Packaging 101 

Thursday, 20 September 2007

What is it?

it's the stuff that goes around the stuff that we actually buy.

Or - (from the design strategies site

Product packaging is the art and science of creating boxes, covers, tubes, bags and other containers that are sturdy enough to protect the product inside, and that are effective promotional pieces in themselves. To a very large degree, the quality of design work on the package affects how well your products sell. 

When shopping, you reach for products whose packaging is attractive and looks professional, and you instinctively shy away from unattractively packaged products. The design of the container along with the images, logos, marketing text, ingredients and fine print, all go into creating something people will feel confident to buy. Therefore it is essential that packaging be of the highest quality so that it acts as your in-store salesperson.

In this series of articles, we'll look at the many different aspects of packaging - from design (see article) to technology (see Bar Codes), legislation, psychology, trends, costs and, hopefully, how to make your packaging as effective (and earth friendly) as possible.

In this first we take a look at the various sorts of packaging that's available and some packaging trends.

There are three broad 'layers' of packaging:

Sales or primary packaging

Sales packaging or primary packaging - packaging which constitutes a sales unit to the final user or consumer at the point of purchase 

Grouped packaging

Grouped packaging or secondary packaging, - packaging which constitutes, at the point of purchase, a grouping of a certain number of sales units, whether the latter is sold as such to the consumer or whether it serves only as a means to replenish the shelves at the point of sale. It can be removed from the product without affecting its characteristics.

Transport packaging or tertiary packaging, i.e., packaging designed to facilitate handling and transport of a number of sales units or grouped packaging in order to prevent physical handling and transport damage. Transport packaging does not include road, rail, ship and air containers.

You can break that down further into the roles packaging fulfils - 

Containment: for items that would otherwise get away and make a mess - like sugar. To contain things we use paper (with a sealing system to prevent moisture infiltration), metal cans, plastic bags and bottles and glass. 

Transport packaging

Containment may also mean durability - the packaged food has to survive transport from the packaging at the food processing facility to the supermarket to the home for the consumer. 

Protection: packaging must protect the food from such things as biological agents, rats, insects, microbes; mechanical damage, compressive forces and vibration; and from chemical degradation such as oxidation, moisture transfer and ultraviolet light. Of course.

(Sub conscious) communication: interestingly enough, there are certain package shapes which have come to be associated with a particular product or range of products - the soft drink bottle, the Spam can and the bag of chips (though one obvious exception to this is Pringles.) So perhaps it would be a good idea to 'catagorise' your product and then do some research on how similar products are packaged.

Functionality: the package should be easy to use. This may seem mind numbingly obvious but there's still packaging around that is all but impossible to use easily.

Functionality is also taking on a whole new meaning with the emergence of new designs and materials (see the BBQ bag). However, it's been around for a while - the toothpaste tube is one example, as is frozen food that is' Microwave ready' and of couse the old six pack of beer. There are many variations on this - such as pour spouts on bottles, grinders on jars of pepper and other herbs etc. 

You could also call this 'convenience' packaging - frozen food packs, microwavable containers, wine cardboard casks, easy-open beverage and food cans and aseptic cartons are good examples of convenience packaging. Increasingly in demand.

Environmental issues:

the three r's - reduce, reuse and recycle. To which I'd add a fourth - is the material that's gone into the packaging 'green'? Is it recycled to begin with or made from sustainable materials?

Safety: Of course. But the many and varied ramifications of this are grist for another article.

Packaging Materials:

1. Paper and Natural Fibres

Current concerns with the chlorine content of paper mill effluents has focused much attention on the use of natural (i.e. unbleached) kraft pulp for packaging paper. Glass Packaging

An oldie but a goodie and getting better - a development by Yamamura Glass in Japan involves the substitution of sodium ions by potassium ions in the surface layer to produce a tough stressed skin and the Moscow Glass Research Institute recently announced a new grade of glass with a strength of 200 MNm-2, over twice the usually accepted level.  Plastic Packaging

All petroleum based. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) has become the industry standard for large containers for carbonated soft drinks due to its light weight, clarity, extreme strength and good gas retention characteristics.

Interest in environmental aspects of packaging has resulted in the wider use of refillable multi-trip containers. For this application polycarbonate, PET and the new PET/PEN grades are the main contenders. 


A  thin, transparent sheet made of processed cellulose. Polystyrene

A polymer made from the monomer styrene, a liquid hydrocarbon that is commercially manufactured from petroleum Styrofoam

A trademark name for extruded polystyrene thermal insulation material, manufactured by Dow Chemical Company.


Here in Australia, CSIRO is developing a number of sustainable packaging technologies such as

Natural packaging

Instead of relying on oil-based packaging materials, current research programs are looking at packaging that can be made with natural polymers such as proteins, starch, sugars or fatty acids. 

The goal is packaging products that are combustible, compostable, renewable and carbon-dioxide neutral.

Smart packaging

Future packaging will also be 'smart' and have the potential for sensing, monitoring and indicating.

For example, this could include packaging that:

* changes colour with temperature

* beeps when it is nearing its use-by date.

Packaging materials

A number of new-age packaging materials have been invented including:

* a new 'breathable film' for table grape packaging is enhancing the quality of stored grapes

* new 'nano coatings' for glass bottles are better preserving the quality of food and beverage products by shielding them from damaging light waves, thus improving their shelf life.

CSIRO is also working on new security packaging - unique seals and embedded optical effects - that will indicate if the product within has been tampered with prior to purchase.

Further research

Additional packaging research also includes:

* edible packaging and coatings

* stronger packaging

* improved temperature stability packaging

* improved protection against oxygen, carbon dioxide, microbes, moisture, and odour

* better surface appearance.

Some terms

Tetrapak - actually a firm (Tetra Laval Group, UK) who produce a range of packages.



Production involves printing onto rolls of layered paperboard, aluminium and polyethylene, (77%, 18% and 5% respectively)

Blister pack and blister board

Items are contained between a specially made paper (blister board) and clear PVC plastic.

Clamshell - thermoformed packages that open and close.

Header Cards

Header Cards are a versatile and economic packaging component. They can be used to hang products from a retail display, as a branding tool, as a packaging closure, and/or to offer product information.

Cryovac - a brand of  sealed air packaging 

Shelf Ready Packaging (SRP). Or Retail Ready packaging - some major chains are now insisting on it.

SRP solutions generally fit into one of the following categories: Multi-Component Corrugated Shipper, Convertible Corrugated Shipper, Tray and Shrink Pack or Easy-Open Corrugated Shipper.


� 75% of all purchasing decisions are made in store; impulse buyers select 150 to 200 brands a day

� 80% of shoppers only deride on brand after entering the store; ore select by colour than by shape


QIS Packaging:

Great site to look at different packaging:

Bags Delivered Aus WideWholesale - Order Online Now! Carry Bags & Industrial

Paper BagsPlain and Printed Quality Product &

boxes packagingTried looking in your own backyard? The search engine for Australians!

Award winning IllustratorGorgeous illustrations custom made to suit all your packaging

The Wrapping Paper Co.Gift Wrap Paper for Retail Stores Stunning Australian Design &


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