Breaking Down the Benefits of Inclusive Packaging
Tuesday, July 4th, 2023
In the food industry, packaging is more than just a branding tool. It plays a crucial role in preserving the product’s quality and guarantees that consumers use it safely. Food writer and environmentalist Sam Bowman explores the benefits of inclusive packaging in this essay.
Inclusivity is, understandably, a prevalent topic of discussion in the current business climate. It is certainly in the best interests of both entrepreneurs and their consumers to make certain that nobody is excluded from interacting with a business. The benefits of committing to accessible practices in some industries extend further than some people might consider, though.
For food-related manufacturers and supply chain companies, one of the biggest benefits of inclusivity is safety. The packaging that a company chooses to use isn’t just helpful for marketing purposes or for products to stand out on the shelves. It plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of the product and ensuring customers use it in a healthy way. The more accessible the packaging is the greater potential for safety it has.
Let’s explore this a little further by breaking down some of the benefits of inclusive packaging.
Compared to today’s food packaging trends, 19th century food packaging (left) did not place as much emphasis on the source and nutritive information about the food it contained. Modern packaging includes labels such as ‘organic’, ‘less sodium’ and the amount of fibre in food. This serves to give consumers peace of mind that there are little to no pesticides present, and that there are no high amounts of salt that could be detrimental to health.
One of the key safety benefits of an inclusive packaging approach is that it tends to make handling products more practical. When you design your packaging for customers to most effectively interact with, this leaves less room for consumers and those in the supply chain to use it in ways that could negatively impact safety standards.
A good example of this is the trend toward minimising single-serve packaging. Part of this push includes the ability to reseal larger packages and potentially reuse these. This tends to be a more inclusive approach, as it recognises that there is a diversity of appetites and dietary needs. The more functional and strong manufacturers can make this resealable approach, the more practically people are able to fit them into their lives.
An important part of the practical nature of this is ensuring that the packaging materials can be handled by most people while maintaining integrity. To be at its most accessible and practical, the packaging itself must be strong enough to sustain repeated transportation, handling, and refilling. The method of sealing must also be reusable while allowing for freshness and safety to be maintained. Not to mention that this needs to be used by consumers of varying levels of manual dexterity.
This is especially important, given that there is increasing focus in Asia — particularly Japan — on circularity in plastic food packaging. Many stores are providing refilling options. Without inclusive designs in packaging, this can limit people’s ability to engage in this sustainable form of consumerism safely and effectively. When standards are in place to ensure packaging can be easily cleaned, stored, and handled, this makes refilling safe and practical for everyone.
To be at its most accessible and practical, the packaging itself must be strong enough to sustain repeated transportation, handling, and refilling. The method of sealing must also be reusable while allowing for freshness and safety to be maintained. Not to mention that this needs to be used by consumers of varying levels of manual dexterity.
Clarity on Storage
Another key benefit of more inclusive packaging is that it can be instrumental in providing clarity on how foodstuffs can and should be appropriately stored. It’s important to remember that the priority for packaging isn’t just about the materials used and how well they function. These elements are also vital sources of information for consumers and supply chain operators alike. In some cases, without clear instructions that can be understood by everyone, a proportion of consumers may be placed at unnecessary risk.
One area of particular concern in this regard is the potential for a lack of clarity to influence sickness. The most common causes of food poisoning include the consumption of expired foods, unwashed produce, and raw meat and eggs. These can stem from unintended exposure to various forms of bacteria that lead to conditions like botulism and diarrheal illness, among others. In many cases, the sickness is caused or exacerbated by consumers and retailers not being certain about how to effectively store their foods and for how long.
Inclusive packaging can help here by ensuring that storage and expiration information is not hidden in the small print. Indeed, utilising typefaces and sizes that are most readable allows people to gain the knowledge to keep themselves and their families well. Not to mention that workers in retail spaces are able to store foods in the right areas of their premises and ensure consumers aren’t exposed to unsafe foodstuffs.
This isn’t just about making typefaces large enough to aid those people with common vision challenges, either. It’s also important to make sure that this clarity is provided to those who may be living with other conditions related to reading, such as dyslexia and color blindness. There should be high contrast between the colours of the packaging and the type utilised to outline storage information. This ensures that some customers aren’t excluded from the safety information they need.
Enabling Informed Decisions
Food manufacturers and retailers have ethical responsibilities in relation to ensuring consumers interact with foodstuffs safely. This extends beyond the efforts they make in-store and includes the impact the packaging makes on customers’ lives. It’s important to recognise that this isn’t necessarily the same as holding consumers’ hands and dictating. Rather, taking an inclusive approach to food packaging helps consumers to make more informed decisions about foodstuffs in ways that meaningfully improve their experiences. This helps keep them safe and can also bolster the reputation of the business.
Perhaps the most vital element of this is providing understandable nutritional information on the packaging. Each customer will have different needs in respect of their dietary needs, allergies, medical conditions, and simple meat-free preferences. The graphic design of the packaging should be utilised to better highlight these components.
Nutritional tables should not just include information, as this isn’t always easily understood by all consumers. There could also be colour-coded ratings to simplify the more complex information about whether the food is considered generally healthy in nature. This approach is currently being utilised in Thailand, but it’s important to ensure that all consumers are able to understand the context of the labelling. Manufacturers should also provide brief on-package information about what contributes to the grading.
Inclusive Packaging Should Be a Priority for Brands
Inclusive packaging aids food safety in a variety of ways. When resealable and reusable packaging is practical to handle for everyone, this boosts its ability to keep foodstuffs fresh and safe. Clear typefaces and language on packaging also ensure all consumers and retailers can understand safe storage and expiry conditions for foods. The use of accessible graphics enables all consumers to make more informed decisions about the foods that can impact their long-term health and their quality of life. This can be a challenging task to accomplish, but a high level of inclusivity must be considered an ethical and business priority for all manufacturers and retailers.
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