Understanding the purpose of packaging.

Many products come in packaging, bottles, boxes and other containers. With the increasing interest in sustainability, perhaps we need to understand the purpose of packaging.

1) Bulk Items.

In the past, many items are sold as bulk items, which means they don’t come with any packaging. You will have rice, nuts and other dried goods packed in jars, and you buy what you need, bringing your own containers.

With modern trade, we see many of these items wrapped in plastic and sold in packages of various size.

The main reason why people choose to buy products in plastic is because of convenience. Consumer can just pick up a pack of dried goods and place in the shopping cart. This saves time as they do not need to weigh the item in order to buy it.

For the vendor, packing it in plastic offers several benefits. Product packaging is a marketing tool and can help you differentiate with the competitors. It offers brand recognition and packaging can also contain a lot more information and colors to sway the buying decision of the consumers. One of the biggest importance of packaging, especially for bulk foods is that packaging has an expiry date and proper packaging can preserve the freshness of the items for longer. It also gives the perception of hygiene.

2) FMCG products

For FMCG products, packaging is used to contain the item. Different material are used for different products, potato chips and similar products are packaged in foil packaging pouch with air to prevent the contents from getting crushed during shipping.

Various other liquids such as detergents, milks and sodas are often packaged in plastic bottles. The type of plastic will also vary to have different properties. Some bottles need to be sterile and not react with the contents, other bottles need to be lightweight and strong as the contents can be heavy, and they need to be stackable as well. Frozen food like fish sticks, are also often packaged in box, and the contents are kept within a plastic bag within the box to prevent the plastic to be damaged while it is getting shipped.

Many products we see in the supermarkets today is in the packaging now because of countless research and adjustments. Of course, there will be many cases where the designers just copy existing packaging without understanding the requirements and guidelines behind it, but most packaging have various iterations before they reach the shelves.

To come out with better packaging for FMCG products would also mean that the costs will be higher. Different materials (or sustainable materials) will cost more than the common materials seen. Even when some materials can do the job better, or they can be composted, because it is not common enough, there may not be economy of scale, and hence not widely adopted.

3) Other goods and items.

The primary purpose of packaging of many other goods is to prevent products from getting damaged. There is internal packaging which may consist of a smaller box and packaging “stuffing” materials. Then, there is an external packaging which is usually an external stackable box that contains printed information on the products within.

Like FMCG products, the other purpose of packaging is to differentiate from competitors. When the product stacked, the packaging along with other products together need to be attractive enough for consumers to pick it up and it will help in buyer decision.

Lastly, when your products have an inner packaging, the whole product “unboxing” can be an experience that can be developed. There are a lot of good examples of the “unboxing” of Apple products. A small form factor can contain information and give a “luxury feel” without spending too much on expensive materials.

This has even been applied to many luxury items like watches, and even whiskey!

A sustainable packaging concept can be a very powerful tool to convey this message as well, and the whole packaging of the final product is one thing that many companies miss, but it can be one of the most important step to get the consumer to buy the product.