The Evolution of Household Packaging
How design innovations are pushing the boundaries of sustainability, ergonomics and shelf appeal
By Sheldon Yourist, Senior Director of Global Design & Mike Milazzo, Senior Director of Engineering at Graham Packaging
The household products industry consists of manufacturers of nondurable goods, including cleaning products, detergents and disinfectants. The packaging for these products has evolved significantly over the years with new technologies and processes that are helping make products more durable, attractive and sustainable.
The Evolution of Household Packaging
Before plastic packaging was commercialized for mass production, many household products were sold in paper or metal containers. When blow-molded plastics became mainstream in the 1970s, plastic packaging manufacturers worked with brands to “reverse engineer” bottle design concepts that were carved as wooden models for mold-making prior to the use of computer-aided design tools for manufacturing.
Much has changed since then. Computers now allow companies to get creative with design features to develop what is known as a “family of shapes” for a brand that can be scaled to meet the product’s fill requirements. Ergonomics also play an important role in making sure the package is easy to handle and doesn’t add unnecessary stress for the consumer.
Designing for Sustainability
Today, designers continue to focus on the ergonomics and design of household goods, but there is also a much greater emphasis on sustainability. In the mid-2000s, using concentrated liquids for products such as laundry detergent grew in popularity, marking the first step toward reducing the amount of plastic required per container. While reducing package size is still an important factor in design, there is a greater focus on packaging that offers greater recyclability or reusability.
Manufacturers are also working to develop packaging that contains less virgin material and higher levels of post-consumer recycling (PCR) or post-industrial recycling (PIR). Although tremendous emphasis has been placed on consumer recycling practices, many manufacturers have found success by collecting and regrinding waste material that occurs throughout the manufacturing process. Additionally, companies are now exploring bioplastics and bio-derived plastics resins to improve carbon footprint.
Post-industrial recycling (PIR) is the process of capturing and recycling waste material that occurs during the manufacturing processBenefits of Live Design
While sustainability is a critical factor in household packaging, brands continue to seek out designs that help move their product and boost sales. However, with so many stakeholders involved in the design process, the most efficient and productive way to achieve an optimal packaging design is to ensure everyone has a seat at the table. From the very beginning of the development cycle, key stakeholders are included in the ideation phase to ensure there are no issues during the manufacturing process.
“Live Design” is a process that brings together experts from design, engineering, marketing and procurement — either in person or virtually — to engage in real-time package design. These live creative sessions use whiteboard technology to create a virtual room where participants can view concepts, add notes or comments and vote on their favorite designs. This not only helps to ensure a successful outcome, but it can also accelerate speed to market, which is of particular importance now as companies struggle to hold in-person meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are many benefits to live design, including understanding the criteria for bottle lightweighting. This is the process of removing as much material from a package as possible without compromising its structural integrity. Lightweighting not only helps decrease the amount of material per container, but it also reduces pallet weight and helps lower the product’s carbon footprint.
While lightweighting has been in practice for years, new technology allows companies to control the amount of material that is placed throughout the container or bottle. A new patent-pending, blow-molding process allows for additional plastic to be placed along a vertical orientation of the parison. This happens just prior to molding the bottle, which allows the manufacturer to specifically concentrate the plastic thickness in just the corners while removing excess material from areas where it isn’t required to maintain structural integrity. This process is ideal for many household products with handles since the majority of the weight can be concentrated in areas in the bottles where it is needed the most for structural integrity.
Ergonomics also play an important role in household product design. A container’s center of gravity can impact the strain on a person’s wrist while pouring, so it needs to be optimized during the design phase. For example, handles could have textured grips to prevent slipping. Even the size of the handle should be taken into consideration based on the product’s target demographic.
To overcome these and other ergonomic challenges, companies are turning to 3D printers to test a variety of shapes before giving it to a customer for market research and production. Using this technology, products such as large detergent bottles can be optimized ahead of time to eliminate packaging issues with consumers.
As online shopping continues to swell, companies are modifying household packaging to ensure safe transport through the distribution channels. For example, spouted bottles — such as those found in laundry detergent bottles — have the propensity to leak during the shipping process since they were not designed to be shipped through e-commerce channels. Not only is this a concern for the consumer, but it can also lead to additional labor costs to wrap and seal the containers before transport to catch spills during shipping.
Packaging companies are looking at alternative design solutions that integrate the spout into the bottle, called directional pour, which also allows for the use of an induction seal. This advancement has numerous benefits to household packaging, including helping to prevent spillage during transport, reducing secondary packaging through palletization and creating lighter bottles with a decreased footprint for more efficient e-commerce packaging for items such as detergents and cleaners.
Customers also look to packaging companies to optimize the bottle’s footprint without sacrificing design style. This allows brands to load more product per truck to drive additional efficiencies, cost savings and sustainability.
Brand appeal and product integrity are critical to elevating in-store purchases. Packaging can play a pivotal role at the point of purchase in countless ways. Some more recent advancements to elevate shelf appeal include:
- Repeatable, precise labeling process for greater consistency
- Embossed textures and logos to attract consumers and encourage reuse
- Creating containers that offer flexible fill volumes during point-of-sale promotions
- Color gradation technology that can change the bottle color from the top of the package to the bottom
- Unit dosage capabilities to ensure precision pouring for laundry detergent, etc.
While technological advancements have led to significant changes in household packaging over the decades, the approach should still be rooted in designers and their creative process. Companies that can bring all their tools and talent together to work in harmony and deliver the optimal household packaging solution will be successful in achieving the goals of their customers while delivering on the brand promise demanded by today’s consumers.