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Consumer Research

Connecting Insights to Innovation in Pet Care Packaging

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The Hive℠ Design Services is Sonoco’s global design hub and the home of our innovation. It’s a one-stop shop where ideation begins its journey to a first production run.

At the heart of The Hive Design Services’ activity is Sonoco Insight Specialist Jennifer Tillman, a 13-year packaging veteran. Throughout her career, Jennifer has immersed herself in all aspects of the packaging process – learning about everything from the way consumers choose products to how they prefer to re-seal and recycle. In the office, Jennifer specializes in pet care … and when she goes home, she cares for Olivia, a 10-year-old Beagle mix who loves to snack. It’s fair to say Jennifer thinks a lot about how our four-legged friends like to be fed.

We sat down with Jennifer to learn more about The Hive Design Services.

What’s all the buzz about?
“The Hive Design Services is our global design service for companies looking to gain a competitive or cost advantage through great packaging. Working with our customers, we can create concepts, make rapid virtual or tangible prototypes, and then move swiftly to full production. But The Hive Design Services is much more than just a design service. We also proactively research marketplaces, consumer habits and retail trends so we can remain at the cutting edge of packaging innovation. Above all, we help our clients to understand and serve their potential and existing customers that little bit better.”

Can you tell us about the innovation journey?
“Sonoco has a six-step innovation process which we call i6. It stands for Insights, Ideation, Invention, Integration, Interaction and Iteration. The Hive Design Services focuses on the first three steps: insights gathered from multi-layered research, then ideation with concept design, through to invention, which involves rapid prototyping, testing and even a product run at our pilot plant.”

What kind of research have you done for pet care?
“Almost too much to list. We’ve run all sorts of qualitative and quantitative research on pet lovers, including focus groups, surveys, and eye-tracking studies in-store and on digital. We examine lifestyles, incomes and the underlying values of consumers.

We’ve even ordered masses of pet food online to see what the end-user experience of home delivery is like. E-commerce is a massive growth area for Sonoco customers. We can support them with Amazon certification as well as first-hand experience of both ends of the supply chain. We’re always trying to identify consumer pain points so we can remove them in the design process.”

What other research do you do?
“Demographics is a big one, as is in-home user testing. We tracked how cat and dog owners give treats to their pets differently; not just times but locations, quantities and treat triggers. Pet care is only one of many marketplaces we serve. So for example we can bring in best practice tamper security from our medical business, or shelf life advances from our coffee packaging. Our aim in research is always the same: creating actionable insight.”

What sets The Hive Design Services apart?
“Other design services may be able to mock-up a package that looks fantastic, but do they factor-in production methods, costs, shelf-life and other considerations to make sure their great idea is a viable solution? With Sonoco we’re manufacturers AND designers. Everything is considered together. Something that looks pretty on a screen is not enough. We only design things that can ultimately sit on shelves.”

Tell us about Tempo™.
“Tempo is our accelerated shelf life testing process. It can save our customers weeks or months in the new product development process; it means they know if what they have will work earlier than if they choose another supplier. Again, Tempo is a vital part of how we deliver real-world solutions, rather than just pretty product pictures. You can read more about Tempo here.

What’s a typical brief?
“Often customers want something eye-catching for a new product launch. Many are moving to more sustainable packaging – something Sonoco specializes in. But it’s not always about designing a new piece of packaging. Sometimes our customers just want to know a little more about their target consumers. Whatever the job, it’s always about bringing our clients and their customers closer together. And that is why we love it.”

If you’d like to learn more about pet care packaging or The Hive Design Services, please email Jennifer on