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July 4th…Ice Cream…and Branded Packaging?

Ice Cream Packaging - eLynxx Solutions

I live and work in Pennsylvania. If you are familiar at all with the Keystone State you might know that several places in our fair commonwealth have had a little something to do with why we celebrate Independence Day. What you may not know is that our climate can go from arctic to sub-tropic within the span of a month; or, that we are pretty much the epicenter of the creation of foods, and habits of consuming them, that are known contributors to high mortality rates. These three facts come to a juncture in ice cream. Introduced to the masses in its modern form during the heat and humidity of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition celebrating 100 years of Independence Days, ice cream was introduced to me some 97 years later and has been a crucial part my not-so-healthy diet ever since.

This Independence Day is no exception. In fact, while perusing the several acres of frozen deliciousness for sale at the super market the other day I realized that ice cream is actually very indicative of the uniqueness of branded packaging. Ice cream packaging must contain a product that is neither a true solid nor a true liquid. It must hold up to transportation, provide some level of insulation and protection for the product and fit into a highly-specific merchandising environment. On top of all of this, ice cream packaging must also give the brand the ability to differentiate itself. It was then that I realized, besides the printed imagery on the containers, ice cream packaging is kind of conformist. Of course perhaps it has to be since it has such a uniquely specific task to perform.

Today’s ice cream packaging of choice seems to be the tub, with the sort of rounded rectangular shape being most prevalent. There was a time however when this mode of packaging did not exist. If you’ve been consuming frozen cream and sugar for more than a couple of decades you probably remember the square, flapped, wax-covered boxes ice cream used to come in. This packaging seemed to be the norm, at least in these parts, from a time long before my appearance on earth until sometime before the turn of the millennium. All of a sudden it seemed like most brands gave up the old-style packaging for the new. Maybe it was more cost effective, did its job better or simply was what the ice cream manufacturers were able to get from the packaging vendors in their marketing supply chains?

It was around this time that I happened to be in the shop of a fairly small local printer and I noticed that they had the old-style, square flapped ice cream boxes of a decent-sized regional brand on a press, and a rather ancient press at that. At the time, this brand was a hold-out against the trend of tub-style packaging. Their packaging, and the artwork on it, was iconic. I commented to the manager that it must have been a good account for them to have. He said it was, and that they kind of saved the day because the brand was forced to find a supplier that was capable and willing to produce the older-style packaging.

A decade before, the ice cream brand likely had a number of vendors they could source that style package from. As it fell out of favor, their choices became limited and they had to make adjustments in their marketing supply chain to be able to retain the preferred style of packaging that their customers recognized. The brand definitely stood out in the grocer’s freezer case. But the differentiation didn’t last long. A few years back that very brand finally made the change to the now common tub packaging. It was truly the end of an era. At the same time it is also a good example of the thought, planning, creativity and efforts that go into managing the creation, sourcing and production of marketing materials like packaging. Whether a brand’s choice is to always jump on the latest and greatest trend right away, be a stalwart for keeping the old ways going as long as possible, or somewhere in between, a strong, well managed and organized marketing supply chain is helpful for getting the job done.

Regardless of whether you think about the packaging it comes in or not, treat yourself to a bowl of delicious all-American innovation and have a wonderful Independence Day!