Food In Canada


An easier choice

Hard to open packaging is not only frustrating, it can be potentially dangerous

There are many ways in which packaging impacts consumer decision making when it comes to purchasing food and beverage products.


Marketing-related packaging choices that aim to drive demand still sway customers, but big-picture issues are increasingly having an impact. Questions such as environmental friendliness and sustainability – in terms of the type or amount of packaging, or its recyclability – are quickly becoming significant influencers in mainstream food and beverage purchases. And it is now essential that producers demonstrate to consumers that their food and beverage packaging is made of safe materials, that it successfully maintains the safety and shelf life of the product it contains, and that it is tamperproof.


But when it comes to hot-button issues in packaging, there has been little discussion about food and beverage containers that are made specifically with ease of opening in mind. It may be a minor issue compared to food safety or sustainability, but for a substantial portion of the community with limited dexterity and/or strength, as well as North America’s burgeoning senior population, hard to open packaging is not only frustrating, it can be potentially dangerous.


A study published in August by U.K. consumer advocacy group Which? revealed that four in 10 people of the 2,000 consumers surveyed said they have hurt themselves while trying to open a package in the past two years. Another one-quarter of those surveyed said they regularly need assistance opening packaging. While moulded plastic clamshell type packaging was cited as the most frustrating, tin cans were fingered as the most injury inducing. Other common difficult to open packaging included shrink wrap and peel-off coverings.


Also cited as a source of frustration was the lack of clear, easy-to-read opening instructions on many packages. That may be why the survey found that respondents regularly resort to scissors (89 per cent), knives (66 per cent), screwdrivers (six per cent), razor blades (four per cent) and even hammers (two per cent) to get at products.


While this study did not specifically look at food and beverage packaging, a similar report published early in 2013, this one by U.K.-based packaging specialist Payne, found that 85 per cent of those surveyed had had difficultly opening packaging in the past year. Of these, 49 per cent specifically cited food and beverage packs. Clamshells were again found to be the most frustrating, followed by paperboard boxes, bag/packets, trays with lids, envelopes, shrink wrapping, plastic bottles, aseptic packs/cartons, boxes with ties, and roll wrap.


Accessibility in packaging may not overshadow priority considerations such as sustainability or safety, but it is now a real purchasing influencer for many consumers. It can also be a significant point of differentiation for products in our highly competitive retail environment. After all, no matter how healthy, safe and delicious your product is, if consumers can’t open it, they just won’t buy it.