Looks matter

There is a need to improve packaging of Omani products for them to compete successfully in the marketplace

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Packaging can make or break a product.

No matter how good a product, it can be crushed if wrapped in ugly packaging that fails to catch the passing customer's eye. Research suggests that on a supermarket shelf, a product has less than ten seconds to make an impact on a shopper before he makes up his mind.

Omani products have to stand out on the shelves if they are to compete with well-established international rivals. At Origin Oman's recent 'Product Design and Packaging Workshop' held at the Grand Hyatt, four trends were identified for Omani companies to look out for in 2009: trust in uncertain times, sustainability, convenience and personalisation.

Rawan Darwish of global design consultancy Landor Associates believes increased environmental awareness has shaped how successful brands package their products.

There is also an increased stress on giving a more traditional look to packaging. Says Darwish, People want to go back to basics and be more natural. Now most brands are looking at using recyclable and biodegradable materials because of concerns about environment and how we can do our bit to reduce damage to the environment."

She adds that functional packaging that fits in well with people's hectic lifestyle is also an important selling point in today's marketplace. Branding and designing products that cater specifically to occasions such as birthdays and weddings is another way to bring in more revenue.

A successful product packaging, according to packaging specialist Dr Peter Ford of De Montfort University in the UK, is approached in the same way a good author would tackle writing a novel. The design team must have a clear idea as to how the finished product will look like even before they begin.

Says Ford, "A good author is likely to have a start, middle and end in mind before he begins. The plot and characters may deviate slightly, but generally speaking if you are going to a write a book effectively you have to put down a plan. It's not just about being disciplined, it's about having a picture of the end in your head."

Origin Oman's David Pender, who helped organise the workshop, believes such seminars are essential for local companies to compete with established brands with bigger design budgets.

Landor Associates' Shaun Loftman agrees. He says having a single clear message for a brand is of paramount importance. "One clear message communicated well is far stronger than about 20 half-hearted ideas. Customers will identify with it more than with a wishy-washy product."

Says Pender, "Everybody living and working in Oman benefits when the country does well. This makes simple economic sense. We have already managed to get across the message to people to look for local produce." Which brings Origin Oman on to the issue of packaging products. The workshop aimed to maximise the local producers' chances of making the sale in that ten seconds before a shopper makes up his mind.

"People go into a supermarket, and if the products do not meet a certain aesthetic criteria they are not bought. Consumers are getting ever more sophisticated and demanding. The workshop is tackling the issue of packaging design, which is yet to be done in Oman."

Ford, a reader in design innovation at De Montfort University, who has honed his skills working for the likes of Adidas and British Nuclear Fuels, decided to bring the ideas raised in the workshop out of the classroom to a practical level. He worked with two very different companies - a luxury candle and soap manufacturer, The Nejd and confectionery producers, Sweets of Oman - offering solutions to specific issues.

Case study 1: The Nejd

Started three years ago by American couple Adam and Stephanie Dorr, the business is now being run by Shatha Abbas and Eman al Wahabi from a small unit sandwiched between the garages and workshops of Wadi Kabir. Using frankincense bought directly from the artisans of Salalah, the company creates luxury candles and soaps, which are selling very well in museums across Muscat and also at the airport's Duty Free Shop. Shatha and Eman now want to turn their business into an international enterprise and they believe the transformation must begin with the packaging. Says Shatha, "Our products combine the two things Oman is famous for - pottery and frankincense. If we are going to go into an international market, we want to portray Oman in a good way. We know the quality of the product is of a high standard, but we feel the packaging is not up to the mark." Shatha is keen to highlight the local aspect of her business and how it directly benefits the farmers who harvest the frankincense. "We would like to become as Omani as we can - a 100 per cent Omani company. It benefits the local people and that is a big thing for us. There are no middlemen, we go to their villages, so we know they are benefiting."

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Ford suggests: Following a one-to-one session with Ford, Shatha and Eman were told they could play up the luxury aspect of their brand by luring customers in with a brief description of The Nejd itself and its World Heritage status, as well as about the locally sourced frankincense they use.

They were also urged not to rush into the international market, especially because of the low values of the pound sterling and euro.

Ford also suggested that Shatha and Eman could educate the salespeople in the shops where their products are sold, so that they could sell the brand - and what makes it unique - as a story to the customer.

They were also told the product would appeal to aspirational consumers in the UK and there is a large market for their products in the top-end garden centres around the country.

Case study 2:
Sweets of Oman
Set up in 1991 and based in the Rusayl Industrial Estate, the company has recently enjoyed some of its most profitable years and plans to build on this success.
Packaging is one of the areas general manager Balakrishna Sukumar wants to concentrate on and improve, as he knows that the look of the company's chocolate bars and sweets is the key to whether they are picked off the shelves.
He believes the look of their products is important for them to stay ahead of their highly competitive rivals from Turkey, Yemen, Kuwait and the UAE.
Says Sukumar, "Chocolates and sugar candy are impulse purchase items, and packaging plays an important role. We have improved our packaging over the years and it has translated into increased sales." But he believes trying out new styles of packaging could help them grab a bigger share of the global market and also help increase revenues from the local market. "Today you have packaging that is lending itself to self-consumption, sharing and gifting. Clearly there are areas we could look at, not only in terms of improved graphics but also to identify different ways of
offering the product."

Ford suggests:
Ford suggested smaller packaging and selling into businesses like cinemas and coffee shops - as well as targeting children's pocket money - could ensure a larger turnover.
Following their one-to-one session with Ford, Sweets of Oman officials were told that they could target the children's market more effectively if they made the packaging more playful instead of just putting the sweets in a normal bag.
Says Sukumar, "We can think out of the bag and can have the same product presented in a different way for children. All this will matter when it comes to whether they pick up your product or not."
Ford feels the Omani heritage of Sweets of Oman can be highlighted for the export market, projecting an exotic image for the customers there.

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Looks matter
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