New Zealand Students Seek to Improve Food Packaging

Food_packages_(1)New Zealand students recently addressed the difficulties faced by the elderly and disabled when it comes to food packaging. Whangarei MP Dr. Share Reti, the parliamentary facilitator for Arthritis New Zealand, worked on a student-led investigation that measured the tear force necessary to open a range of packaging materials, determining easy-to-open packing opens at a force of 3 N. Now the team is taking their findings to the food packaging industry in the hopes of finding workable solutions.

Neil Shackleton, a packaging consultant and Zintro expert, explains, “Pack opening functionality is not new to the market, and indeed over the last few years has become almost a consumer necessity, rather than a ‘nice to have.’ Without it, consumers will use their own weird and often dangerous ‘coping mechanisms’ to open packs. The issue for the industry is to learn that a functional adaptation to make life simpler must first be communicated effectively. I’ve seen mechanisms fail because consumers didn’t understand how to use them. Secondly, the adaptation needs to follow inclusive design principles, whether this is from the outset of innovation or part of the product evolution process.”

Mechanical engineer Nandkishore Sarolkar  says, “The tear strength or opening force required for the food packaging will greatly vary depending upon the different variables such as:

1) Food packed, solids, liquids, and viscous foods will have different packaging requirements.
2) Quantity packed
3) Plastics materials used for packaging.
4) Filling and packaging process/equipment used, etc.

Food packaging is a very sensitive issue, and the ability to easily open, (preferably without any tool) is one of the prime requirements of a package. The torque required to open the package shall vary from product to product and size-wise. The measure should be completed for a specific pack with specified materials, on a specified process. Opening torque cannot be same for different products and different packages. For example, opening torque for a water bottle is lower than the CSD bottle.

As a Packaging Engineer for the past eight years, Zintro expert Pete Foltz also has an opinion about improving packaging. “Opening food–or really any–packaging with ease is something that should be taken as granted, and yet many people have great difficulty with this. The amount of effort, or force, required to open any package often depends on many factors outside of pure physical effort. Concern for the safety of minors, threats of theft, rigorous shipping conditions, preservation of environment within a package, limitations of production machinery, marketing concerns, and simple cost are all factors that can lead to increased force to open.

As a result, any proposed solution of packaging redesign needs to be considered on an individual product basis and not on an industry-wide one. Proposed redesigns should attempt to identify the other factors, besides direct force, that may account for the high force needed to open. Once identified, any proposed solution should attempt to maintain these additional factors as much as possible while seeking to reduce opening force.

For example, medication packaging is notoriously difficult to open because of the high safety concern. However, Target redesigned their bottle to not only increase print area but also increase cap-size. The redesign allowed for pressure to be exerted top-down (much easier than the standard prescription bottle), thereby reducing force to open; increasing ease of grip (larger cap); and, improving customer ability to read the instructions. This is the perfect example of using redesign to reduce the force needed to open while also maintaining and improving other necessary packaging functions.

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