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Timothy P. Burns
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Late breaking news in the Packaging Industry
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Injured Once Again by the Innocent Plastic Clamshell

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

PLASTIC CLAMSHELL PACKAGING IS NO JOKE, IT’S DANGEROUS

Last fall I wrote a Packaging Market Observer entitled “Packaging We Love to Hate!” The categories of packaging that annoy or injure us are many, but we chose to limit the group to 10 real buggers. This morning I was reminded of one of the worst offenders - Clamshell and Other Thermoformed Packaging.

It looked like a nice pen. It was called the “G2 Limited” and was made by a writing instruments power PILOT. I was running low on pens so if picked it up at Office Max. That afternoon in my office, as my conference call wore on, the ink from current pen was almost spent. Fortunately, my trip to Office Max at lunch time provided backup.

IT LOOKED LIKE A NICE PACKAGE

The G2 Limited was housed in a blue tinted thermoformed clamshell, equipped with multiple layers and “trap” compartments. The heat sealed corners of the pack looked innocent enough, almost like a Hefty or Glad “Zip Lock” storage container where you can put your finger nail underneath the top surface and conveniently flip it open and then reseal it later.

PACKAGING SURGEON

But this was not true for the G2 Limited. The heat sealed ends where not easily openable, indeed they were impenetrable. After nearly losing several nails I moved to a manual separation of the plastic blister. After a couple of tugs I opted for the scissors. I sliced off the top 10% of the pack and then snuck a couple of fingers into the blister to try and pop it open or possibly lift the pen out from its “cradle.” The cradle had a form fit cover over it so the pen was essentially housed in a blister within a blister. (you have got to be kidding me!) Not willing to go back to the scissors yet, I tried to forcibly separate the heat sealed clam shell walls only this time I was cut. It was about a .375″ inch long cut that hurt like hell and bleed for quite some time.

INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED

We have to ask ourselves at what price point do we sacrifice safety? Is a $9.99 writing instrument worth scarring oneself? How about a $39.00 children’s toy? Or how about a $69.00 consumer electronic device? All I know is this. I don’t want my kids nor my wife to be using scissors, steak knives or fingers to open any of that stuff! The PILOT G2 Limited package had no directions on how to open it! Its buyer beware. Obviously, millions of Americans are cut and scarred each year, but no one dies or gets really sick, so there is no driver to change on the product manufacturers part. Its really too bad as there should be. PILOT should have enough smarts or a corporate excellence program to weed out and fix problems their workers, the supply chain, the retailer and end user have concerning any product they make include product experience!

WHY AMERICAN’S DEAL WITH CLAMSHELLS

The main reasons why clamshells are tolerated are threefold: Most mass market stores rely on point-of-purchase / point of sale (POP/POS) marketing where visual packaging (clear containers) are hung on pegs and customers can select their own needs. This is good as less labor is required to operate the store. Secondly, the product manufacturers use clamshells because they are very labor efficient to assemble and pack product into. Finally and most importantly, the clamshell is a very good deterrent to theft and product shrink. Companies that take a hyper-focused approach to theft deterence at the expense of customer experience will lose sales not by kids running out of the store with a pen in their pants, but by legitimate customers buying other brands or walking out of the store with no purchases.

PACKAGE DESIGNER’S /CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION TO THE RESCUE

This most recent tangle with a clamshell has got my dander up. I am not going to give up like I do with my US Representative(s) in Congress. Here is the game plane: 1.) Every time your wounded opening a less than adequately packaged product, call the company’s customer service department and register a complaint. 2.) Alert the CPSC to your experience and speak out for package redesigns that are balanced. We don’t need “tanks” when a “jeep” will do. 3.) I would also offer up the suggestion that we tax such “dumb packs” and use the proceeds for a prize awarded to the best replacement package design. 4.) Let us tap our colleges and universities that specialize in Packaging to organize the competitions: RIT, Michigan State, Clemson, Rutgers etc. Finally, would it not feel good to enact positive change from the market place given Congresses total lack of ability to do anything?