Unless you work in the packaging industry, you probably have no idea that there are several different packaging types and categories that meet very specific needs.  In fact, each of these packaging categories is so different in purpose and materials, as well as how products are packed and shipped, that they each have an industry of their own.

What can also make packaging types confusing is that they are often called different things, depending on who you’re talking to about it.   It can all get pretty confusing, which is why we’ve decided to try to clear things up for you here.

So let’s talk packaging types.

The Main Packaging Types

In general, there are three levels of packaging, and they’re called Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary.  Each of these packaging types has a different purpose, they’re made from different materials, they’re packed and shipped differently, and they’re seen by different people in the marketplace.

Innermost Layer = Primary Packaging

primary packagingAs consumers, primary packaging is the packaging type that’s most familiar to us, but it’s also the type of packaging that we do not produce here at Conner.  Primary packaging is the packaging that most closely touches the product, and it’s often referred to as retail packaging or consumer packaging (packaging for Consumer Packaged Goods or CPG).  Primary packaging is literally the last bit of packaging between the product and the end-user.  It’s generally only used in Consumer Packaged Goods, which are goods that customers use up and replace frequently.

Here are some examples to clarify the primary packaging concept:

  • If you buy dish soap, primary packaging is the squeeze bottle that holds the soap.

  • If you buy potato chips, primary packaging is the bag that holds the chips.

  • If you buy a new flash drive for your computer, primary packaging is the annoying clear plastic that you have to cut open to get to the drive (and get cut by the plastic).

  • If you’re a parent and you buy your child a doll, primary packaging is the colorful cardboard, plastic, zip ties, and twist ties that hold the doll in place on the cardboard, making you take ten minutes to get the doll out.

You get the idea here.  Primary packaging holds the product and protects it, but it also has another purpose.  Primary packaging is also designed to attract customers to the product.

You can kind of think of it as utility meeting marketing.

The most important job of primary packaging is to protect the product so that the end-user can… you know… use it.  Poorly designed protective packaging impacts the end user’s ability to use the product.  In the case of perishable goods, defective primary packaging can make the product completely unusable (or even dangerous), but even non-perishable goods can be damaged if the primary packaging doesn’t do a good job of protecting the product.

Primary packaging that doesn’t do an adequate job of protecting the product will eventually push customers toward competitor products.  That’s pretty obvious.

What is less obvious is how much products and the company can be affected by poorly designed primary packaging from a marketing perspective.  Primary packaging usually displays the company’s logo, branding, and slogan in a way that’s pleasing to consumers and advertises the product.  It’s a way to help identify products in the marketplace and distinguish the company brand.

Failure to attract customers with well-designed primary packaging is certain to affect company sales and the company’s bottom line.

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Secondary Packaging Layer For CPGs

secondary packagingSecondary packaging is the next layer of packaging and is used to ship products that are already secured within their primary packaging.  Secondary packaging is the packaging type that holds the individual product units together.  The main goal of secondary packaging is to protect the products, the primary packaging, and provide branding during shipping.

Secondary packaging is often used as display packaging in retail locations, such as grocery stores and warehouse stores, and sometimes secondary and primary packaging can overlap.  In general, secondary packaging should be tough enough to protect the product, yet easy enough for the end-user to open.

Here’s an example from consumer packaged goods.  Beer comes in the primary packaging of a can or bottle, and it has secondary packaging of the cardboard box that the cans or bottles are shipped in.  In this case, the two types of packaging definitely overlap.  Not only do the bottles (primary packaging) have the company logo and branding, but the box that holds the bottles (secondary packaging) does too.

Again… Conner does not produce this kind of secondary packaging.

Secondary Packaging for Non-CPG Manufacturers

If you don’t manufacture consumer packaged goods, like the soda, potato chips, dish soap, flash drive, doll, or beer we talked about earlier, then secondary packaging is a bit different.  Regardless of the product, secondary packaging facilitates the transportation of a product from the manufacturer to the end-user, but for non-CPG manufacturers, secondary packaging isn’t seen by the ultimate end user.

For this packaging type, that means that manufacturers don’t usually bother with marketing messages or company logos on their secondary packaging (although some do too).  In this case, secondary packaging is more about utility than marketing.  It also has to be strong enough to protect the product, yet easy enough for employees to open without damaging the product.

Although it might be difficult to see, this image is an example of some of the secondary packaging that we do here at Conner. This happens to be part of the packaging for an appliance.

This is where things can get a little bit confusing, especially if you’re not part of the packaging industry, so let’s look at an example.  Let’s look at a large home appliance, like a refrigerator.

If you manufacture refrigerators, you don’t just load your shiny new appliances on a truck and send them to a big box store.  That would invite all kinds of damage in transit.

Instead, each fridge must be individually wrapped in protective packaging, also called secondary packaging or integrated packaging.  Then each packaged fridge is packed into another layer of protective packaging (we’ll talk about tertiary packaging in a minute), before being transported to the end-user.  Secondary packaging should be tough enough to protect your item, and yet easy enough for the employees engaged in restocking, repackaging, or installation to access your product without damaging it.