Know Your Product First

Wed May 24 2023
You know the classic chicken vs. egg and which came first scenario, right? It’s an age-old riddle with varying opinions on both sides; some take it very seriously, while others think it’s irrelevant. Today, we’re going to discuss a topic in a similar vein, but I think there is a clear answer as to which comes first—packaging and the product it packages. The issue here is a little less complicated than the chicken/egg debate, but it does need to be thought through.
Learning Objectives
  • By the end of this lesson you will be able to recall 5 product questions to ask before choosing a packaging material.
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The product is what dictates the specifics of your packaging, so it’s what you need to know and understand before you begin your package design. The first and most important design decision involves the packaging material, and you need to know your product first to make the right choice there.

What is the nature and form of the product?

The product form—whether solid, liquid, or gas—is the first and most obvious aspect that influences the choice of material used for the packaging. 

Have you measured your product beyond just weight and dimensions to understand its nature? For instance, dry products need to repel moisture, while liquids require seals to prevent leakage. Certain products react with packaging materials, such as metal, while others can only come in contact with food-grade materials.1

What protection does the product need at each level of packaging? 

A package that looks great, but that doesn’t protect the product, will always be a “design fail.”2 Some products only need general containment during transit, while some food products require a modified atmosphere.3 All product components can be tested to see if it can survive the rigors of transportation 

Who is the end user of the product and how will they interact with the package? 

While a lot of focus is on the brand, Consumer packaging often comes down to preference and convenience.4 A parent may not think twice about a traditional gable top carton for themselves, but lean toward a resealable package for their child’s drink. 

How will the product be presented to the shopper? 

Packaging is commonly known as the silent salesperson2, but its design must achieve more than just being visually appealing; it must also effectively differentiate the product from its competitors on retail shelves. 

While retail shoppers primarily rely on package communication to inform their purchase decisions, online shoppers have established product expectations that extend beyond packaging alone. Therefore, packaging must provide an experience that exceeds their anticipated product expectations.24 

What sustainability expectations exist for the packaged product? 

Consider the desired end-of-life for your product and how your packaging can effectively communicate the desired disposal behavior to customers. When selecting materials for your product and packaging, take into account viable waste streams in the country or state where the product will be sold, and determine if any Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging policies exist in those regions. 

If reducing your product's carbon footprint is a priority, then leveraging packaging can be an effective way to achieve this goal.56 

Keep in mind that the best packaging material for one product may not be suitable for another. Furthermore, with the rapid pace of technological advancements, you may discover that the ideal combination of packaging materials for your product didn't even exist five years ago! 

However, by starting with a comprehensive understanding of your product, you can ultimately find the perfect material for your packaging needs.

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