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Common Ways Flexible Packaging Projects Can Fail

Jun 29, 2021
4 min read

Flexible packaging for consumer goods is gradually claiming market share in a number of categories. Whether you’re the first to market with flexible in your category or trying to ride the wave, it’s best to proceed with caution. Here are some serious considerations to keep top-of-mind while developing new flexible packaging.

1. Not understanding consumer needs.

A household-cleaning product in a stand-up pouch seems like an innovation ripe for the market. Aside from convenience and refillability, sustainability gains would also be achieved. But what was a popular package format for similar products in Europe did not fly so well in the U.S. For good or bad, U.S. consumers are curious creatures of habit and, sometimes, doggedly resistant to change.

2. Not understanding retailer needs.

Avoid shortsighted design that consumers may like but that doesn’t work well in distribution systems or on store shelves. Retailers will reject packaging out of hand if it doesn’t move through their supply chain efficiently, fit on their shelves the way they like, or sell down neatly and easily.

3. Under-marketing the advantages of flexible packaging.

With a new packaging format in a category, education is advisable. It’s arguable that some less-than-stellar flexible packaging introductions of the past might have caught on had the brand owner marketed the key advantages to consumers right on the package. Advertising campaigns can also help consumers become more comfortable with a new user experience. Another strategy is to lower the price of a product in a new flexible package, temporarily, to entice consumers to abandon the legacy packaging format.

4. Poorly defined or changing requirements.

Not doing your homework up front in terms of fleshing out the package requirements is a sure-fire recipe for failure. Alternatively, rushing a new film or flexible packaging format to market without fully investing in validating the idea using test rolls of film can also be trouble. Finally, changing requirements halfway through a project may not cause failure, but will likely result in a missed launch window, extra costs, or delayed sales and profits.

5. Too many projects under way at once.

The “mental make-ready” time of having to constantly switch mental gears between different projects can add delays, introduce mistakes, and reduce the overall quality of work and design. You’re better off knocking out projects sequentially with fewer distractions.

6. Poor supplier coordination.

Flexible packaging development snags often occur due to unclear, inadvertent, or incorrect assumptions surrounding package size, shape, material, and machinability. Avoid these bottlenecks by bringing together both machinery and materials suppliers, setting clear expectations, and including them on your team communications. Ensure that everyone reviews and commits to a common timeline, and jointly discuss any potential technical hurdles to avoid misunderstandings. Proper coordination will reduce the potential for things to go wrong, add clarity and responsibility, speed up resolutions, and minimize finger-pointing later when problems occur.

7. Poor internal communication.

When things do start to go wrong, a culture where bad news gets hidden will just make things worse. Creating an open communication climate where bad news gets reported and acted on immediately will yield positive results in the end.

8. No contingency plan.

Selecting a given construction and discarding all other possibilities can be risky. It’s not impossible for a new structure to pass all the tests and still have failures out in production and distribution. Starting over from scratch will waste valuable time. The better alternative is to work on multiple constructions in parallel during the package development process. If your chosen construction fails, you don’t have to go back to the drawing board at the last minute.

9. Not enough closure.

Spouts and closures for flexible packages are becoming more and more sophisticated. Though often small in size relative to the bottle, pouch, or tube container it caps, closures can have the biggest impacts for consumer functionality, ease of use, and comfort. A spout or closure is often the primary point of interaction the consumer has with the product and package. Don’t downplay its importance; make sure it works as advertised, with few failures, if any. (For more, read “Closure best practices that keep possibilities open” in the Packaging Development Playbook.)

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