5 Reasons Why Packaging is Critical for Healthcare Consumer Innovation

When it comes to innovation in healthcare, few understand the value of packaging - but getting the packaging right is critical to get a delightful consumer experience, the right product efficacy and safety, retailer buy-in, and regulatory support. All factors, which are critical to in-market success. According to MarketResearch.com, the global healthcare packaging market is set to reach $117.2 billion this year.

Failure to account for packaging often leads to significantly delayed timelines, as teams scramble to address the overlooked issues. To avoid costly mistakes, its recommended that organizations work alongside experienced packaging professionals with a track record in appropriate testing procedures that meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.

Here are 5 reasons why packaging is a critical part of any product innovation, as well as how to plan around the various considerations of new-to-market packaging.

1.-  First Moment of Truth – In-store presence

In 2002, A.G. Lafley created the term FMOT, or First Moment of Truth, defined as the moment "when consumers stand in front of store shelf and decide whether to buy your brand, or a competing product".  

In designing a package, it’s important to realize that consumers often purchase emotionally, which might seem counter intuitive in such a scientifically-driven industry. As such, the branding conveyed in a package can directly impact the sales of a product: according to Packaging Digest, 90% of snap judgements made about products can be based on color alone.

At GSK, biometric tools, such as eye-tracking are regularly used in the Shopper Science Labs to understand how shoppers behave, both rationally and emotionally, and to test reactions to innovation prototypes in the context of their future shelves.

Some key questions to answer in order to optimize the FMOT of a new packaging:

  • Through what channels will the product be sold?
  • How will it be shelved? How does it look next to its’ competitive set?
  • Is it easy to find? Does it catch the attention of the shopper?

Consider the example of orthotic shoe inserts — by cutting a hole in the packaging to allow consumers to feel the gel-based cushioning for themselves, brands employing this method could establish a greater sense of trust among prospective purchasers with little associated production cost. Creating a package that provides consumers a sense of what to expect prior to purchasing is a universally effective design element, irrespective of product category.

2.- Second Moment of Truth – In-Use Consumer Delight

Logically, the term SMOT, or Second Moment of Truth, was also introduced, and defined as "when consumers use a product and it delivers a delightful and memorable experience - or not and then decide whether to buy it again". 

Packaging designers have an infinite number of parameters to play with, when they design the physical parameters of their packaging: size of the packaging, 3D shape, dispensing technology, materials, and of course sensorial attributes like color, feel, and even smell.

Some key questions to answer in order to optimize the SMOT of a new packaging:

  • Who are the users? Are they young adults, seniors, or children?
  • Where will they store the product, and where will they use it? Will they travel with it? Will it be carried in hand bags, pockets, suit cases?
  • How is the dispensing experience? Does it create a mess?
  • Does it deliver the same experience throughout the lifetime of the product, ie from the first use when packaging is opened and primed, to the last use when the packaging is almost empty?
  • How is the unpacking experience?
  • How will consumers dispose of the packaging?

Zero-waste shaving cream pods are an interesting example of innovating around TSA airline travel restrictions, affording an eco-friendly, single use solution for shaving on the go made possible through dissolvable film. By taking cues from adjacent market categories with respect to form, function and packaging, organizations can innovate around certain restrictions to create novel, highly effective and desirable consumer products.

3.- Human Factor Engineering and Usability Engineering – In Use Safety

The FDA has issued a set of guidelines to understand how people interact with medical devices and to ensure that there is no compromise on safety. Human Factor Engineering/Usability Engineering considerations in the development of medical devices involve: (1) device users, (2) device use environments and (3) device user interfaces. 

Device Users might be health care professionals, care givers, patients, or parents of patients. They should be able to use the product without compromising on safety, and without making errors. Some parameters to consider are the physical size, strength, dexterity, sensorial abilities (eg. vision, tactile sensitivity), level of education and knowledge of similar device, etc… Designing and validating Child Resistant Caps, aimed at eliminating the risk of accidental poisoning is now a key requirement for packaging designers.

Device Use Environment could be used in clinical environments or at home, community settings or moving vehicles.  Examples of environmental use conditions include the lighting and noise level, the room that could contain other similar devices, or a moving vehicle, which could make it difficult for the user to read a display or perform fine movements.

Device User Interface includes all elements of the device with which the user interacts, like setting up the device (e.g., unpacking, set up, calibration), using the device, or performing maintenance on the device (e.g., cleaning, replacing a battery, repairing parts).

4.- Product Protection – Ensuring Product Quality over it’s lifetime

Protecting the product against external influences (eg. moisture, light, oxygen and temperature), biological contamination, and physical damage is critical to insure quality over the product’s lifetime. Actually, it is the primary function of packaging. In doing so, packaging itself should not have an adverse effect on the product (eg. through chemical reactions, leaching of packaging material or absorption).  Therefore, extensive technical testing is required to validate a new packaging. ISO 11607 describes main components of the test plan, which consist of seal integrity (seal strength), material integrity (bubble leak), distribution testing, and package aging. Reasonably so, ageing has the longest lead time, and ageing tests that last six months are not the exception. Therefore, it is important to factor this consideration into the timeline during the planning stage. Final assembly of the package must be conditioned as it would be in real life before executing any testing, meaning that the product should always be sterilized before such testing occurs.

5.- Some trends that could change everything

The share of E-commerce in the retail environment keeps growing, and Consumer Healthcare products are not left behind. In an e-commerce world, consumers no longer browse shelves where products are physically located next to one another, they browse web-pages where products are one klick-away from one-another. FMOT elements like size impression on shelves are no longer relevant. However new factors like shipping become critical. The ability to ship a product in a letterbox format vs. a parcel not only significantly reduces shipping material waste, it can reduce shipping cost by up to a factor 5. Implications for the packaging can vary depending on the product, but even wine bottles can be redesigned, ie flattened, with the primary objective of fitting a letterbox format.

Sustainability/Recycling is not only pushed by official authorities, for example with the European Union’s waste and circular economy programs. It also shows a strong pull from consumers. From Nike’s drive to manufacturer sports shoes out of recycled plastics, to Head & Shoulder’s shampoo collecting and recycling bleach plastic, packaging clearly has an increasing role to play in sustainability and recycling.

Ageing Population is not a new trend, but it raises a significant challenge when packaging designers need to design both a Child Resistant Closure, which passes the ISO 8317 test conditions, ensuring that children are not at risk for poisoning, and at the same time a closure, which seniors can easily open them. Arthritis simulation gloves can be an effective tool to assess new packaging, including the closure technologies.

IoT (Internet of Things) is booming, and in this case, the technology of smart packaging is clearly ahead of the consumer need. Offering a bi-directional one-to-one communication between the manufacturer and the consumer looks like a dream come true. But now that this is possible, what would the manufacturer wants to know, and what would it have to say? In consumer healthcare, traceability and compliance seem to be the most obvious innovation fields. Being able to trace every production lot could prove very useful and would use a one-way communication stream between the packaging and its manufacturer. Similarly, compliance, ie ensuring that patients use the right dose of product at the right moment could be step-changed, using a two-way communication stream between the consumer and the manufacturer.

And you, as packaging innovator, what would you want your smart packaging to do for the healthcare consumer?

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