Product life cycle

Product lifecycleProduct lifecyclePackaging performs many functions. For example, while it must contain and protect throughout the life of the product its marketing function is primarily focused on the retail environment and point of sale.

Containment and aggregation
The packaging must be capable of enclosing, containing and retaining the product safely and without deterioration, until it is used or finished. How this is done will largely be driven by the nature of the product.

Is it solid, liquid or gas
Is it a powder, granules or paste?
Is it a single unit of many? 
Is it corrosive, flammable or odorous?
Will it be opened and used at once, or over a period of time?

Physical protection
The first factors we usually consider are mechanical shock and deformation caused by impacts or crushing loads. This could be as a result of dropping, stacking and moving, packs impacting each other or some obstacle. Risks occur through the supply chain due to manual and mechanical handling in warehouses, transferring to and from vehicles, storage and shelf-stacking and customers mishandling products. 

Temperature is significant both for products which require protection at normal, temperate ambient temperatures and also in view of the extreme temperatures which may be encountered in the supply chain. It is clear that chilled and frozen food and some pharmaceutical products need to be kept at temperatures below normal ambient temperatures but even in the UK products can experience extremes of temperature during distribution. The inside of a shipping container or truck can reach temperatures in excess of 40 or 50oC during summer months and -10 or -15oC in the winter.

Other physical risks are vibration and abrasion.

The destination market must also be considered. The supply chain in a developing country, with unmade roads, limited mechanical handling and non-motorised transport does not present the same hazards as a supermarket supply chain in the UK. Shipping containers crossing the equator can reach very high temperatures, and goods transported in the far north of Europe, Scandinavia or Canada can reach very low temperatures. Understanding how the product may be harmed by these conditions will drive the design of packaging to protect them.

Barrier protection
Barrier protection can prevent both ingress and egress. The key forms of barrier protection relate to moisture, oxygen, carbon dioxide, light, volatile chemicals and sterility / biological hazards.

Again barrier protection is usually required throughout the product lifecycle. Changes in moisture levels can cause staleness in foods whilst light and oxygen can cause food, pharmaceuticals and beverages to deteriorate. Loss of carbon dioxide from carbonated drinks is a fundamental failure. Biological contamination especially to sterile products will lead to spoilage and possible poisoning.

Barrier requirements may not remain the same throughout the life cycle. Light is a more intense hazard in equatorial regions and the stress caused by transport in unpressurised aircraft holds can cause seals to fail on packs. Ambient relative humidity varies greatly across the globe and shelf life may be greatly reduced in areas of very high humidity.

At a basic level the pack must identify the product throughout the life cycle. It may also need to provide information regarding handling and storage: including fragility, storage temperatures, and stacking. These factors are of particular interest during transport and storage but may also be required at the point of sale and use.

There may also be legally-required text to identify the nature of the product and hazards such as flammability, radioactivity, volatility or bio-hazard. Other requirements may include quantity, batch numbers and shelf life details. 

At the point of use the pack will need to carry instructions for use and storage and precautions necessary for safe use. 

Legal / Regulatory requirements
We have mentioned that there are legal requirements for the information carried on packs. In summary the most common are:

  • Weights and measures
  • Best before / use by dates
  • Country of origin (exporting outside of the EC)
  • Contents (e.g. mixed product packs – desktop kits etc.)
  • Ingredients
  • CE
  • Electrical standards
  • Warnings
  • Health & Safety warnings for movement of heavy goods
  • Chemical/Hazardous products
  • Braille

There are also regulations for packs for alcohol and cigarettes, highlighting health concerns, avoiding promotion to young people, or for cigarettes involving the total removal of branding.
Other regulations govern the actual packs and their performance characteristics, including quantities in which products can be sold, child resistance and ease of opening by older people. Hazardous chemicals have further regulations regarding resistance to damage, to ensure the pack can safely contain the product throughout its life cycle.


The marketing function of packaging is most important at and after the point of purchase. In addition to carrying branding, the pack must be attractive to its target market, and may need to reflect the product’s position as a premium or economy item. Packaging can provide the shelf appeal that helps a brand to be chosen over its competitors, and can also carry eye-catching promotions that encourage purchase.

Packaging can now interact with electronic devices. A code or identifier can be scanned with a smart phone to provide further information or link to a video or game. Possible future applications include providing audio for visually-impaired customers.

Packaging can also enhance customer perception after purchase, through reinforcing the idea of value or quality, or providing functionality. Convenient dispensing can increase brand loyalty.

In some cases packaging is intrinsic to the product. For example, Nespresso consumers buy into a system in which unique primary packaging–the coffee capsules–is the very essence of the product and creates the brand.

Convenience and performance
The performance of the pack is a major consideration from filling and packing, to convenience in opening and use for the consumer, and even as far as its disposal/ recycling after use.

Products with significant volumes usually need automated filling/packaging. The higher the volumes the faster the process, and the packaging needs to cope with automated handling, sorting and transport without causing jams or breakdowns.

Unit packs will usually be collated into multiples which are boxed or wrapped and then palletised for transit and storage.  These collated packs should be capable of both manual and machine handling.

In the retail environment these collated packs must be transferred to the shelf. Some products will be unpacked whilst others may have shelf-ready transit packs which are opened for display.  These greatly improve the efficiency of shelf stacking and maintaining stock on shelves, leading to improved sales.

Once with the consumer, flip-top caps, dispensers, measuring aids and re-closing features can all improve customer loyalty.

The role of packaging in security lasts throughout the product life cycle. The initial focus is often on preventing tampering, pilfering and grazing, including:

  • Opening the pack and stealing all or some of the contents
  • Opening the pack and tampering with it in some way – the most notable examples of this are when medicines and baby foods have been deliberately poisoned.
  • Opening and sampling a product in-store before returning it to the shelf

Although often focused on the retail environment these hazards may be faced throughout the supply chain, causing losses for brand owners and retailers and providing an unsatisfactory and potentially dangerous product to the customer.

Many packs carry some form of ‘tamper evidence’ to show if they have been opened. This can be a seal or tag or something in the pack itself that is destroyed or changed by opening. With hot-filled products the loss of the internal vacuum can be deployed to make a disc in the lid pop up.

Packaging can also help combat counterfeiting and product diversion. As well as the loss of sales for the genuine product and the loss of revenue for the brand owner, quality and safety cannot be overlooked. The most serious issues are raised when food and pharmaceuticals are counterfeited. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals may contain no active ingredient, the wrong active ingredient or something poisonous. Even if consumers are not harmed the damage to the brand can be catastrophic.

As counterfeit packs become more realistic, brand owners must go to greater lengths to identify genuine products. These may include overt techniques such as holograms or covert techniques such as micro text, invisible inks and identifiers.

Product diversion can involve stolen product, but in most cases perpetrators simply exploit a difference in prices between markets or between products sold individually and in bulk, and the goods compete with products brought to market via normal supply chains. In this case brands may opt for specific identifiers on packs destined for different markets or sales channels.

Environmental / sustainability
Depletion of resources, cost and the impracticality of landfill have helped make recycling popular with manufacturers and the public. But as the diagram shows, there is a hierarchy of options and opinions, from local sourcing with little or no packaging (prevention) to outright denial (disposal).
















Without packaging there would be massive waste of product with damage in transit and greatly reduced shelf life. There could also be significant public health risks resulting from poor preservation of foodstuffs, toiletries and cosmetics, and the failure of medicines to maintain their efficacy.

With the continued rise of urban living making it impossible to source and deliver goods locally to everyone, a means of maintaining products in good condition through the supply chain will continue to be required. The debate and the technical innovation will continue as we seek to optimise packaging and reduce waste. Current initiatives include:

Simplifying the pack
Reducing the weight of material used in pack
Providing low cost, simple, minimalist refill packs, eg pouches or re-fill bottles
Re-useable packs
Recyclable packs with clear identification to facilitate recycling

Our Going Further has more detail.