How will changes in packaging affect the cost of product moving forward?
That’s a question worth pondering, because innovative designs likely will push up packaging costs, said Jeff Brandenburg, president and primary consultant for the Greenfield, Mass.-based JSB Group LLC and QFresh Lab in Salinas, Calif.
However, there are the possible returns to consider, he said.
“If it reduces shrink or minimizes spoilage or allows extra days of shelf life within your distribution channel or can you ship it by ocean freight versus air freight ... the per-unit cost could go up, but the overall cost of getting that product to market can go down,” he said.
Packaging technologies are used all the time to minimize shrink and food waste, Brandenburg said.
“Quite frankly, if packaging cost went up and there was no benefit, nobody would use it, and that benefit usually revolves around shrink or waste or spoilage,” he said.
How changes in packaging ultimately affect the cost of the produce it protects is difficult to gauge, said Steve Lutz, senior vice president of insights and innovation with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Category Partners LLC.
“I guess I don’t know the answer, because in some cases, new package types costs are even lower than before,” he said.
He cited top-seals as a potential cost-saver, since they eliminate the top half of the clamshell.
“That is lower in cost than the full-size clamshell, so I think there is some economy there,” he said. “The flip side is, pouch bags are costlier than the thin bags they replaced. I guess I don’t know how that will shake out.”
A bigger question is what packages are most attractive to consumers, from a utility standpoint and usage, Lutz said.
“If it’s an extra dime for the package and the consumer really likes it, it’s irrelevant. There’s a lot of packages out there consumers really like — pouch bags ... and some really cool fiber trays in berries and tomatoes. I think the consumer will tell us how well they like them by whether they’re willing to pay for them.”
Innovation can be considered an investment, said Karen Reed, marketing and communications director with Union Gap, Wash.-based closure manufacturer Kwik Lok Corp.
“In some cases, (there is not an increase) at all; in others where there is very new technology being introduced and there is added value there may be some increase,” she said.
Numerous challenges experienced by the global packaging industry have necessitated the need to keep operations competitive and reduce packaging budgets, said Jay Singh, professor and packaging program director with the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“Relatedly, packaging converters are being forced to reassess and seek cost-reduction opportunities,” he said. “Packaging customers (users) are adapting their supply chains away from global networks to regional suppliers to increase flexibility and resilience of packaging production.”
Materials often dictate costs, said Julie Davis, director of public affairs for Atlanta-based corrugated box maker Georgia-Pacific.
“Corrugated packaging is highly customizable and continues to be a cost-effective and recyclable solution,” she said.
On the whole, cost most likely has remained “stable” as long as raw materials don’t increase, said Jeff Watkin, graphic and marketing manager with Collinsville, Ill.-based packaging manufacturer Sev-Rend Corp.
“The new materials being introduced to the market to meet the sustainability demand may cause packaging material cost to rise,” he said.
Packaging design can drive costs, said Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer at Leamington, Ontario-based Pure Hothouse Foods Inc.
“The changes in packaging are not necessarily related to the demand; you would likely see the changes in cost being related to a change in format or the type of material the item is being packaged in,” he said.
The breadth of the current tamper-evident product offering will continue to allow for packaging options to meet the evolving needs of the market, with limited additional cost impacts, depending on variations in raw material pricing, said Cindy Blish, brand and communications manager with Shelton, Conn.-based Inline Plastics Corp.
“As more traditional packaging evolves into tamper-evident packaging, this may result in packaging options that are at a slight premium over the conventional offerings,” she said.
Where packaging is concerned, the bottom line is the quality of the product packaging is designed to protect, said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager with Wenatchee, Wash.-based grower-shipper Stemilt Growers LLC.
“Time will tell, but this is something we are very aware of when we develop a new package,” Shales said.
“We need a package that can protect the quality of our fruit, but also that is easy to pack on our packing lines, and affordable for retailers/consumers.”