Packaging for the Modern Patient: Key Considerations for E-Commerce

By Todd Meussling, Senior Manager, Market Development, Fresh-Lock

Prescription pills in plastic medicine bottles.As e-commerce continues to grow, industries across the board are looking to streamline packaging solutions to meet the rigorous demands of this unique supply chain. Simultaneously, consumer habits and expectations have evolved in a digital world, and we’ve seen the adoption of e-commerce purchasing grow across generations.

In fact, FMI and Nielsen reported that 61 percent of millennials, 55 percent of gen-Xers and 41 percent of baby boomers recently purchased a CPG product online. These trends have left the pharmaceutical industry, in particular, with a seemingly difficult question: how can pharma brands provide consumers with their medications in ways that they deem convenient and accessible?

Flexible package can be thoughtfully engineered to withstand the drops, vibrations and additional touchpoints of the e-commerce supply chain. In addition, recent innovations in child resistance mean that reclosable flexible pouches can also meet the compliance standards required by the FDA. But first, it’s important to consider the physical demands of e-commerce pharma brands are currently experiencing.

Key E-commerce Packaging Considerations

The pharma industry realizes that, while consumer demands are shifting, their product expectations are not. The e-commerce supply chain is much more rigorous than the supply chain of the past and can cause products to get damaged before they get to consumers’ doorsteps. However, consumers still expect prescriptions to arrive in the same condition as if they had picked them up at their local pharmacy.

The final moment of truth occurs when the consumer unboxes their recently ordered medications. Are they happy or disappointed? This moment is possibly the most important piece of both the consumer experience and the online purchase journey. Rarely, if ever, do consumers choose the dented can or crushed box in the grocery store – let alone consume damaged medications that can be vital to their health.

This leaves brands debating, “How can we ensure that soft gels and other vulnerable pharmaceuticals don’t break down during the shipping process?” Flexible packaging can give and flex with shipping movements and, with thoughtful engineering, can be designed to protect products. Topped with a child-resistant closure, brands can still provide consumers with the convenience they desire without sacrificing packaging safety.

As pharmaceutical companies continue to explore new packaging solutions for e-commerce, programs and testing procedures can help mitigate potential problems. Amazon’s frustration-free concept, as well as ISTA, for example, provide opportunities to understand how packaging performs in e-commerce distribution. These programs use shaker and drop tests to help companies determine how their product holds up during travel — and ensure the consumer is satisfied at the final moment of truth.

Addressing Compliance Concerns

One of the largest considerations when packaging pharmaceuticals is ensuring FDA standards are met, particularly for child resistance. Since the Poison Prevention Packaging Act in 1970 was implemented, packaging solutions in the pharmaceutical sphere have been largely limited to rigid packaging, such as bottles with push-and-turn caps or blister packs. Meeting compliance can be a rigorous process, and once companies obtain FDA approval for packaging, they may be hesitant to adopt new technology and innovations.

The exciting news is that over the past five years, flexible packaging has made strides to develop child-resistant sliders that are currently in use on household products, such as laundry detergent. This means that tested and proven child-resistant solutions not only already exist in flexible packaging, but consumers are familiar with and comfortable using this packaging. This offers pharmaceutical brands additional validation as they work to transition out of rigid packaging.

Sustainability as a Secondary Benefit

Beyond meeting compliance, sustainability is another consideration when vetting packaging solutions for pharmaceuticals. Traditionally, pharmaceutical packaging has featured multiple components and materials. This has become especially true with the rise of e-commerce as brands look to better protect products for the additional touch points in this supply chain. However, having so many components, some of which may not be recyclable, is not only a potential cost burden but also creates unnecessary waste. The increased amount of waste has become even more problematic as consumer demand for recyclable and sustainable packaging continues to rise.

Flexible packaging not only provides child resistance, but, in many cases, enables pharma brands to combine primary and secondary packaging, eliminating materials used and waste. In addition, as new technologies emerge to provide recyclable films and closures to the packaging industry, there will be opportunities for pharma brands to offer customers sustainable packaging, such as fully recyclable pouches.

The Future of Pharmaceutical Packaging

As the industry continues to move forward and as baby boomers continue to age, it’s crucial that pharma brands consider packaging alternatives that are not only compliant but meet consumers expectations. E-commerce is no longer just a consumer desire but a consumer demand, and those brands that proactively pursue solutions for this rigorous supply chain will be poised for future success.

About the Author

With more than 30 years of industry experience, Todd Meussling serves as the senior manager of market development at Fresh-Lock.

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