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Package Development

Managing The Big Picture Development

Dec 15, 2020
7 min read

Package development requires the skilled coordination of numerous variables and unknowns and can often feel like your wrestling with a many-headed monster. There are a number of best practices you can follow to design a package and its various components that meets your product’s brand and operational requirements today and in the future. Here are 10 of the most important ones.

1. Coordinate suppliers.

Early in the package development process, meet with your existing, any pertinent and potentially newly proposed: packaging material suppliers, contract package fillers, or machinery suppliers to share your early developed program scope, critical requirements, and timelines.  Naturally, with early scope variables and unknowns, you may choose to brief more suppliers than required in early scope development work.  As an example, you may choose to include multiple primary structural solutions like a wide mouth PET bottle vendor along with a stand-up pouch vendor in your supplier development discussions- while the final structure is being vetted through your development process. It’s prudent for brand owners to involve suppliers early in the development process to mitigate risks and to ensure critical requirements are well understood like product: fill temperatures, capacities, container handling, labeling, capping, and sealing requirements can all be evaluated against using existing facilities and equipment or requiring a contract manufacturer or new equipment.

2. Evaluate stock versus custom structures.

Many different looks can be achieved by pairing stock containers with other brand enhancing elements and features—like structural colors or sensory elements in labels. However, brand inspired distinctive or unusual shapes remain the best way to grab consumers’ attention and establish a brand purchasing loyalty. And custom shapes are on the rise, especially for brand owners trying to stay a step ahead of private-label brands. One major packaging container distributor reported that 10 years ago, only 5% of its business was custom; today, it’s 50%. When custom containers are developed, consider applying for a design patent to protect your brand equity against lookalikes.

3. Understand when to work with distributors.

In the not-too-distant past, distributors of containers and materials would broker smaller initial quantities and scale up as needed. Today they do much more. Brand owners rely on distributors to have detailed regional knowledge of what manufacturing capacity and capability exists and where to best match a manufacturer to a project. Distributors can also help assemble an entire package down to the closure and label. They can manage the complexity of broad geographical just-in-time delivery, ensuring the right components show up at the right plant just in time for production. Larger distributors have even evolved to include full-blown, in-house design firms with creative designers on staff. Distributors have also become financers of custom tooling, offering creative ways to subsidize the cost by building it into the per-piece price.

4. Cut out the middleman.

There are also advantages to working directly with a material, container, or closure manufacturer. Manufacturers sometimes can be in a position to provide a quicker response to requests, complaints or issues. Also, some may offer technical services to their customers in exchange for being awarded the business. Ultimately, decide what’s best for your brand and what services you need given how widely your product is manufactured and distributed, the depth of your own technical resources.

5. Owning your custom and proprietary design.

If you’d prefer to own your intellectual property with a custom branded structure, consider hiring an independent bottle development firm in conjunction with a creative brand design group.  The output from this combined resource team will be the delivery of a unique custom branded structure that is designed for your operational and supply chain needs—while yielding freedom to have multiple suppliers quoting on your bottle sourcing opportunity.

6. Accelerate package design changes.

CPG companies can become dissatisfied with their ability to make quick packaging changes or sometimes called brand renovations. The culprit may be a reliance on the increasingly outmoded, traditional approach of creating innovative, new package concepts for individual brands and packages. To accommodate changes, many brand owners are starting to actively invite suppliers in to pitch new ideas during an “innovation day.”  The goal is to review all new ideas at once for potential application across the entire brand portfolio where and when it makes sense to do so.

7. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

Always consider how your packaging components are required to work as an assembled package system utilizing a container, label, closure, partition, and corrugated box to get your finished goods safely through the supply chain and displayed in the context of a eye catching shelf set. Naturally, we do not want that stunning structural shape and beautiful label design to be obscured by your special retail-ready display once it’s assembled and on the shelf. The ready-to-drink, or RTD, category has recently seen many design changes to keep its flavor names at the top of the package for maximum visibility in the visi-coolers commonly found in convenience stores. In a more recent trend with the growth of e-commerce, an assembled package solution designed to meet the challenging e-commerce supply chain is a critical consideration.  

8. Don’t lose sight of the consumer.

The focus must always be on the consumer and what attributes of the package are critical for them. Ask yourself, what consumer attributes are you addressing on the shelf? Consider emotional or physical needs, such as easy opening or cleanliness of access. Balance what the consumer wants and needs with the need to maintain food safety and package integrity equal to the rigors of distribution.

9. Design with equipment constraints in mind.

Many companies begin with engaging the operations team to best understand the ideal container parameters required to fit within existing operational and equipment parameter constraints to determine. Flexible and rigid designs alike can be created with these ideas in mind. Solid model prototypes can be presented both internally and to customers for early feedback and for final validation. Closures, labels, and package sizes can be discussed for best presentation, depending on container shape. Plant operations and/or contract manufacturers are critical when determining the most optimal handling solutions for your newly developed structural design.   Another consideration, before cutting metal to produce prototype tools used to produce samples for line testing, before cutting prototype molds to produce line trialing structures, would be to virtually simulate and model the performance of your newly developed structure against the expected demand of your filling line through supply chain.

10. Approach perceived cost savings and sustainability enhancement programs with robustness and critical thinking.

With in the pursuit of innovative solutions that could yield cost savings or sustainability gains, you can push the proverbial design envelope too far and too soon. This is especially true when lightweighting bottles or engineering reductions in films or corrugated materials. Properly engaging these sorts of technologies and initiatives means considering at which point the integrity of the package, or the production and delivery of it, will be adversely affected, and staying within that boundary.

Likewise, be careful not to overreach. For instance, brand owners may want to move forward aggressively on sustainability or other initiatives that, if done without cross-functional teamwork and a solid engineering analysis, can adversely affect production goals such as the need to deliver cost reductions on machinery that may require special retooling or automation tweaks to accommodate the required performance.

11. Remember, different channels require different strategies.

Consider a manufacturer with four sales channels: grocery, c-store, e-commerce, and food service (hotels, restaurants and cafes, in-store deli departments, etc.) Depending on where the product is sold, the assembled package system could be different in terms of size and material. Of course, packages can differ within these channels as well. For instance, glass is more prominent in premium channels such as upscale venues vs. mainstream retail grocery aisles, where profit margins are typically thinner. Perform research on consumer motivations, format size preference, and category expectations for each venue. As the e-commerce shopping trend continues to grow, you may take the opportunity to re-evaluate the size of the package for optimal consumer usage versus what’s optimal on shelf set.