Packaging 361
Photo by: Ferenc Szelepcsenyi

Packaging refers to the container or wrapper that holds a product or group of products. Most commercial packaging serves two basic functions: protecting the product from damage during shipping, and promoting the product to the ultimate consumer. Some common types of packaging include shipping cartons, containers for industrial goods, and bags, boxes, cans, and other holders for consumer products. Packaging is of great importance to both sellers and buyers of products. It can prevent spoiling, breakage, tampering, or theft; enhance convenience in use or storage; and make products easier to identify. A significant improvement in packaging can even create a "new" product by expanding the ways in which it can be used, and thus its potential markets. For example, a soup that is packaged in a microwavable bowl might suddenly increase its sales to working people.

Prior to World War II, packaging was used primarily to surround and protect products during storage, transportation, and distribution. Some packages were designed with aesthetic appeal and even for ease-of-use by the end consumer, but package design was typically left to technicians. After World War II, however, companies became more interested in marketing and promotion as a means of enticing customers to purchase their products. As a result, more manufacturers began to view packaging as an integral element of overall business marketing strategies to lure buyers.

This increased attention to packaging coincided with socioeconomic changes taking place around the world. As consumers became better educated and more affluent, their expectations of products—and their reliance on them—increased as well. Consequently, consumers began to rely much more heavily on manufactured goods and processed food items. New technologies related to production, distribution, and preservatives led to a massive proliferation in the number and type of products and brands available in industrialized nations. Thus, packaging became a vital means of differentiating items and informing inundated consumers.

The importance of consumer packaging was elevated in the United States during the late 1970s and 1980s. Rapid post-war economic expansion and market growth waned during that period, forcing companies to focus increasingly on luring consumers to their product or brand at the expense of the competition. Package design became a marketing science. And, as a new corporate cost-consciousness developed in response to increased competition, companies began to alter packaging techniques as a way to cut production, storage, and distribution expenses. Furthermore, marketers began to view packaging as a tool to exploit existing product lines by adding new items and to pump new life into maturing products.

Today, good package design is regarded as an essential part of successful business practice. Since many potential customers first notice a new product after it has arrived on the shelves of a store, it is vital that the packaging provide consumers with the information they need and motivate them to make a purchase. But packaging decisions involve a number of tradeoffs. While making a product visible and distinctive may be the top priority, for example, businesses must also comply with a variety of laws regarding product labeling and safety. Protecting products during transport is important, but businesses also need to keep their shipping costs as low as possible. The following provides an overview of some of the factors to consider in packaging products for consumer markets.


Consumer packaging serves to contain and communicate. A product's "packaging mix" is the result of several requirements that determine how a package accomplishes those two basic functions. Robert D. Hisrich identified eight major package requirements that dictate the mix. A package must: protect the product, be adaptable to production-line speeds, promote or sell the item, increase the product's density, help the consumer use the product, provide reusable value to the user, satisfy legal requirements, and keep packaging-related expenses low. Two classes of package design criteria are functional requirements and sales requirements.

FUNCTIONAL REQUIREMENTS Package design must meet five groups of functional criteria: in-home, instore (or warehouse), production, distribution and safety, and legal. In-home requirements usually dictate that packaging be convenient to use and store, remind users when and what to repurchase, reinforce consumers' expectations of the product, and tell them how to safely and effectively use the product. In addition, increasing numbers of consumers expect packaging to be recyclable and environmentally sensitive.

In-store criteria require that packaging attract attention on the shelf, instill confidence in the buyer, identify the product or brand and differentiate it from the competition, communicate benefits and uses, and entice customers to actually purchase the item. The product must also be easy for retailers to store and stock on the shelves or the floor, and simple to process at a check-out counter or other final point of distribution. For instance, packaging that is oddly shaped and takes up a large amount of space may draw attention, but it may also be shunned by mail-order sellers concerned about shipping costs or by space-conscious store retailers.

Production demands, the third group of functional criteria influencing packaging, are primarily based on cost. A designer may create a fantastic package that would perform excellently in the marketplace, but if the company cannot find a way to produce the package cost-effectively, the design is useless. Among the most important considerations in this realm is production line speed. If a container is too long, wide, or short, it could significantly slow the speed of the production machines. Similarly, if the top or spout of a container is too small or is oddly shaped, the product may not flow easily into the package.

Packaging considerations related to distribution and safety are important and numerous. If an unacceptable portion of the goods are damaged during storage, transportation, or distribution, the package has failed. Likewise, if the package injures the user, future sales could be lost or the company could be liable for damages. As a result, packaging engineers face numerous technical considerations that have a residual impact on the final look and feel of the package. For instance, packages must be able to withstand the pressure of several other crates stored on top of them. They must also be able to resist moisture, adapt to temperature changes, and withstand rough handling. From a cost standpoint, packages must also be designed to suit standardized transportation requirements related to weight, size, and durability. Finally, they should be designed so that the bar code on the package is easily scanned.

Furthermore, packages should ideally be designed to handle normal use by consumers. Examples of packages that may result in harm to consumers include: those with sharp edges, such as some pull-top canisters; glass containers; and heavy item boxes which might break when the consumer is carrying them or cause strain or injury to the consumer when picked up or set down.

The fifth basic group of functional packaging requirements relate to laws and legislation . Various federal laws have been passed to protect consumers from misrepresentation and unsafe products. For instance, some laws require that potentially dangerous goods, such as gasoline or drugs, be stored in specially constructed containers. Other laws forbid producers from misrepresenting the quality or quantity of a product through misleading packaging. Perhaps the most influential class of laws that affect packaging, however, is that related to labeling.

PRODUCT LABELING The label is the text printed on a product package or, in the case of items like clothing, attached to the product itself. Legally, labels include all written, printed, or graphic material on the containers of products that are involved in interstate commerce or held for sale. The main body of legislation governing packaging and labeling is the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1966. It mandates that every product package or label specify on its "principal display label" (the part of the label most likely to be seen by consumers) the following information: 1) the product type; 2) the producer or processor's name and location; 3) the quantity (if applicable); and 4) the number and size of servings (if applicable). Furthermore, several restrictions apply to the way that the label is displayed. For example, mandatory copy required by the act must be in boldface type. Also, if the company is not listed in the telephone book, the manufacturer's or importer's street address must be displayed.

Other information required by the act relates to specific foods, toys, drugs, cosmetics, furs, and textiles. For instance, under the act labels for edible products must provide sodium content if other nutritional information is shown. They must also show ingredients, in descending order from the one of highest quantity to the one of least quantity. Certain food items, such as beef, may also be required to display qualitative "grade labels" or inspection labels. Likewise, "informative labeling" may be required for products such as home appliances. Informative label requirements mandate information about use, care, performance capability, life expectancy, safety precautions, gas mileage, or other factors. Certain major home appliances, for example, must provide the estimated cost of running each make and model for one year at average utility rates.

Congress passed significant new labeling legislation, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, that became effective in the mid-1990s. This act is intended primarily to discourage misleading labeling related to health benefits of food items. Specifically, many package labels subjectively claimed that their contents were "low-fat," "high-fiber," or possessed some other health virtue when the facts indicated otherwise. Basically, the new laws require most food labels to specify values such as calorie and cholesterol content, fat and saturated fat percentages, and sodium levels.

SALES REQUIREMENTS In additional to functional requirements, product packaging must be designed in a way that will appeal to buyers. The four principal merchandising requirement areas are: apparent size, attention drawing power, impression of quality, and brand-name readability.

Apparent size entails designing packaging to look as large as possible without misrepresenting the actual contents. This objective can be achieved by ensuring that the panels or dimensions of the package most likely to be viewed by the consumer are the largest, and that the product or brand name is shown on the most visible areas in large letters. In addition, the package can be made to look larger by using solid colors and simple, bold designs free of borders, superfluous art work, and unnecessary print. The pretense of largeness is particularly important for packages containing commodity items, such as rice, driveway salt, and canned fruit or vegetables.

Attention drawing power refers to the aesthetics and obtrusiveness of the package design. Depending on the product and the goals of the marketers, the package may be made to appear attractive, exciting, pure, soft, sexy, scary, intriguing, or to evoke some other emotion. In most cases, though, the product is displayed on the front of the package in the form of a picture, art, or see-through window. In addition, bright colors, glossy stock, obtrusive carton displays, and other elements can garner positive attention if used prudently.

A quality impression is an important sales requirement for packaging because items that are perceived to be of low quality are usually assumed to be a poor value, regardless of price. Examples of packaging mistakes that convey low quality or poor value include: faded lettering or colors, tacky designs or strange typeface, outdated pictures and designs, and cheap construction.

Readability is the fourth basic sales requirement for successful package design. This element is of paramount importance for products like breakfast cereal that are shelved next to several competing brands and products. If the package attempts to convey too many messages, it will likely fail to connect with the consumer. Because of the mass of buying choices, buyers typically do not take time to absorb messages on packaging, with the possible exception of high-priced specialty items. Among other guidelines, letters or logos should be large and printed in the same type style as that used in complementary print and television advertising. The requirement of readability contributes to the difficulty in packaging completely new products.


One of the most critical roles for packaging is promoting products. Indeed, just as ease-of-use and readability are elements of the strategic packaging mix, packaging is an important part of a company's strategic marketing mix. Most packages for consumer products are designed for one of three purposes: 1) to improve the packaging of an existing product; 2) to add a new product to an existing product line; or 3) to contain an entirely new product.

Redesign of packaging for existing products may be prompted by several factors. Many times, a company may simply want to breathe new life into a maturing product by updating its image or adding a new feature to the package, such as an easy-pour spout. Or, a company may redesign the package to respond to a competitive threat, such as a new product that is more visible on the shelf. Other strategic reasons for package redesign are: changes in the product; economics, which may require less or more expensive packaging; product line restructuring; alterations in market strategy, such as aiming the product at a different age group; trying to promote new uses for a product; or legal or environmental factors that lead to new materials or technology. Even small packaging changes for established brands and products typically require careful consideration, since a great deal of money is often at risk if a company alienates or confuses customers.

A second reason for package redesign is to extend a product or brand line. In these instances, the packaging strategy usually reflects an effort to closely mimic the established brand or product, but to integrate the benefits of the new feature into the existing package in such a way that customers will be able to easily differentiate it from other products in the line. The chief risks inherent in packaging for extensions are that the new package will confuse customers or frustrate retailers.

The third impetus for package design is the need to generate housing for an entirely new product. This is the most difficult type of packaging to create because it often requires the designer to instill consumer confidence in an unknown product or brand, and to inform the buyer about the product's uses and benefits. Packaging for products and brands that are entirely new to the marketplace are the most challenging to develop. In contrast, packaging for goods that are entering established product categories require less education, but they must overcome established competition. A common packaging strategy for such products entails mimicking the packaging of leading products, which helps to assure the buyer that the product is "normal."


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