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Beyond the Little Blue Box

Peek inside the world of luxury packaging and see how you can take advantage of this growing, profitable market. 

Tiffany’s got it right with the little blue box.

The luxe jewelry store’s long-lasting brand is synonymous with its “Tiffany-blue” packaging. So how can other companies elevate their own brand packaging to assure that it becomes something treasured, rather than tossed? What exactly makes luxury packaging, well, so luxurious?

“Ask 100 people and they’ll tell you 100 different things,” says Melissa Stevens, vice president of sales for Mohawk Paper. Some consider physical elements such as high quality materials, finishes, decoration, and innovative shapes.

Others may look at the cost to produce, say, anything above a dollar.

Stevens defines it a bit more simply: “It’s something that you’re holding in your hand that is as special as what’s inside. That’s truly luxury packaging. It doesn’t matter if your company is big or small.”

Exactly how companies make their packaging special is what ultimately determines whether their investment grabs consumers’ hearts and minds (and consequently their wallets) or fades into obscurity amongst the throngs of competition on the shelf.

Printers and suppliers that understand the current trends, how customers are using the trends effectively, and those willing to innovate are perfectly positioned to profit from this high-end segment of the packaging industry.

Tapping into trends

Luxury packaging is dynamic and growing. Smithers Pira, a global authority on the packaging, paper, and print industry supply chains, forecasts sales to grow 4.4 percent annually through 2019 and reach $17.6 billion.

But you can’t talk about trends in luxury packaging without talking about Millennials. Nearing 80 million strong, their burgeoning buying power, as reported in an article on, will exceed that of Baby Boomers in 2017, and already their preferences heavily influence today’s market.

“It’s all about the packaging [for Millennials],” says Stevens. “They are looking for and wanting an experience from the minute they see it (the package) to the moment they put it in their hand.”

That experience often includes something that’s valued, craft-oriented, and designed conscientiously. “They’re not looking for excess, but what is there has to be beautiful,” she adds.

Beautiful and smart. Packaging now incorporates technology to further the interactive brand experience, whether it’s an embedded smart chip that links to a catalog or augmented reality. Personalization is flourishing, too, as advancements in digital printing allow for more and more packaging options.

It’s not necessarily an all-about-me mindset, though. Eco-friendly products and sustainable packaging continue to influence consumers’ purchasing patterns. A survey by Nielsen revealed that 52 percent of global respondents said their purchases are partly influenced by packaging and that they check the labeling first before buying to ensure the brand is committed to positive social and environmental impact.

Packaging is not all form and function. It’s also fun. “It (packaging) becomes a way for consumers to express their personality,” says Terri Price-Deep, a member of the Business Development and Corporate Solutions Group at Millcraft. “In the age of the selfie, people look at the style as well as functionality of what they carry or buy,” she says, noting how a beverage-on-the-go becomes an accessory for many consumers.

And as more and more consumers go online to shop, companies are forced to bring their brands right to the doorstep. Packaging becomes the brand’s human connection.

“Not only do brands need to be visually appealing on screen, the feel of the product once in hand must speak to quality. These touchpoints with their consumer should generate anticipation and satisfaction when the product arrives,” says Price-Deep.

Luxury packaging in today’s markets

The touch experience is essential. “If [consumers] pick it up and it feels good in their hand, then they’re extremely likely—greater than 50 percent—to make that purchase,” says Stevens.

That’s why textured papers and tactile printing techniques are used to engage shoppers while at the same time adding an air of sophistication. “Uncoated papers and dull or soft varnish techniques achieve the tactile effect that many brands are looking for,” says Price-Deep.

Simple, elegant designs—long a staple of the cosmetic, beauty, and fragrance industries—often incorporate blind embossing, foil embossing, or tactile varnishes to increase the perceived value of a product. Metallic, UV, and pearlescent inks add to the perception.

Ultimately, packaging must reflect the right mood and tone of a brand. “Apple is a perfect example of luxury packaging speaking to its audience,” says Price-Deep. “Apple and its users consider themselves sophisticated and innovative. Their packaging reflects that by using a simple, clean design on a luxurious fine paper. It’s the type of packaging you hold onto for its cool factor.”

In contrast, other industries tend toward a craft approach, mixing quality papers with old-is-now-new-again press techniques. The hand-pressed boxes of confectionary businesses such as gourmet marshmallow-maker, WonderMade, are an example.

Craft wines and beers leverage strong design, compelling stories, and packaging to communicate their brand message. And it’s working. The retail dollar value from craft brewers in 2014 was estimated on at $19.6 billion, up from $14.3 billion in 2013.

Companies big and small—and even big companies trying to look small to appeal to the do-it-yourself movement—are incorporating meaningful brand interaction through their packaging, notes Stevens.

“So much of packaging is custom—a special color, a special weight, a special finish,” she says.

Take advantage of the luxury packaging opportunity

According to Stevens, tackling the market is all about innovation and collaboration.

Luxury packaging is well-established. Smithers Pira reports that paperboard dominates the industry with 42 percent of the market, followed by glass at 30 percent, and metal, textiles, leather, plastic, and wood rounding out the remaining 28 percent.

But if you haven’t yet cracked the lid on the luxury packaging market, that doesn’t mean you have to sit on the sidelines and continue to watch it unfold.

To break in requires figuring out how to distinctly define yourself, says Stevens.

“It’s innovation—it’s thinking outside the box and coming up with something different,” she says. “That is a challenge. It’s a behavioral shift for an organization.”

At Mohawk, Stevens and her team spend a lot of time watching trends to spur innovation: color trends, retail trends, and even visiting the places that aren’t “normal” places a paper mill or printer might go (for example, following the Luxury Marketing Council).

“You need to know what they (customers) are looking for so you can design a product that they are going to react to,” says Stevens. And that doesn’t necessarily mean having to buy all kinds of new equipment, which she admits can be a major roadblock for some printers.

Instead, she says, pull in partners such as paper mills, comp houses, and paper merchants. “Think about what you can do, who you can work with, and how you can be innovative with partners that you already know—and put something different out there.”

And with digital printing changing so rapidly, Stevens and Price-Deep both agree it’s only a matter of time before many luxury packaging techniques will become available to all.

“If the market’s booming, there’s a finite amount of time to take advantage of the opportunity,” says Stevens.

By Laurie Hileman