The ABCs of Product Packaging: Part One
When you’re developing a product, a lot of details need to be accounted for to make things pop. Will it taste good? Can we get the per-bottle cost low enough? How difficult would it be to get it certified organic?
It can be overwhelming. When all is said and done, you often have to juggle so many balls that it’s quite easy, even forgivable, to have a few slip between the cracks. In my experience, one of the details that frequently falls outside the entrepreneur’s gaze is packaging.
Consider the following:
- determines your product’s curb appeal
- determines how your product can be used
- affects final product stability
- can significantly change your product’s final cost
- can significantly affect your product’s order minimums
It’s not uncommon for first-time entrepreneurs to assume that their choice of packaging is a rounding error in the final outcome of their business, but to make that assumption is to make a mistake. Packaging has the ability to make or break your product.
With that said, let’s preview the packaging landscape and compare costs and benefits for the most popular options.
The Standard: The White HDPE Plastic Bottle
If you make no specifications about packaging, your manufacturer is probably going to use a white HDPE plastic bottle.
For many products this is a fine choice. HDPE bottles are inexpensive, recyclable, and come in just about every size imaginable. If you’re making things like capsules, tablets, or powders they’re a simple and cost-effective packaging solution.
Some people will argue that the biggest drawback to HDPE bottles is directly linked to why they’re useful: Everyone’s already using them. To argue this is to do a disservice to the HDPE bottle, which happens to be one of the best canvases for custom shrink sleeve labels. When working with an experienced dietary supplement label designer, the possibilities for creating eye-catching shrink sleeve labels are almost endless.
For those looking for a great design and packaging solution that isn’t weighed down by high costs or product minimums, the HDPE bottle and shrink sleeve combo is a great choice.
Stick Packs & Sachets
Portability is a powerful way to make your product stand out. Consumers are increasingly on the move, and the ability to take a product with them in their backpack or purse is often the deciding factor in what brand they buy.
If portability is essential to the usefulness of your product, you’ll want to consider packaging them in a stick pack or sachet.
A sachet is a small pouch that delivers a single serving at a time. This option allows your product to be sold either by the box or by the serving, providing attractive options (and higher pricing) that aren’t always available with bulk container solutions. Stick packs are similar, just thinner and more upright (and not at all unlike the single-serving iced-tea and lemonade mixes).
While there’s plenty of consumer phycology to support this option, there are some significant drawbacks on the manufacturing side. Both are more labor intensive to fill, and they cost much more per serving than a traditional HDPE bottle. If you choose to go this route, be prepared for at least 10,000 packet minimums (often much more) and to have higher unit costs on a per-serving basis.
Along with high costs and high order minimums, the application and printing process for stick packs and sachets requires a skilled and experienced manufacturer.
The glass jar is a boutique packaging option, and often an attractive one, for someone who wants to add a little bit of prestige (and higher price) to their product. They’re very sturdy, have a unique aesthetic, and avoid some of the negative mood affiliations people have with plastics.
Research concerning the nature of plastics and their derivatives has left some consumers with a preference for non-plastic containers, regardless of what additional research there may be concerning the safety and efficacy of HDPE bottles and other plastic-based packaging options.
Despite the boutique feel, the light-blocking abilities of amber bottles (a benefit which the clear variety, sadly, cannot offer photosensitive ingredients), and the other aesthetic benefits of glass bottles, there are some production drawbacks worth considering:
Along with almost never being included in a manufacture’s list of stock packaging options (which means a notably higher initial cost), they’re notoriously difficult to package and ship without breaking. This usually results in extra measures that manifest themselves as high shipping costs.
These are growingly popular thanks largely in part to their unique look, flexible feel, and cost effectiveness. Typically, to open and close them you’ll have the choice of a zipper or spout. Zippers are best for powders while spouts are best for liquids.
Pouches can be an awkward fit for some blending machines, so you’ll want to make sure they’re an appropriate choice for your manufacturer. With pouches you have the option of printing your artwork directly on the bag, but these require special machines and an experienced printer that will typically have order minimums of 5,000-10,000 bags (which you’ll need to get finished before you send them to your manufacturer). With average lead times of 4-6 weeks, you’ll have to plan accordingly.
Which One Is Best For You?
Like most things in business…it depends.
But to give yourself a good guide for choosing the best fit, you should ask yourself the following three questions:
- Where will my product be sold? If it’s in a retail location then you should be prepared to spend extra on packaging to make it stand out on the shelf.
- Will you make sustainability a selling point? If your product is going to be organic, gluten-free, or anything else with a “clean” connotation then glass jars or re-sealable pouches (especially paper ones) may be worth considering.
- How and when will it be used? Will your customers be using these products on the go or taking them at home? Depending on your answer, you may want to consider spending more for an option that provides greater portability.
There are plenty of packaging options out there. And while it’s not always the right business decision to invest a lot of your organizational resources into packaging that’s beyond the status quo, it’s important to understand how the packaging decisions you do make can affect your products’ long-term growth and success.
About the Author
Jonathan Bechtel has been the owner of Health Kismet, a nutrition company that manufactures and markets nutrient powders to aid digestion, cognition, and mood support since 2011. He studied nutritional biochemistry at The Ohio State University and loves basketball, the Pacific NW, and every aspect of the natural product industry.