Drive Sales of Disposables

February 13, 2015

Store Brands | February 13, 2015 – From picnics to parties — or for a simple cup of coffee on the go — there’s no greater convenience than disposable plates, cups and bowls. And more shoppers have been turning to these convenience-minded products in recent times. Citing data from New York-based Nielsen, Carolina Gomes, senior business manager for home with Daymon Worldwide, Stamford, Conn., states that disposable tableware is a $4.6 billion category that experienced 4 percent growth over the past year — with private label products accounting for more than half of overall sales.

“The most successful retailers have all the categories within tabletop for their private brand programs,” she says, adding though that the “category still presents untapped private brand potential in many areas.”

Stock a variety

The shopper buying disposable plates for a Valentine’s Day party and the shopper buying just for everyday use generally are not looking for the same products. Therefore, retailers need to offer a wide enough variety of store brand disposable plates, cups and bowls to satisfy various customers’ needs, no matter what the use or occasion.

“A consumer’s wish list for disposable tableware products usually varies by how the product will be used. She may want different benefits for products that will be used in the home solely for convenience, but she may look for other benefits when entertaining friends and family,” says Patrick Franken, category and shopper insights manager for the retail business unit of De Soto, Kan.-based Huhtamaki, adding that no matter what the use, “reliability and quality are common requirements.”

But functionality isn’t everything. Some consumers also seek upscale-looking store brand disposable plates, cups and bowls for parties.

“There has been a large surge in demand for disposable products that emulate the elegance and ambiance of fine china, crystal and flatware but eliminate breakage worries and reduce labor costs associated with cleanup, washing and transportation,” says Michael Chan, senior strategic marketing manager at Cowling and Braithwaite Company Ltd., Mississauga, Ontario.

Kid-friendly styles, too, are trending. Given consumer interest in child safety and convenience, “many mass retailers are now featuring cutlery and cup designs specifically for children,” Chan explains.

However, if they really want to score with their store brand disposable tableware, then retailers need to think about more than just plates, cups and bowls. Gomes says retailers should also offer napkins, wet wipes, straws, stirrers, toothpicks and more under their own brands to complete their presence in the disposable tableware category.

Offer eco-friendly options

Another way to sell more store brand plates, cups and bowls could be through making them eco-friendly, giving them a more attractive positioning to customers who will not buy products they perceive as harmful to the environment. Paper products — particularly plates and bowls — continue to grow and boost sales for the entire category, Franken says, while sales of many plastic and foam items have been flat or declining for a variety of reasons.

Besides paper, another alternative to plastic or foam is bagasse, made from sugarcane fiber and compostable. While biodegradable tableware sales are growing in the foodservice sector, they have yet to really take off in grocery store aisles.

“People are talking about it, but no one is actually buying it,” says Joel Rubin, national sales manager at Burlingame, Calif.-based PrimeLink Solutions LLC.

Rubin thinks, however, that more people would buy bagasse products if the items were readily available, adding that, unfortunately, many retailers don’t bother carrying them, given the lower turn rate for disposable tableware and consumers’ preference for low prices. But for retailers with a large base of eco-conscious shoppers, such products could be worth carrying.

One way retailers could gauge shopper interest in biodegradable tableware is through in-and-out specials, Rubin advises.

“Try stocking it before a holiday like the Fourth of July,” he states. “Maybe have some signage such as, ‘Wishing you a compostable Fourth.’”

Some educational material on the package also could motivate shoppers to give biodegradable products a try. But retailers must be detailed if they don’t want to be accused of “greenwashing.” Dave Denton, sales manager at Las Vegas-based BG Supply, says labeling needs to be very specific as to what materials are in the product — and how they biodegrade when the product is discarded.

The benefits of packaging

But packaging does so much more than just educate on its contents’ materials — it also is critical in grabbing shoppers’ attention.

Packaging that calls out a bargain is an attention-grabber. For example, retailers might want to consider offering extra quantity in a pack to attract sales.

“Shoppers appear to be very receptive to larger package sizes containing more plates and cups per pack, and as the economy continues to improve, shoppers have been willing to spend more on larger packages that offer convenience, fewer trips to the store, and better value,” Franken says, adding that by offering larger pack sizes, supermarkets could draw shoppers away from club stores.

On-pack coupons, too, offer an easy way for store brand products to command attention, Chan says.

And don’t forget about messaging related to functionality. Shoppers today are very savvy and know what they want, so retailers need to make sure packaging is clear and communicates product benefits. For instance, claims such as “super strong” and “heavy duty” are effective for paper plates, Gomes says, while “grease-resistant” and “soak-proof” work for polystyrene products.

As for all products, a patriotic message such as “American-made” likely will resonate with any shopper, regardless of product type, states Aivan Villamayor, marketing manager at Las Vegas-based Visstun.

Whatever the messaging, though, retailers need to keep it simple.

“Often marketers and designers make the mistake of overselling a product and forget that ‘less is more,’” Chan points out. “The key with unique and creative disposables is to show off the product and use color, imagery and packaging design to drive emotion towards the brand.”

And make sure packaging features top-notch logos and images.

“Many retailers make the mistake of settling for plain logos and low-quality images,” Villamayor states.

Don’t forget to promote

Merchandising and marketing, too, play a huge role in the successful selling of store brand disposable plates, cups and bowls.

“Successful retailers leverage a variety of strategies, including on-shelf signage, online communication and circulars to communicate their value proposition, whether it’s ‘everyday low prices,’ ‘locked-in savings’ or ‘buy one, get the second one free,’” Gomes says.

One central strategy for disposable tableware is proper product placement.

“While the majority of disposable tableware purchases are planned, many shoppers will make unplanned purchases when they see disposable plate and cup items, and are reminded of the convenience they provide,” Franken says. “With or without price reductions, display support will deliver incremental sales almost every time.”

And placing store brand disposable tableware products with complementary foods and beverages also could make a difference, Chan says.

Do make sure to carry a wide variety of own-brand disposable plates, cups and bowls to appeal to all users.

Don’t call a product “eco-friendly” if you’re not going to back up the claim.

Do consider offering products made with bagasse, a compostable polystyrene alternative.