Humans react to scents and smells because aromas are processed in the same part of the brain as memory and impulses are processed, the Limbic Cortex.

For decades, brand owners have competed with each other to produce packaging that stands out in the grocery aisle, but capturing a consumer’s attention among the cacophony of product offers is a monumental task.

According to a study by the Point of Purchase Advertising Industry (POPAI), in the United States consumers typically spend 22 minutes per visit at a self-service store. On average, the number of brands on display is in excess of 1,700 and of these thousands of products, approximately 146 packages actually catch the eye of the consumer.

The study states that a package has just nine seconds to make an impression that leads to an impulse purchase. This is important because their study showed that 70 percent of impromptu buying decisions are made in store. Also, 70 percent of packages picked up from shelves are dropped into shopping carts, so the odds are high that if a package is handled, it will be purchased.

The POPAI study was conducted to help identify the importance of package graphics and presentation quality to help consumers decide on a purchase, but there is another sensory experience that can be even more important in the 9-second window – the sense of smell.

Utilizing aroma on a package is a major differentiator because it helps the product to stand out from the clutter and leads to the handling of a product. This is easy to understand when consumers are shopping for shampoo and other personal care products, as he or she will very likely open the cap and smell the product.

If they like the scent of the product, that scent will drive the purchase decision. However, the reason for conveying a product’s scent expends far past the obvious. For example, the new super fruits such as acai, mangosteen and gobi berry are broadly offered in products, but most consumers have no idea what they smell like in their natural state.

Scented packaging can help the brand owner communicate the aroma of their offer. Even products such as wine and other alcoholic beverages can benefit from scented packaging by allowing consumers to sample the difference between verities such as merlot and cabernet.

Giving the consumer a reason to handle the package is a great way to stand out from the clutter and get picked up. After all, most consumers cannot resist a free sniff.

The Power of Aroma

Humans react powerfully to aromas because they are linked to memories. That’s because aromas are processed in the same part of the brain, the Limbic Mode, where memory and impulses are processed.

For example, one whiff of the smell  of burning wood brings back memories of an afternoon barbeque 30 years ago, which can immerse a person in the memories from that barbeque far more intensely than seeing a photograph of that scene. These odor-memory links, known as the Proust Phenomenon, can be a very powerful tool to aid brand loyalty and to drive purchase behavior.

Brand owners can capitalize on this link and leverage the sense of smell to ensure that the positive experience people have with a brand will be remembered. Scented packaging enables those positive feelings to be triggered at the point of purchase.

A product’s aroma can create anticipation and desire in the minds of consumers. If it smells good, they are confident it will taste good, or perform well, and they are more likely to purchase the product. It should come as no surprise that the sense of smell is a differentiator that many brand owners would like to take advantage of. But there is a challenge in tamper-resistance packaging.

Aromatic Packaging's Challenge

In order to maintain consumer safety and avoid losses for packaging that is returned to the store, most brand owners prefer not to risk selling products without tamper-resistance packaging, a category which flexible packaging fits in. Any product without tamper-resistance packaging is destroyed immediately if returned to the store. That product is then typically charged back to the brand, or absorbed by the store, either way, it’s a loss.

The challenge that tamper-resistant packaging poses is that it makes it next to impossible for consumers to smell the product and thus brand owners lose a valuable sensory tool that could be the clincher in securing the purchase of that product.

Overcoming the Tamper-Resistance Barrier

So how do brand owners provide consumers with an aroma that creates anticipation at the point of sale while also ensuring their products are tamper resistant?

For a long time, the solution has been to use scratch ‘n sniff labels, where the consumer scratches a small square on the product packaging and a scent is released. A number of specialty printers now position themselves as scratch ‘n sniff printers.

Scratch ‘n sniff pressure sensitive labels use microencapsulated scents to convey aroma, but there are several drawbacks to this process. Scratch ‘n sniff can often be costly because of the added cost of printing and applying the scented sticker to the product on very fast production lines. Printers often have to go through multiple passes to get enough scent onto the substrate to create the desired effect.

Additionally, the old scratch ‘n sniff technology was not developed for the type of printing most commonly used by film converters and other packaging printers. As a result, the encapsulates often prematurely rupture during printing and the aroma permeates the print shop, but not at the point of sale.

Another problem with stickers is that since they are printed on paper, when people scratch them multiple times, it results in tearing the sticker and ultimately marring the look of the package.

A recent partnership between the world’s largest ink and coatings company and the leading scented packaging company has resulted in a new technology which enables packaging printers and converters to use microencapsulated scents that do not break prematurely. This solution involves printing a scented coating directly onto the package itself, which can be released by simply handling the product. This technology does not require scratching; just holding the product can release the desired scent.

The scented coating can be applied directly onto the primary packaging, including flexible packaging pouches. Since these pouches are tamper resistant, consumers cannot open them ahead of time to smell the product. But with microencapsulated scented coatings, flexible packaging pouches can compete with rigid packaging options such as plastic shampoo bottles.

The unusual structure of shampoo pouches would stand out on the shelf, but the invitation to sample the product’s aroma will demand attention leading to the package being handled. When the consumer picks up and touches the package, the aroma is released immediately and the odds of purchase rise dramatically.

This type of scented flexible packaging can be used for shampoos, snacks, beverages, sports drinks, nuts, detergent, personal care products, alcoholic beverages, super-fruits and more.

Custom and stock fragrances designed for specific products can help the consumer make a unique connection to the brand, enhance the taste experience, improve the shopping experience, and most importantly, drive purchase. It is also important to note that the scented coating can be formulated to release scent at the shelf, or during opening and use.

Olfaction packaging can therefore create a unique brand experience for consumers, build loyalty and set brands apart from competitors while still maintaining consumer safety.