy formats. Until recently, however, there have been barriers to fully recyclable, flexible (and reclosable) pouches.
Achieving Sustainable Cereal Packaging Success
Thanks to innovations in packaging film, closures, and printing, we can now produce flexible, reclosable pouches that are completely recyclable. Bear Naked® granola has already moved to a sustainable pouch in partnership with several packaging suppliers. Learn what makes this pouch sustainable from start to finish.
Post Consumer Brands is also experimenting with new packaging design, focusing on packaging reduction and aiming for 100% recyclable cereal packaging by 2025. Post’s most recent innovation is an on-the-go reclosable packaging format for its PEBBLES™ cereal crisps, reaching consumers who enjoy cereal as a snack.
Cereal brands who implement both sustainable and consumer-friendly packaging position themselves to reach more consumers. Pictured here: Post’s new packaging for PEBBLE™ crisps.
Whether you define sustainability as waste reduction, recyclability, or something else, you can take advantage of new recyclable and compostable closures to improve both the sustainability and consumer experience of your product. Talk to us to learn more about sustainable packaging for your brand.
3. Cereals (and packaging) geared toward adults
Both of the previous trends (consumer experiences and sustainability) point to another emerging one: adult cereals. The COVID-19 pandemic, TikTok, nostalgia, and the ever-growing supply of plant-based milk varieties are all driving adults back to their favorite childhood breakfast, according to Thrillist.
However, these now-adult consumers don't just crave the cereals of their youth. They also want new options, new mascots, and even "statement pieces" in their pantries.
"As an adult who still consumes cereal and enjoys it with friends, I don't want to be spoken down to," shares Theo Martins, Cereal & Such founder. "[It's] just very obvious that most [cereal] boxes are marketed to children” (quoted in Thrillist).
Magic Spoon® cereal uses bold colors, modern designs, and prominent nutritional benefits to market to adults. Photo credit: Magic Spoon
These expectations have led to more "grown-up" visual design, sustainable packaging, and in some cases, new products entirely, also according to Thrillist. "Cereal-for-adults" brands prioritize both ingredients—high-protein, low-sugar options—and the consumers' values and emotions. Some brands are using cereal packaging to communicate their stance on social justice or to include characters with a wide range of emotional experiences.
If you're looking to tap into cereal-for-adult consumers, you don't have to invent a new product or brand. Packaging is the perfect place to begin—whether you want to design a compelling, modern graphic or instill a sense of nostalgia, start with your product's traveling billboard.
Lead the Way in Transforming Cereal Packaging
As consumers continue to call for convenience, premium experiences, and sustainability, companies that leave behind legacy packaging formats will help set themselves apart as brands revolutionize the industry. Talk to the Fresh-Lock team today about how you can be part of driving that change.