Leave Commodity Thinking to the Stock Market! The Value of Well-Chosen Packaging

by Ken Starrett, American Excelsior Company

A lot of people have a tendency to think of their packaging products as commodities. Sure, things like packaging peanuts, bubble, polyethylene wrapping foam and corrugated cartons might sound like commodity products, but have you really looked at the purpose and value of your packaging requirements?

The first thing you need to understand is no one product is really designed to do everything. That is one of the reasons there are so many products on the market and why you need to be careful in your selections. During a recent call with one our sales representatives, the customer had called us in because they were not happy with their present supplier, and they were having damage to their products. When we mentioned the use of a Polyurethane Foam insert, they said “Oh no, we tried foam one time and we had too much breakage.” When we asked about “what” kind of foam they used, they really did not know. Knowing the weight and fragility of the product, we were quick to point out that if they tried too low a density or IFD (Indentation Force Deflation) of foam, we could see where that would be a problem. However, do you realize that there are hundreds of different densities, firmnesses and specifications on polyurethane and polyethylene foams? All of them are made with a specific application or market purpose, so you need to trust the company and the person you are dealing with to aid you in the selection process.

Remember, some companies will try and sell you what they stock or what they have, which is okay to some degree, but what you (and they) must understand-is that the right product for the right application? If not, at least get that out on the table so you can evaluate your options. You also need to remember that this doesn’t mean that the right product is going to cost more. As a matter of fact, sometimes the more suitable product for your application could be less in cost.

You need to ask questions like: What is the value of the item being protected? How fragile is it? What image do I want to project when the customer opens the carton? What is the actual overall cost of the packaging? One company made the comment that their employees bring in their newspapers, so their packaging was “free”. When “free” was evaluated, they found out:

  • Decline in units packaged – Employees were stopping to read articles as they handled the paper. 
  • Breakage was up due to the fact that some packers did not “wad the paper” as tightly as others. 
  • Lost customers (One customer commented that they quit buying as they had breakage and the paper made their vendor look cheap). 

Did it work? Sure it did to some limited degree, but it was not “free”, it came at a cost even when the material itself was free. Once this was pointed out to the customer, they switched to polyethylene foam sheeting that was perforated to the exact size they needed, and situated over each packaging station, it helped to free up floor space and provided a nice clean work area, as well as a professional package.

Ever thought of spending more money on packaging to save money? Another example can be made with die-cut polyurethane or polyethylene foams. Both are great products for bracing and protection, but in some cases you can go to a higher density product and actually reduce the amount of material you need. If you are using 2” of material and a firmer or more protective foam can give equal or greater results using just 1” of material, not only could you see a reduction in your material costs, you might be able to reduce your overall carton size and cost, which in turn could result in lower overall shipping costs due to the reduced weight of the entire package.

Custom engineered fabrication of flexible foam products such as polyurethane and polyethylene are not as expensive as you might think, and they may be able to offer down-stream savings.

If you stop and think about “what” you are packaging, you might realize that the product choice to cushion and protect your shipments are just as important as the processes you went through to get the product to the shipping department.

There are a lot of fine packaging products in the market today, and each one has its own merits and limitations. The best thing you can do is take the time to visit with a representative who has a variety of product expertise to help assist and design your packaging needs.

Remember, one product cannot fit every application. If you think of packaging as just a commodity product, or you try and take the easy route of forcing one product to meet every packaging need, you may be guilty of “commodity thinking”.