Packaging: Introduction, Objectives of  Packaging in Supply Chain Management

27/08/2020 0 By indiafreenotes

The product packaging system (i.e. primary, secondary and tertiary packages and accessories) is highly relevant in the supply chain and its importance is growing because of the necessity to minimize costs, reduce the environmental impact and also due to the development of web operations (i.e. electronic commerce).

A typical supply chain is an end-to-end process with the main purpose of production, transportation, and distribution of products. It is relative to the products’ movements normally from the supplier to the manufacturer, distributor, retailer and finally the end consumer. All products moved are contained in packages and for this reason the analysis of the physical logistics flows and the role of packaging is a very important issue for the definition and design of manufacturing processes, improvement of layout and increase in companies’ efficiency.

In recent years, companies have started to consider packaging as a critical issue. It is necessary to analyse the packages’ characteristics (e.g. shape, materials, transport, etc.) in order to improve the performance of companies and minimize their costs. Packaging concerns all activities of a company: from the purchasing of raw materials to the production and sale of finished products, and during transport and distribution.

In order to manage the activities directly linked with the manufacturing of products (and consequently with the packaging system), the OM discipline is defined. It is responsible for collecting various inputs and converting them into desired outputs through operations.

Recently, more and more companies have started to use web operations. Electronic commerce (e-commerce) is the most promising application of information technology witnessed in recent years. It is revolutionising supply chain management and has enormous potential for manufacturing, retail and service operations. The role of packaging changes with the increase in the use of e-commerce: from the traditional “shop window” it has become a means of information and containment of products.


Physical protection: the objects enclosed in the package may require protection from mechanical shock, vibration, electrostatic discharge, compression, temperature, etc.;

  • Hygiene: a barrier from e.g. oxygen, water vapour, dust, etc. is often required. Keeping the contents clean, fresh, sterile and safe for the intended shelf life is a primary function;
  • Containment or agglomeration: small objects have to be grouped together in one package for efficiency reasons;
  • Information transmission: packages can communicate how to use, store, recycle, or dispose of the package or product;
  • Marketing: packages can be used by marketers to encourage potential buyers to purchase the product;
  • Security: packages can play an important role in reducing the risks associated with shipment. Organizations may install electronic devices like RFID tags on packages, to identify the products in real time, reducing the risk of thefts and increasing security.
  • Packaging system and operations management
  • In recent years, packaging design has developed into a complete and mature communication discipline [24]. Clients now realize that packages can be a central and critical element in the development of an effective brand identity. The packaging system fulfils a complex series of functions, of which communication is only one. Ease of processing and handling, as well as transport, storage, protection, convenience, and re-use are all affected by packaging.

The packaging system has significant implications in OM. In order to obtain successful management of operations, packaging assumes a fundamental role along the whole supply chain and has to be connected with logistics, marketing, production, and environment aspects. For example, logistics requires the packages to be as easy as possible to handle through all processes and for customers. Marketing demands a package that looks nice and is the right size. Packages do not only present the product on the shelf but they also arouse consumers’ expectations and generate a desire to try out the product. Once the product is purchased, packages reassure the consumer of a product’s quality and reinforce confidence.

Production requires only one size of packaging for all kinds of products in order to minimize time and labour cost. The environmental aspect demands the packaging system to be recyclable and to use the least material possible.

Facilitate goods handling. This function considers the following aspects:

  1. Volume efficiency: this is a function of packaging design and product shape. In order to optimize the volume efficiency of a package, this function can be split into two parts, internal and external filling degree. The first regards how well the space within a package is utilized. When using standardized packages with fixed sizes, the internal filling degree might not always be optimal. The external filling degree concerns the fitting of the primary packages with secondary and of secondary with tertiary. Packages that perfectly fill each other can eliminate unnecessary handling and the risk of damage, but it is important not to be too ambitious. Too much packaging may be too expensive, and there is a point where it is less costly to allow some damage than to pack for zero damage;
  2. Consumption adaptation: the quantity of packages must be adapted to the consumption in order to keep costs low and not to tie unnecessary capital. Moreover it is desirable to have flexible packages and a high turnover of the packaging stock.
  3. Weight efficiency: the package must have the lowest possible weight, because volume and weight limit the possible amount to transport. The weight is even more important when packages are handled manually.
  4. Handleability: the packaging must be easy to handle for people and automatic systems working in the supply chain, and final customers. According to Regattieri, the handleability is considered the most critical packaging quality attribute by Italian companies and users;

Identify the product. The need to trace the position of goods during transport to the final destination can be achieved in different ways, for example by installing RFID tags in packages. Thanks to this new technology, it is possible to identify the position of both packages and products in real time. This system leads to a reduction in thefts, increase in security, mapping of the path of products and control of the work in progress;

Protect the product. The protection of the product is one of the basic functions of packaging for both companies and users. An unprotected product could cause product waste, which is negative from both the environmental and the economic point of view. Packages must protect products during manufacturing and assembly (within the factory), storage and picking (within the warehouse) and transport (within the vehicle) from surrounding conditions, against loss, theft and manipulation of goods.

The role of packaging along the supply chain

Due to the different implications of the packaging system with all the activities of an organization, as underlined in the previous paragraphs, packaging has to be considered an important competitive factor for companies to obtain an efficient supply chain.

The packaging function assumes a crucial role in all activities along the supply chain (e.g. purchase, production, sales, transport, etc.). It is transversal to other industrial functions such as logistics, production, marketing and environmental aspects. The packaging function has to satisfy different needs and requirements, trying to have a trade-off between them. Considering the simplified supply chain of a manufacturing company, it is possible to analyse the role of the packaging function for all the parties of the supply chain.

N suppliers provide raw materials to the manufacturer, which produces the finished products, sold to the distribution centre, then to the retailer and finally to m end consumers. In the middle, there are carriers that transport and distribute finished products along the supply chain. Each party has different interests and requirements regarding the function of packaging. Table 1 shows the different role of packaging for the parties to the supply chain.

Party Role of packaging
n Suppliers Suppliers are more interested in the logistics aspect of packaging than in marketing. They have to send products to the manufacturer and their purpose is the minimization of the logistics costs (transport, distribution, warehousing), so they prefer a package that is easy to handle and transport.
Manufacturer The manufacturer produces finished products to sell to the distribution centre and, indirectly, to end consumers. It is important for the manufacturer to take into account all aspects:
• product protection and safety,
• logistics,
• marketing and the
• environment.
Product protection and safety: the packages have to protect and contain the product, withstanding mechanical shocks and vibrations;
Logistics: the manufacturer has to handle, store, pick and transport the product to the distribution centre. He has to make primary, secondary and tertiary packaging that is easy to transport, minimizes logistics costs and improves the efficiency of the company;
Marketing: the manufacturer has to sell its products to the distribution centre that in turn sells to the retailer and in turn to end consumers. The manufacturer is indirectly in contact with end consumers and has to make primary packaging (the package that the users see on the shelf) that can incite the consumer to buy that product instead of another one. As Pilditch [33] said, the package is a “silent salesman”, the first thing that the consumer sees when buying a product;
Environment: people are more and more careful about protecting the environment. The manufacturer has to study a package that minimizes the materials used and can be re-usable or recyclable.
The manufacturer has to balance the aspects described above in order to obtain an efficient supply chain.
Wholesaler The wholesaler purchases products from the manufacturer and transports them to the distribution centre. He is mainly interested in the logistics aspect of packages since the most important functions are warehousing, picking and shipping the products. The wholesaler needs a package that is easy to handle and transport rather than one with an attractive shape and design.
Retailer The retailer has to sell products to end consumers and for this reason, needs to consider what interests the end consumers. Marketing and environmental aspects are important: marketing because the package is a “shop window” for the product; environment since people are careful about minimizing pollution preferring to buy products contained in recyclable or re-usable packages.
m End consumers End consumers are interested in marketing (indeed primary and secondary packages are effective tools for marketing in real shops ) and environmental aspects.

Table 1.

The role of packaging for the parties along the supply chain