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Give ‘Em What They Want

Food and beverage companies already invest considerable time and resources developing new formulations and packaging them in a way that hopefully will resonate with consumers. But sometimes, even tried-and-true marketing techniques aren’t enough to help a product that has fallen out of favor with consumers.

A proven methodology called “need states” offers a solid framework for understanding consumers’ desires and demands in the moments that matter most to them. The need states approach depends on becoming more empathetic and people-first. So, rather than offering only products that fit neatly in a certain category  ̶  or relying on the old belief that consumers will simply want something because it’s from a brand they recognize  ̶  today’s marketers are blurring the lines between categories to deliver what consumers really want and need.

Based on psychological, biological and sociological theories, need states can be a powerful way to understand consumer behavior and ultimately drive sales. Successful consumer packaged goods companies create products that deliver on these fundamental needs.

This is especially important in today’s market, where consumers have more choices than ever. Consider that traditional soft drinks now compete with an array of options from coconut water to kefir to cold-brewed coffee.

The concept of need states is informing new perspectives and powerful opportunities for food and beverage companies seeking to expand their horizons. At the most fundamental level, need states are all about brands putting themselves in the shoes of their target consumers, from busy moms to amateur athletes.


Need states is not the only tool in a marketer’s arsenal, but it’s often a smart way to get started when differentiating new products and meeting consumers expectations. At Tetra Pak, we regularly work with some of the world’s largest consumer packaged goods companies to determine what their consumers actually want, before they begin the process of refining the product and bringing it to market.

There are two different scenarios where we use need states to help customers grow their business. First, need states can reveal the reason why existing products are underperforming ̶ showing that there is a gap in what the consumer wants and where the product is positioned.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the need states approach can help determine whether or not a product in development actually speaks to consumers and covers a white space or need state that is currently unmet.

From a food and beverage perspective, think about it this way: What types of products do you crave when you’re tired and looking for a little energy? What is the ideal product to pack in the lunch box? When you start to look from the consumer’s perspective, these products may encompass more than one category.

For all of these situations and more, there are myriad opportunities to deliver packaged food and drinks that suit the specific occasion. With need states, it’s all about consumer emotions and desires, and it’s an incredibly powerful way to understand how their motivations can reveal white space opportunities.


Every industry will have its own particular application of need states depending on the product offered. At Tetra Pak, we have identified six fundamental emotional triggers that serve as the basis for a larger need states framework about packaging. Here is a look at the six core need states we’ve identified and what they mean for food and beverage packaging.

Enjoyment – Consumers sometimes want a way to express their freedom and self-expression to leave stress behind, enjoy life and live it to the fullest.

Sharing – We’re all social creatures, and the sharing need state exemplifies the need consumers often have to enjoy convivial moments together in trustful human interactions.

Comfort – Sometimes people just want to be alone as a way to escape reality and reduce stress. The notion of being alone on a cold day with a warm drink in one hand and a book in the other is one such occasion where comfort comes to mind.

Control – This need state is all about functionality and control for basic health and nutrition.

Distinction – Consumers want to feel empowered to make smart choices that help them achieve individual wellness and gain social respect in the process.

Energy – This need state exemplifies consumers’ desire to feel mentally and physically stimulated, refreshed and recharged through some type of activity.


The need states methodology should not be applied in a vacuum, but rather in tandem with an array of other existing marketing and business processes, from market research to concept development.

However, it’s important to implement need states early in the process. Begin by mapping opportunity areas, generating opportunity platforms, creating concepts, quantifying sizing and pricing, and then validating if it actually works with consumers.

When discussing this theory with your sales and marketing teams, just remember to forget that you are a marketing director or sales leader. Instead, think about the product. Consider what you would like to drink or eat as you journey through different need states.

Imagine you are considering a new caffeinated soy-based coffee beverage. Are you meeting any of the consumer need states you have outlined? Would you consume it in the morning, after a workout or some other time? Does it make sense for the package to be available in individual or multi-serve portions? If you can’t answer these questions, it may be time to reconsider the need state you are trying to address.

Just remember, the earlier you can start talking about need states, the more likely you’ll succeed in delivering on your promise to consumers. Implementing need states into any marketing process can start with three simple steps.

First, simply knowing that the need states framework exists is critical. Understanding the psychological underpinnings of consumers is sure to help any company in any industry that is trying to reach them.

Then it’s a matter of mapping the six emotional elements against your existing portfolio. You may discover an array of opportunities that could unlock more business potential.

Finally, don’t feel like you have to do it alone. Find an experienced partner who can help get a need states methodology off the ground. At Tetra Pak, we conduct numerous workshops with companies to help them unlock the potential of the need states approach. There are many other research agencies and resources available to help make it part of a more successful consumer marketing approach.

This article originally appeared in Brand Packaging.

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