A wise man by the name of Sam Ham (yes, that's his real name) once taught me that people are either Streakers, Browsers or Students. Sam Ham is a world renowned Professor of Communication Psychology at the University of Idaho. His theory is an elegant hierarchy of captured attention and I think it applies to a vast number of situations, especially supermarket shopping. When selecting products for the trolley, Streakers spend three seconds, Browsers thirty seconds and Students three minutes.

Most supermarket shoppers in Southeast Asia are Streakers.

When people want to get in and out of the store as fast as possible, how do you capture their attention? What will make them stop and browse a new brand on the shelf? For imported products, with no brand recognition, good packaging is as important as the quality of the product itself. This is particularly true for export markets across Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan where I work. However, for exporters attention grabbing packaging must also comply with local regulations and be functional. These three elements often act as opposing forces but they must come together before your goods are ready for export.


Whether you’re in retail or food service, the influence your packaging has on sales should not be underestimated. If you need to grab someone’s attention in a few seconds you simply cannot afford to ignore good design. Resist the urge to change your design drastically in an effort to make it more attractive to Asian consumers. Despite what you’ll hear from design and consulting companies about market specific packaging design (it’s good business for them) there is simply no need to design completely new packaging for each market. The best thing you can do is keep your brand integrity in tact and easily recognisable. You don’t see bottles of Coca-Cola with panda bears on them when you open the chiller in Taiwan, or Merlions on a Coke can in Singapore. The last thing you want to do is confuse your customer. Authenticity means everything in a region that is plagued by food safety scandals and counterfeit goods.


If you’ve spent any time researching market specific labelling and compliance you will know it can be a bit like unravelling a knotted fishing line. Follow one thread only to be snagged on an entangled jumble the deeper you go. F&B is a highly sensitive sector where public health and safety are concerned. Generally speaking, it’s very easy to comply with local labelling regulations by simply affixing a small sticker with the necessary information to your packaging. Your distributor should be able to assist and in many cases, they will even print and affix the sticker in-market. Just be mindful of how the sticker will affect appearance. While in Hong Kong recently I was dismayed to see a great kiwi brand rendered almost unrecognisable by a huge white distributor sticker that not only covered the entire front side of the box, it also had the wrong distributor on it! The worst part was that the sticker was affixed by the exporter in New Zealand. Thankfully, their distribution partner graciously agreed to employ a small army of ‘Aunties’ to carefully peel off the offending stickers and replace them with the correct label.


When preparing products for export it is important to keep in mind the following:

Breakage and spoilage

Scott Wilson, CEO at Ocenbridge Shipping Ltd says you need to take your mode of transport into consideration. The packaging must be designed to handle repeated loading and unloading in warehouses, trucks and containers. It will be subject to different types of weather, humidity and extreme temperatures. It may even be stacked, pushed, shoved, dragged or dropped on its voyage. Depending on what you are exporting, consider whether hot, humid climates such as those common to Asia, may affect your product and take precautions. A cleaver dairy exporter I once worked with solved their spoilage issues by installing a high-tech thermometer with each air shipment to their distributor in Malaysia. The thermometer transmitted a digital time record of the temperature inside the container. They found that too much time on the hot tarmac was spiking the temperature above the appropriate range and they worked with their distributor to mitigate this.


International freight is expensive from New Zealand and bulky items generally cost more to ship (large packs mean less units per square meter in the container). I’ve seen major brands forced to cut some of their best SKUs from their export portfolio because the freight component pushed the price above the competition. If you are able to combine all of the elements above into a neat little package you will not only captivate the attention of the supermarket Streaker, you will have a sustainable platform from which to expand your export business across Asia.

If you are able to combine all of the elements above into a neat little package you will not only captivate the attention of the supermarket Streaker, you will have a sustainable platform from which to expand your export business across Asia.