• 26th October 2016

Profusion of Grandeur

For years luxury packaging designers were the envy of the rest of the industry. More often than not they were given blue sky creative briefs with bottomless budgets that they could deploy to creative all manner of fanciful packs using substrates, structures and embellishments beyond the reach of designers of bog standard packs.

However, the situation is starting to change. The pressure to innovate has never been greater meaning the rate of knots of which change occurs has increased significantly. Whereas the typical cycle might have been x, now its y.

So what’s been driving this change, what trends are emerging and what does the future for luxury packs look like?

Ostensibly there are four main luxury packaging categories; premium, super-premium, luxury and then super luxury. The categories differ significantly although there is some overlap between super premium and luxury. “Premium and super premium and reassurance and value” explains Toby Wilson, chief operations officer, MW Luxury Packaging. “This tends to be very common claim in FMCG. Luxury tends to sit in services as well as products. However, luxury is not just a category, but also a state of mind, an approach and a core intention at the core of the product service. This is why you cannot just make this claim without any substance. Super luxury supersedes affordability. This category is diverse and crosses over many products, services and goods. In Some cases, no expense is spared. Super luxury can go from the sublime to the ridiculous.
While these definitions and category boundaries are things that different packaging industry members might debate. Elliot Wilson, Strategy director, The Cabinet, says true purveyors of luxury would “not be caught dead” discussing the level of luxury that they sold. “Luxury is luxury,” says Wilson. “However, due to many years of premium creep – made possible post the launch and success of Tesco’s finest – the whole category has become hugely difficult to navigate. One man’s luxury is another man’s every day. The terminology has become so confusing and unclear that people have started to create their own terminology to describe where they sit in the market, high end, luxury, premium, bespoke , couture – the list goes on.
Due to overuse, the term luxury is in danger of reaching saturation point, believes Emma Stapleton, group marketing and business development director, Elmwood.
 Every one-bedroom apartment development boats ‘luxury living’ while everyday generic brand in the supermarket is putting a slightly altered version of their product in black packaging and highlighting ‘luxury ingredients’,” says Stapleton.
It’s partly due to this ubiquity of ‘luxury’, diluting the meaning of the word, that major changes in the level of innovation required in the category are being fuelled – particularly at the very top end. David Peters, creative development manager, API, says that innovation presentations to clients used to be made once a year, but now it’s around three times a year .”Super luxury brands want to be in different pockets throughout the year now so we need to be constantly feeding them newness.” Explains Peters.


These trends are taking on a number of different forms. One of the fastest growing on the luxury packaging category is brands telling the story of their history and provenance and reflecting this through packs that boast real craftsmanship. This approach is particularly a hit with millennials, according to Kim Van Elkam, managing director at Hornall Anderson.
The cult of craft is influencing almost every sector and in many ways, craft is influencing almost every sector and in many ways, craft is the new luxury,” says Van Elkam. “Brands are looking at provenance, their story, the ‘craft’ behind the products, to help present the reason why consumers should part with their hard earned money is a big drive at the moment. Of course design has a huge role in helping present that in a highly desirable way to the consumer – whether that be offering a premium edition of a product (getting the consumer to trade up) or simply offering the luxury item as the most desirable choice.
It’s a trend that’s also been detected by Mark Cullen, planner at Good. “It can be confusing to tell the difference between super-premium and luxury brands – its very subjective, depending on your sector and which markets you’re operating in,” says Cullen. “But increasingly brands are winning to dial up their heritage and provenance. They’re pushing craft buttons more than luxury ones, which can be done in a very premium and sophisticated way and can get you better traction in more advanced western markets.
This craft effect can be achieved in a number of different ways. Choice of material is one obvious approach. Simon Dix, sales director, Vetroplas Packaging, says the company’s range of wooden caps and lids have generated a lot of interest recently. “They offer another way of creating a point of difference with the product still keeping a luxury feel, but with a slightly more natural message.
The growing use of wood has coincided with a major surge upmarket over the last few years by brands. ”Most people want more and more decoration for their products to stand out so we’re getting a lot of requests for coloured glass whereas about 10 years ago we were hardly getting any requests” says Dix.
He adds that even finishes that are more expensive such as acid etched frosted glass opposed to standard clear glass are in high demand at the moment. That’s because brands are increasingly looking to purchase the very best materials that their money can afford, says Peters.
When we talk about extra matt golds and pearlescent finishes that would have been pure luxury in the past they have become the standard and the luxury brands want to be as far removed as possible from anything you can get in retail,” he explains. “So they’re looking at metal alloys like Zinc, Copper and bronze, which can all fit into premium and super premium categories.


There are of course come different regional interpretations as to what constitutes luxury. “Luxury used to equal bling, but western consumers’ tastes have moved on and are more likely to subtlety of design, a key to luxury,” says Van Elkam. “They are also looking more at the idea behind the product and how this is presented, rather that layering on shiny gold design cues.  

However, luxury means massively different things to culture in the fast east or even Russia, where luxury equals more. The bigger, the shiner, the better.
Although the gap between the interpretations of what constitutes luxury around the globe is narrowing, there are still geographic differences that require brand owners to take a different approach, according to Paul Drake, JDO co-founder and executive creative director.
This world is getting similar and our aspirations are getting closer, blame social media for that, but there are nuances and cultural differences that need delicate handling to deliver the goods,” says Drake. “It’s a trend that I can’t see faltering, but it can fail at a brand level. Plating in Gold just isn’t enough. Our marketing savvy discovering hunter can see through the bullsh*t.”
Consumer demand for premium brands doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. As Nick Verebelyi, Client services Director, R. Design, notes: “Whether it’s our hunger to distinguish ourselves from others or an innate desire to cheat death, the quest for exclusive things or experiences continues unabated. The adage ‘the more you have the more you want’ seems to drive this inflationary trend.”

And “as technology makes previously unattainable levels of luxury possible and response to demand leads to greater availability fuels the next level in luxury and prestige endlessly repeating the cycle of premiumisation, ”he adds.
This presents an ongoing challenge for pack designers to come up with ever more ingenious and luxurious ways of presenting products but it’s one the industry is more than capable of rising to.