What does a $400-billion industry and Clemson University have in common?

The answer is the students and faculty of Clemson’s Sonoco Institute for Packaging Design and Graphics, which the worldwide packaging industry considers among the best evaluators of consumer perception around product packaging.

So esteemed is Clemson’s level of expertise in measuring consumers’ packaging perceptions, one of the industry’s largest trade groups considers Sonoco’s attendance at its semi-annual trade shows vital to hundreds of the world’s top product brand representatives who attend.

CUshop is the consumer lab at Clemson where reactions to product packaging are tested.

CUshop is the consumer lab at Clemson University where reactions to product packaging are analyzed.

“Clemson’s ability to link the packaging and processing supply chain to the consumer experience makes their presence at PACK EXPO invaluable to our attendees,” said Maria Ferrante, VP of education and workforce development for PMMI, the association for packaging and processing technologies. “Sonoco’s research capabilities around consumers’ interaction and reaction to packaging is highly regarded by our member companies and vendors alike.”

An institute housed in Clemson’s business school, Sonoco Institute is a national leader in combining the synergies of packaging design and graphic communications and one reason Clemson is considered one of the best at preparing students for careers in the packaging and graphic communications industries.

Clemson’s is the only university program in the country with this one-of-a-kind multidisciplinary approach to packaging as a core competency. And Sonoco Institute’s CUshopTM is a good illustration of the expertise Clemson delivers in helping businesses understand consumers’ perceptions.

CUshop is essentially a lab set up as a convenience store in the Harris Smith Building, where students test consumer perception to product packaging using sophisticated visual and emotion-tracking technology.

“We’re a giant litmus test for new products, their packaging and display, and how consumers respond to them,” said R. Andrew Hurley, Ph.D., of the Sonoco Institute. “We have technology that tracks facial muscles and eye movements to measure visual and emotional reactions to designs.”

CUshop is very modular and can convert to a drug store, convenience, hardware or auto parts store. And, CUshop and Sonoco Institute have a database of 5,000 people between Atlanta and Charlotte from which to choose their consumers to test shop on the Clemson campus.

“Our technology and process analytics can determine if a company’s product will be noticed and purchased by a consumer in a variety of retail environments,” Hurley said. “Many of the Fortune 500 companies are among the 2,000 daily visitors to our booth at PACK EXPO. Companies are always seeking out answers to their pain points around packaging for consumers.”

Clemson and Sonoco Institute have a high-profile presence at PMMI’s trade shows and staff a sizeable booth where students and faculty demonstrate their consumer measurement abilities to many of the world’s top brands.

 CUshopTM takes innovative approach to service

Because of the interest CUshop has drawn at the trade shows, demand for its research has grown, which became difficult to administer at an institutional level. As a result, Package Insight, a start-up R&D company, was created by Sonoco Institute to deliver CUshop’s services to businesses at a speed that matched their needs.

“Package Insight is able to work at the speed of business,” said Drew Felty, Package Insight chief operating officer. “We are able to contract with brand owners who continuously rebrand and help them understand how those changes affect consumer behavior. Sonoco Institute is no longer leaving consumer research opportunities on the table, and it’s created a win-win relationship between the institute and Package Insight.”

One of the lures the institute and Package Insight brings to the industry is the technologies they employ, which are also evolving. At the forefront of the changing technology is Bobby Congdon, a Sonoco Institute assistant director and research associate, who among other things, is refining the virtual shopping experience for research purposes.

Though much of his expertise is in flexographic press printing, Congdon is heavy into research that brings video game technology to virtual reality shopping. The idea is to replace a “shopper’s” vision to create a portable technology so consumer packaging research can be done virtually anywhere.

“We’re essentially building a video game, but it’s for shopping,” said Congdon. “By creating a virtual store, we don’t have to physically bring consumers to CUshop. Ideally, we can be just as effective by having someone standing in their office or hotel room, wearing a headset and capturing the decisions they’re making.”

It’s that innovativeness and niche expertise that has the packaging industry eager to absorb all that the business school’s Sonoco Institute and Clemson University can bring to bear.

“We are proud to partner with a university of Clemson’s caliber,” said PMMI’s Ferrante. “They bring an innovativeness and engaging presence to PMMI’s events that our attendees find informative and helpful to their business success.”

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