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Humans like Shiny and New, even for Vegetables

Having succumbed to a clever marketing ploy, I’m annoyed. Marketing is not my favourite thing, because it works. It works on many people, a lot of the time. Subtly tugging at our emotions, sense of duty, or self esteem, we are wooed into purchasing items we need, items we might not need and items that seem like they will improve our life.

The marketing tactic that got me was the package.

Aside from what is written or pictured on the package, which is a huge element, the package itself has a message, and function. Even as public pressure mounts to decrease the environmental impact of the plastics and other materials our goods are wrapped in, the package matters. 

Apple’s hardware products come in elegant, sturdy boxes, reflecting the superior quality and design of the electronics within. The company clearly devotes considerable efforts to making containers worthy of their contents. 

High quality apparel store wrap purchases in tissue paper. Many retailers of note have carefully branded and coloured shopping bags, so the buyer can tote their purchase around the shopping arcade with pride. 

Brightly coloured packages have fun items inside, dangerous good have warnings in large, aggressive words on the carton, heavy cardboard wraps delicate items to protect them.

The package that’s attracted my attention (and dollars) recently was the stand-up grape bag. At least, it started with grapes (perhaps about 15 years ago, according to this article ). This packaging is open-topped, pre-filled, semi-rigid plastic bags of beans, cherries, or grapes, with colourful branding on the outside.

Why would something as simple as a new bag draw the consumer? Is it simply our attraction to anything new1, especially in a category of frequently purchased goods? Or are we eager to consume the convenience of grab and go, avoiding the wrestle with those flimsy plastic produce bags from the roll that refuse to separate the two sides so that mere vegetables can be placed within them. No tarrying in front of a giant heap of produce that requires selecting individual fruits. Grapes are relatively easy because bunches are on stems. But with cherries or beans, buying a pound involves dozens of individual items. When faced with a heap, perhaps 2’x2′ wide and several inches deep, grabbing a handful or two seems not to take full advantage of the variety available, and a little rough, so some of us have to pick each individual one. Ridiculous waste of time, right? 

And then along comes the standup bag. For the consumer, there is much to love:

  • convenience – grab a bag quickly – no standing around selecting individual fruit
  • also convenient – put the bag on the counter and it stays put, as do the round items inside it
  • additionally convenient – one bag contains a reasonable amount that can be consumed by a family in a single setting
  • better quality – less damage to the fruit during transit, shelf-stocking and by fellow consumers
  • more hygienic – I love my fellow shoppers, but don’t need to have their finger prints on my cherries

These packages even benefit producers, because there is less handling of the produce, lowers labour costs and reducing waste due to damaged product. 

Advantages for grocers are easy to see: Customers are served. These bags could increase the average purchase size but are customizable as produce buyers can easily transfer some of the fruit in or out of the bag to suit their individual needs. Like the producers, less labour to merchandize, less waste. When the bags are printed with something eye catching and tantalizing they provide more options for display. 

These bags have other features, providing even more value. Many come with ventilation holes, which make the fruit easy to wash and the air flow should delay spoilage. Some come with a zipper closure. As soon as we as a figure out how to make these reliably, so that more than 50% of them work, I am willing to declare this the greatest invention of the century. Seriously though, these zipper things are on so many food packages, from spices to frozen samosas, why do they so often work poorly?

I am concerned about the environmental impact, as they are heavier than alternatives. Granted, looking at a material doesn’t tell you how recyclable it is and they might be reused, with a bit of creativity. 

More and more things are becoming available in this style of bag: cherries, grapes, beans, kiwis, lemons. I can’t imagine what anyone does with a dozen lemons, but I don’t have to be able to imagine what people do in the privacy of their own home, as long as adults are consensual. This packaging seems ideal for any produce someone might want a bag full of. 

After waxing poetic about the marvel that standup produce bags are, do I need to wonder why I purchased such a bag full of beans? I wouldn’t have purchased a similar amount of beans if I have to bag them myself for all the reasons above about convenience, hygiene and quality. Also, I don’t generally buy beans in the grocery store because I grow them myself in the summer, eat my fill for a few months, preserving extras for the winter. The home grown are so much better, I prefer to wait rather than buy lower quality in the grocery store. 

Did the standup packaging sway me? I do really like green beans. It was the first time I’d seen them in a standup bag. And, enough to change my buying habits. Like many aspects of marketing, it’s annoying, because it works. 

1 Apparently there is an explanation for why we like shiny new things, rooted in science. It is a survival mechanism – we are drawn to new things so we can assess if they are a threat. Neural activity is much higher when we see something new. Here’s a couple articles that discuss this ;

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