Sachet marketing helps the poor, but there are concerns over product quality

The Issue

Products sold in small, affordable quantities is becoming a marketing strategy used not only by small brands, but also by multinational companies across developing countries. Usually made of a thin film of plastic and aluminium in a sandwich laminate form, sachet packaging targets the economic underclass and has allowed industry bigwigs like Nestle, Unilever, and P&G to gain market share and profit. Shampoo, toothpaste, cosmetics, condiments, alcohol and food are just examples of the commonplace sachet products which gives the poor access to commodities, instead of the out-of-reach, expensive and bigger products in packaged bottles and containers.

Nigeria is a case study of where the sachet economy has taken root, a country home to a large population of low-income earners. If anything hasn’t been made into a sachet yet, it’s probably being considered. Local provisional stores cater to the needs of rural consumers, so it makes sense for brands to capture this market segment when they sell products in smaller units. From cereal to beverages to other kinds of consumables, micro-selling is brands meeting consumers at the level of their purchasing power.  

Last year, Nigerians were surprised to find out that the hallowed Baileys Irish cream was available in a sachet version, which made the brand’s bubble of consumer exclusivity seemingly burst. Baileys joins the thriving local market where sachet innovation has turned alcohol into a drink-as-you-go consumable. While affordability may be the dominant reason driving this consumer buying behaviour, other reasons like perceived value, easy availability, and ease of use come into play. Consumers in high income groups also buy sachet products for their ease of use and portability. 

For example, food inflation has led to economic anxieties even for the rich as it impacts the prices of staple foods. In 2016, a big basket of tomato which usually goes for N17,000 went for N40,000, which then saw a high demand for sachet tomato paste. Furthermore, sachet tomato pastes are easy to use compared to their canned counterparts. The sachet model can be instrumental as well for brands testing out new products and trying to gauge consumer reception. Beauty and cosmetic brands are known for handing out single-use product samples of makeup and face cream as a promotional tactic, and without having to spend much on product packaging. If people end up liking it, it can boost sales.

Nonetheless, sachet branding underscores a distressing issue: that many are still at the bottom of the economic pyramid. 

The Question

There’s no doubt that, for poor consumers, sachets have eradicated barriers to product consumption. Sensing a decline in sales, brands can turn to sachets to breathe new life into the product, giving the package a new look without any substantive change in its composition. The questions that have so far lingered is the accumulation of sachet waste and what to do with them. In a world getting increasingly attuned to environmental degradation resulting from a plethora of causes, waste can no longer be considered as a benign threat. 

Another concern, though, rests on how consumers interact with sachet products. The issue of quality has been spotted in the sachet stream, where products slowly evolve into hollow replicas of the originals after a while, especially if they are edible. One consumer who occasionally buys a particular brand of biscuit used the word ‘’sawdust’’ to describe what the sachet options have been tasting like to them.

Consumers noticing discrepancies in quality doesn’t do much unless it is supported by an empirical investigation, according to food scientist Mustapha Olanrewaju. “If a food product has been sachetized, the only way to tell if quality has changed is to subject the food to various physical and chemical analyses. So here, we are checking if the moisture, sugar, and fat content has changed. And if it’s an alcoholic beverage, we are trying to find out if the alcohol content has changed so word of mouth isn’t enough. If the results of the laboratory analysis doesn’t match the claim on the sachet label, then that’s food fraud.’’

What The Streets Are Saying 

Engaging our national focus group, 67.9% of respondents said that they would patronise a brand making cheap, sachet options of an existing product, 21.4% said they wouldn’t patronise such brand, and 10.7% said maybe. Asked whether they would stay loyal to a brand if they continue making sachet products and there appears not to be a sharp leaning — 35.7% said they wouldn’t stay loyal while 35.7% said they would.

For concerns about product quality, 60.7% believe that a brand making sachet products available waters down the quality or essence while 39.3% say that it doesn’t. What this survey has been able to show is that while consumers may show an inclination towards buying products made available in sachets, they are also sparing a thought about quality. Only thing is that it’s not at the forefront of their minds. 

Accessing products that have favourable price points and package flexibility is what low earning groups are usually after. It’s also worth pointing out that the level of illiteracy amongst these groups is also high, compounded by a consumer culture that glosses over product details and composition. For brands, it’s business as usual. 


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