Why your next big idea must be small

There’s much speculation about the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on consumer behaviour. Following the recent ‘collective pause for reflection’, there is every chance that people will increasingly favour smaller product sizes, says MMR’s Andy Wardlaw.

Brands struggling to maintain or even increase margins generated by product portfolios should take note. What if you could find a way to sell a smaller product for a higher price?

Take a stroll along the aisles of any large supermarket and you will find examples of ‘slim’ innovation – smaller in size versus the category average – that still manages to command a price premium.

And as populations become more aware of their impact on the planet, I expect such examples to grab an increasing share of purchasing. This is because ‘small’ will be increasingly linked to a reduced impact on the Earth’s finite resources.

Small is beautiful

This is not celebrating the art of downsizing – reducing the size of a product simply to maintain its price point or profit margin. Rather, it is about encouraging product developers and packaging designers to think about how they can work together to create outcomes that achieve a new equilibrium between price, quality, and quantity.

Following the shock of World War One and the 1918 flu epidemic, society entered an age of hedonism sometimes referred to as the ‘Roaring 20s’. It was an unprecedented period of creativity and innovation. It gave rise to Art Deco, a luxurious and opulent decorative style, and reflected in everything from interiors to fashion.

In the wake of this pandemic, however, we are on a fundamentally different path.

Scott Galloway, in his provocative new book ‘Post Corona’, claims that this pandemic’s lasting legacy will be as an accelerant of trends already in play. Whether it’s e-commerce or mental health, it’s hard to argue with his sentiment.

Taking Galloway’s prognosis on board, I expect a number of trends that were ‘bubbling under’ pre-pandemic will begin tipping into more mainstream mindsets. Collectively, these sub-trends are converging towards one big idea: that small is beautiful, that less is more.

‘Small is beautiful’ is set to become the new narrative in consumer activism.

Trends towards convergence

First, this pandemic has boosted our collective anxiety that we have been living beyond the means of our planet for far too long. Against this backdrop, larger product sizes will be seen as unnecessarily excessive. Compounding this shift in attitude will be our growing awareness of food waste. Smaller sizes will be increasingly viewed as smart.

Illustration: Robinsons Fruit Cordial 500ml. Britvic has done a superb job of extending the appeal of its Robinsons Family.  Its real fruit and botanical cordials range comes in at 500ml and a UK price point of £2.50. This compares to original Robinsons Orange Squash 1000ml at a price point of £1.50. The elegant, slimline glass bottle with minimalist graphic creates an overall more discerning impression, with the product delivery highly sophisticated by category standards.

Second, a new generation famed for ‘drinking less but better’ is set to extend this mantra to other categories in response to eco-anxiety. Generation Z is growing up believing that previous generations have over-consumed, and they feel increasingly compelled to act – not least for the sake of their own future. To appeal to these shoppers, a smaller size will be seen as discerning as well as smart!

Third, many of us have endured the pandemic by consuming more calories. Comfort eating has been a huge trend over the last 18 months and now almost half the global population wants to lose weight. One way to serve these beleaguered consumers is to lure them with smaller sizes. Less product, less calories.

Illustration: Certo Garganega Veneto. Less wine. Less calories. In an aisle dominated by 750ml, this 50cl creation really catches the eye. Paul Baird, of The Together Agency says, “There are clear associations here with luxury fragrance. The front label contrasts with the clean lines of the bottle, creating a highly disruptive package likely to attract the lighter drinker who otherwise might ignore wine.”

Fourth, the Slow Movement has been increasing its influence for some years. As a result of the pandemic, slow could be about to speed up. For FMCG brands, there is an opportunity to create products that offer an increased dwell time. Products that imply scarcity demand to be savoured.

Fifth, after 18 months of restricted living, people will place more value on ‘experience’. Brands must capitalize on this moment by boosting the sensory impact of their products. More potent, more immersive, more extreme – innovation that champions intensity over abundance.

Design example: Nestle Gold Blend Roastery Collection 100g. This instant coffee claims to offer the flavour of artisan coffee. Crafted by the Nescafé Gold Blend master roasters in Derbyshire, UK, it has been praised for its outstanding complex flavour. At 100g, it is one of the smallest category propositions, with its distinctive and textured packaging execution supporting a 20% price premium over a similar sized Gold Blend jar.

Not for everyone

Admittedly, the pursuit of less will not appeal to everyone. Many shoppers demand ‘bulk’, either to satisfy demands for value or to service whole families. There are also some categories where the emphasis on volume is simply too high.

However, if you’re looking for new innovation streams as well as margin enhancement, designing packaging and products that achieve this new equilibrium of quality over quantity is now a compelling opportunity for a consumer base that is mindful of excess consumption.

A recent example in personal care is Colgate’s reimagination of toothpaste. Retailing at 100% more than its conventional premium whitening range, the ELIXIR experience is dramatically different. The package drives expectations of a superior cleaning experience and at 80ml, the product quantity is considerably below that category average. But Colgate executes the product experience beautifully.

With 73% of global CPG professionals reporting to MMR Research Worldwide that margin growth is expected to become harder post pandemic, my hope is that the angle presented here offers a more progressive stream of thinking.

Are you big enough to be small?