The point of packaging

Matthews Australasia General Manager Mark Dingley explains how packaging help products sail smoothly through the supply chain.  

Packaging has impact beyond well beyond the obvious primary, secondary and tertiary uses of containment, grouping and safe transport. When designed and constructed properly, it enables products to move smoothly through the supply chain. 

When designing new, or refreshing existing packaging, sometimes the biggest emphasis is on shelf appeal: how quickly it will it catch the shopper’s eye? Or how well does it convey the brand’s ethos? 

They are both very worthy considerations, but alongside them, there are several other practical aspects to take into account when designing, updating or changing packaging. From Matthews’ 40 years of experience in the supply chain, here are 10 things to consider with packaging that will ensure smooth product flow from manufacturer to end consumer. 


How flexible is your production line in adapting to changes in packaging? Can it incorporate product promotions, SKU changes, or new products and their variants? Also, identify bottlenecks at every step of production — labelling, leaflet insertion, sizing, end-of-line processes and packaging material choices.

Stacking and transportation

How well does the packaging stack? Some shippers serve both transport and warehousing duties to reduce logistics costs and improve sustainability. Also think about any daily warehouse-management efficiency improvements that can be made. For instance, what are the effects of using standard or reusable pallets? Maximise floor space and height usage, and stick to the first-in/first-out rule. It’s also worth noting that the shortest distance may not be the most efficient for transport vehicles. The trends to globally include flexible laminates and sachets in Asia; recycled-board cartons in Africa; concentrates and smaller-size packs in North America; and recyclable packaging in Northern Europe. 


Can the packaging meet the rigours of moving through the supply chain? In general, shorter and heavier shipments provide better service to customers because they are more resilient so have less damage; they also tend to arrive faster and be handled fewer times. 

Cost effectiveness

Do you really need branded film or cartons? Will generic suffice? Generic packaging that you can code or print on in-house drives down packaging costs in two ways: it costs less than pre-printed branded packaging and it takes less space to store different packaging that specific to different products. Using standard package sizes for different products can reduce changeover times, and allow better line use. Machines can then be standardised while adding lean manufacturing-related tools for continued improvements. 

Sustainability and being green

Using recyclable materials and more energy-efficient machines reduces packaging’s carbon footprint and its weight. Where possible, using materials that need lower packing temperatures also reduces energy use. Research has shown that FMCG manufacturers are mitigating the environmental impact of their manufacturing and logistics processes, with 82 per cent prioritising building sustainability into the supply chain. Improving shipment density and load utilisation is one strategy here, enabling manufacturers to maximise shipment capacity to reduce emissions, wasted capacity and potentially costs as well.

Shelf life

Of course as the “protector and container”, any primary packaging must enhance a product’s shelf life for as long as feasible. But secondary and tertiary packaging have a role to play here too. An RMIT University study on “The role of packaging in minimising food waste in the supply chain of the future”, looked at where and why food waste occurs in the supply chain. Its list of 10 recommendations showed where manufacturers can improve all packaging tiers to protect products on their journey to retail shelf, and then boost shelf life. Just one of those recommendations was educating manufacturers, retailers and consumers about the meaning of use-by and best-before dates to ensure that these are used appropriately. 

Labelling and coding

Correct, legible and scannable codes and labels play a very big role in moving product smoothly through the supply chain. One reason is that meeting compliance requirements reduces, or eliminates, the risk of customer rejection. A synchronised supply chain that shares data between parties, also reduces the likelihood of excess or out-of-date stock. 

Shelf ready and informative

Shelf-ready packaging (SRP) or retail-ready packaging (RRP) that’s designed to effectively protect products, reduces double handling and damage, and can improve stock turnover. Designed properly, it can also ensure the packaging is recoverable at the end of its life. I like the US example of Kraft’s 8-ounce (225-gram) blocks of cream cheese. Redesigning the SRP has saved them 363-odd kilograms of paper a year. Kraft did with its R&D packaging, engineering and operations teams, and corrugated suppliers. SME’s can still do this by talking to their packaging supplier. 

Design consistency and optimisation

Consistent packaging saves manufacturers money by running through production lines smoothly, and storing optimally space wise. Also, choose the best materials; computer simulation and finite-element analysis are just two ways to optimise packaging design to allow faster, more efficient handling along the entire supply chain. 

End user requirements

Consumer expectations almost sound opposing — but they are achievable: convenient sizes (think smaller households), easy opening yet tamper proof, showing respect for the environment, and attractive but functional.

 This Thought Leader article was originally published in Food & Drink Businesses, October 2015. You can find the original here

About the Author

Mark Dingley is General Manager of Matthews Australasia. With 20+ years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with manufacturers and industry associations, Mark actively contributes to industry forums, magazines and the Matthews blog. 

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