Is the latest product packaging new and improved?

Packages are getting smarter, though your wallet might take a hit

Published: July 2013

Manufacturers spend more than $150 billion a year on product packaging, or roughly 7 to 10 cents of every dollar that goes into a product. Much of that is designed to make goods attractive, protect them from damage, and thwart shoplifters—goals that might force buyers to grapple with impenetrable clamshells and bulletproof bags. But as the pictured product packaging show, manufacturers are starting to address those frustrations.

Good product packaging lets companies win fans by solving a problem, making life easier, or aiding the environment, says Laura Bix, an associate professor at Michigan State University's School of Packaging. Such benefits can add to a product's value, Bix says, even if a consumer pays more. "If the price per piece goes up but we reduce waste, complaints, and damaged products, there is a clear benefit to packaging improvements."

Value vs. price

People dashing to an important business meeting after a garlicky lunch, for instance, might appreciate a Listerine PocketPaks mouthwash strip, which melts on the tongue. But do they like it enough to pay almost 7 cents per tiny strip? That's an individual decision.

And it's one that might depend on a person's age. "We're in the middle of an evolution," Bix says. "The notion of old is changing. Grandma washed plastic Baggies and reused them because she came of age in the Great Depression. She accepts the status quo and is not willing to spend extra because her mind-set is that she expects the sky to fall. Those coming of age today don't want to cope with problems; they expect them to be fixed."

Better Oats instant oatmeal

The issue: Where's a measuring cup when you need one? Empty the dry contents into a microwavable bowl, pour water up to the pouch's fill line, and voilà.

Bottom line. The pouch has its place if you enjoy your oatmeal outside the kitchen. "The measuring-pouch idea was just one of those aha moments I had outside of the workplace, looking for a way to make the package work better for the end user," said Kevin McFadden, packaging and graphics development leader at Better Oats. "Not all the time is a measuring cup available, and just guessing at the amount of water needed each time can result in inconsistent oatmeal and a disappointing experience."

Clorox Clean-Up stain remover and disinfectant

The issue: No matter how furiously you squeeze the trigger, some cleaner is left. Clorox inserted a rigid tube that snakes to the base of the bottle, ensuring that you get all you paid for without "tilting, transferring, or any other crazy maneuver," the company says. The project took more than three years from concept to completion. The circled part on the label reads, "SPRAY EVERY DROP!"

Bottom line. Good to the last drop.

Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor

The issue: To foil shoplifters, razors and blades are often sold in molded plastic clamshells, which are difficult to open and use a lot of plastic. In certain versions of the Fusion, Gillette replaced the clamshell with a smaller, lighter container made from sugarcane, bamboo, and bulrush (a grasslike plant). It stores the razor and has a peel-back plastic cover that's sturdy enough to withstand shipping. Gillette says the design will help the parent company Procter & Gamble reduce its consumer-goods packaging 20 percent by 2020.

Bottom line. The package, introduced in the U.S. last year, reduces plastic and doesn't require sharp tools to open, but it's pricey. At a local CVS, we found the Fusion ProGlide in a clamshell for$10 and in the new package for $13.

Hills Ideal Balance dry pet food

The issue: Conventional bags of food for Fido or Fifi are difficult to reseal, leaving them an easy target for prying paws. The food can also go stale prematurely. This bag has Velcro along the width of the opening.

Bottom line. A smart, simple solution. Consumers "can easily feel that they have successfully closed the bag," Hills said in a statement.

Kiwi Express Shine shoe polish

The issue: This all-in-one product shines shoes without the need to spread newspaper, wear a glove, or use a brush. The dispenser has a plastic holder with an indented grip over a sponge. You just press the sponge onto the shoe and rub. The applicator snaps into a base for storage.

Bottom line. Polish went on smoothly, covered scuffs, and filled dings in leather. Shoes looked OK without buffing.

Kleenex hand towels

The issue: A shared towel can spread germs. Kleenex's paper-towel dispenser fits upside down in a bathroom towel rack.

Bottom line. At $3 for a box of 60, these towels are pricey and might be impractical (or wasteful) for everyday use. The dispenser could be helpful when you have guests, but it isn't perfect. After we removed about one-third of the towels, the rest got stuck inside the box, and we had to fish them out by hand.

Neosporin Neo To Go

The issue: Tubes of first-aid creams don't travel well in purses and pockets. This plastic capsule's trigger sprays a single dose of medicine. No gooey medicine or cotton-ball applicators.

Bottom line. The unit cost is $36 per ounce, compared with about $13 for Neosporin in a tube. To Go could be handy, but it's not a triple antibiotic—like the cream—which protects against more types of bacteria.

Olivari olive oil

The issue: Conventional bottles let oil drip from the lip, leaving tacky surfaces and greasy stains. This bottle has a narrow spout that pops up when you remove the cap.

Bottom line. "Drizzle or pour," says Jonathan Batson, a marketing associate for Olivari's distributor, "you'll get the right amount of oil every time." The spout does channel oil where it's supposed to be but can still leave a drop if you aren't careful.

SC Johnson Smart Twist Cleaning system

The issue: "No more lugging around a heavy cleaning bucket or juggling multiple bottles," SC Johnson says about this product. The handheld sprayer has a carousel that fits up to three 3.3-ounce bottles of Windex, Pledge, Fantastik, Scrubbing Bubbles, or Shout in concentrated form. You snap in the bottles, fill the sprayer's reservoir with water, and rotate the carousel until the cleaner you want clicks into the front position. Each bottle of concentrate equals 26 ounces of regular cleaner, the company says.

Bottom line. It worked as advertised, saves space, and reduces clutter. But the sprayer plus three concentrates cost $25. Refills are $8 for two cleaners, $12 for three.

Windex Touch-Up multisurface kitchen cleaner

The issue: Spray bottles can spatter cleaner beyond the soiled surface and have to be fetched from their hiding places. An unobtrusive countertop dispenser that can be operated with one hand, Windex Touch-Up has a disk-shaped nozzle that delivers a measured amount of cleaner to a paper towel, rag, or sponge.

Bottom line. It's convenient and helpful for small touch-ups. Per quart, Touch-Up costs about $15. The same cleaner in a spray bottle? $6.

Editor's Note:

This article appeared in the September 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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