As a consumer, we often do not give much thought to the packaging used for our products. There is a whole industry and group of people who have a deep understanding of the design and engineering that goes into the development and production of packaging. Instead of taking a deep dive into the $800 billion global packaging industry, we are going to look at packaging from the shoppers perspective. The journey starts as a consumer walks down an aisle and ends when a product is used. There’s different functionalities needed at different parts of the journey. At a distance, when the products is being compared to competitive products on the shelf, up close when the customer handles the package and looks closely, and lastly when the customer opens the package.
At a distance, when products are being compared to competitive products on the shelf, visual appearance is paramount. As products fight for limited shelf space, packaging designers look for ways to attract the eye. Metallic packaging and bright colors are ways packaging engineers look to differentiate their product. In order to print on packaging film, a coating is applied to make the film printable. Based on the printing method used on the package or label, different chemistries must be used or developed. The packaging industry will continue to see new developments in printing methods and inks as companies continue to look for new ways to gain a competitive advantage on the store shelf.
Next, as the consumer picks up the package, the way the package feels becomes a factor in addition to sight. Is the package smooth or rough, does it feel like thin, cheap plastic, or does the material feel like it’s soft, but strong. The visual element is still relevant because poor graphic quality or illegible print lower the perceived quality but the takeaway here is that the sense of touch has an impact on perceived quality and is therefore a consideration for package engineers.
Our journey concludes with the customer opening and using the product. Believe it or not, there is great consideration given to how a package tears when you open it, after all, perceived quality diminishes if they can’t open the package or struggle and tear the package, spilling the contents. And let’s not forget the smell, touch and taste of the product. Protecting the product is obviously the primary reason for the packaging. The package must protect the contents from moisture, oxygen, contaminates and handling so that the product remains fresh. Barrier films and multi layer structures often add this functionality to many of the flexible packages prevalent on store shelves today.
The packaging industry, like most things, is a microcosm that often goes unnoticed by the casual observer.