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Lots of good things have been happening in dairy department packaging, but there’s still room for improvement that will lead to better packout and stronger in-stock positions.
First, hats off to Unilever for being an innovator here, just as they were with “scrounds” (square-round) containers for Breyers ice cream 15 years ago. Looking back, it seems like a no-brainer to adopt the same scround shape for rounds of margarine, dips, spreads and yogurt and such. But for whatever reason, that didn’t happen. At least not until recently.
Walking through stores the other day, I noticed how Unilever has again led the charge, changing packaging on many dairy items from bowls to rectangle shapes. Maybe they’re not technically scrounds, but I’ll let others quibble with that. You get the idea. The new scrounds give better packout and an improved billboard for brands and product varieties.
So what’s holding back some of the holdouts, in both private label and branded? Do they like risking higher out-of-stocks? Do they think all that air space around their packages just looks prettier? Is there something about profit that they don’t like?
The one huge and obvious holdout is yogurt. Yogurt sections are a country mile long in many stores, and all the containers are wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Some brands are even making tops even wider and bottoms even narrower. There’s routinely a half inch or three quarters of an inch of air space between packages. I’m surprised some of them don’t tip over.
You don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that you can get more SKUs on the shelf if you change the packaging shapes. Think of all the extra product duplication you could have! (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.)
Fact is, yogurt is over-SKU’d, and there’s no more room in the department. So if you really think you need more variety in the category, tell your vendors to go with scrounds or whatever for the packages. Heck, tell them to go with scrounds anyway — it’s just common sense.
But before I move on, let me just ask: Do you really need that new yogurt item? Or do you need to make some smart decisions about what to delete? You may have already cut back several other categories, including milk (and almond/soy/coconut milk) to make room for more yogurt. Do you really need everybody’s Greek yogurt in a dozen flavors? Do you need all those kids’ yogurts? Hey, years ago, our parents would have told us to just eat the adult yogurt and shut up. Besides, spoilage and shrink has to be huge in yogurt. I often see ridiculous markdowns when expiration dates are around the corner.
Of course yogurt is not the only offender when it comes to package shape. There’s lots of air showing around those Philadelphia Cream Cheese bowls. And it’s not the only offender when it comes to being over-SKU’d. In my travels, I often see dairy creamer sections that look like debris fields. How many brands, sizes and flavors do you need?

Let me end on a positive note. Walmart has moved to a case-ready shredded cheese program. It’s gotten rid of all the pegboards, and the efficiencies on rotation, ordering and stocking are huge. All you do is open up the box and put it on the shelf. Of course this shows the power you have with vendors if you’re a big boy like Walmart, but this is such a good idea I expect to see it spreading. And unlike the shift to scrounds, it shouldn’t take the industry 15 years.

Johnny Harris

Johnny Harris

Johnny Harris, president of Johnny L. Harris Consulting, LLC, Fort Mill, S.C., can be reached at 803-984-2594 or at [email protected]

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