Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, now make up a quarter of the world’s population, which translates into 1.7 billion people, according to the US Census Bureau’s International Database As they reach their prime working and spending years, millennials will have a huge influence on the Asia Pacific food and beverage landscape, and challenge the packaging industry to innovate like never before.
As the first generation of digital natives, millennials’ use of technology defines how they shop. For example, they want instant access to information and insights in order to find the best products, whether shopping online or visiting stores.
Social media is also an important part of millennials’ digital lives, and they now use a variety of social networks for news and information. To reach this new generation of consumers, a brand must become a routine part of their social media conversations concerning product information, updates and special offers.
Known for their fast-moving preferences and demands for instant gratification, this new generation also wants a customer-centric shopping experience. They are more likely to choose a brand that engages them on a personal and even emotional level.
Millennials are having a major influence on the product and branding decisions of Asia Pacific food manufacturers, including their approach to packaging. As they strive to engage millennials on a more personal level, food manufacturers are realising a distinct advantage by taking an intentional packaging strategy, using innovative packaging solutions to differentiate their brands and build purchasing confidence among this important demographic.
While Quick Response (QR) codes went quiet on the packaging scene and were often perceived as a gimmick, their ability to provide immediate access to additional information and deliver a unique experience, offers fresh opportunities for food manufacturers to connect with millennials.
To determine if QR codes have the potential to make a comeback and be applied to food packaging in Asia, we weigh up the early barriers to adopting this approach and the new possibilities to winning over millennials.
QR Code Early Adoption Challenges
QR codes were deemed to be 'the next big thing' when they first gained popularity in the industrial world as high-speed tracking and scanning tools. Many industry analysts predicted QR codes would transform the way in which we interact with products, and the possibilities of this technology were thought to be endless.
Back in 2011, it was difficult to visit your local coffee shop, pick up a colleague's business card, or simply browse the internet without seeing the infamous black and white pixelated box. The message then was clear—QR codes are here to stay. The possible applications of this new technology were as varied as the locations in which the codes were found, ranging from in-store promotions to online shopping experiences.
Yet QR codes have failed to reach widespread adoption, with a recent survey revealing that only 15 percent of smart device users know how to scan a QR code properly, while a mere 9.4 percent regularly scan them to get more information while in a store.
The most prevalent barrier to consumers engaging with QR technology is the location in which the codes are placed. For instance, for a QR code to work, the user needs to have a smartphone, be connected to the internet, and have enough time to load the page.
It's therefore unsurprising that QR code promotions found in places such as underground stations, where consumers spend only a fraction of their time with little mobile phone coverage, the interaction rates have been incredibly low.
An additional common factor which has prevented full engagement with the technology is codes which direct users to websites not optimised for mobile viewing. The key selling point for QR codes is their potential to make life easier for the consumer. The fact that QR codes, in many instances, make consumer processes more complex, helps explain their initial low rate of engagement.
Millennials Driving QR Code Comeback
However, a new dawn has arrived for QR codes, thanks to millennials. Recent research has shown that over half of consumers aged 16-24 are interested in additional content which could be accessed through QR codes, creating a huge window of opportunity for today’s food brands.
However, QR code applications are only a success if the code leads to a mobile-optimised landing page, and if the page is filled with quick and relevant information that will convince the customer to purchase the product.
Furthermore, because scanning a code takes time and effort, food manufacturers must drive action by offering something better than advertisements, for example enabling customers to receive vouchers by scanning the code, or download recipe ideas to meet the foodie trend which is dominating the millennial demographic.
Recent examples of food labels using QR codes effectively include: Cello parmesan cheese which allows consumers to scan for exciting recipes; Kellogg cornflakes which lets consumers scan for the morning news; and Heinz ketchup which allows consumers to donate to a veteran’s organization.
Additionally, in the US, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is has started a SmartLabel initiative to make products, and their ingredients, more transparent for consumers. Mobile—specifically QR codes and mobile web—is core to this ground-breaking initiative, backed by 30 grocery manufacturers, that aims to put QR codes, each linking to a dedicated mobile web page with all product details, on 30,000 products by the end of 2017.
Looking To Asia For QR Code Possibilities
In Asia, many food brands are putting QR Code technology to effective use, and it is transforming the way consumers interact with products. A key example is South Korea where Tesco’s network of shops—called Home Plus—looked to expand their online sales rather than spending a lot of money opening new shops.
They created virtual stores in select underground stations with mobile coverage to allow commuters to purchase goods by scanning the QR codes of the items they wanted. Selected items could be added to their online shopping basket and then delivered to their home address after work.
A similar example of an innovative use of QR code technology can be seen in the collaboration between Taco Bell and Mountain Dew, where QR codes were added to drinks cups providing links to free music downloads. As a result, some 200,000 downloads were made, with the same number of consumers engaging directly with the brands.
The Millennial Potential
Although many brands have struggled to get the best out of QR technology, the most successful approach is often the simplest one. If the consumer experience can be made more seamless by the technology, it is more likely to succeed.
With millennials increasingly open to scanning QR codes, there is a huge window of opportunity open to today’s food brands to start exploring how they can use QR codes to connect with this influential generation. As demonstrated by their success in Asia, QR codes can be a powerful tool to create unique brand experiences, but they need an effective mobile-friendly strategy to back them up before we see a true QR code renaissance.