Finding Insights on Sampling

Starter packs gain ground.



By David Vaczek
Senior Editor



In Anderson Packaging�s design, four sample packs are enclosed in a display carton for providing an extended dose of a health product for women.

Drug firms are favoring more-elaborate sample packaging to begin patients on their medications. But sample-pack design is a balancing act for brand marketers. “Starter packs” with calendared blisters along with helpful resources may be employed to get patients engaged in their therapy. Drug firms, however, may balk at excessive sample-package costs without evidence that compliance solutions are driving patients to fill their prescriptions.

As helpful as compliance-style designs often seem, companies must understand how patients use their packaging, to see whether the literature provided is indeed helpful, and must keep an open mind about alternatives for conveying patient support. Sample strategies, for example, are changing as sampling is linked with drug firms’ Web marketing programs and as patients increasingly use Web resources for information on their therapies.

Cost is customers’ first priority when assessing sampling programs, says Tom Grinnan, director of innovation and adjacent markets, MWV Healthcare (Richmond, VA). He says sampling is often a marketing, not manufacturing expense. “Compliance packaging can be a tough choice for many [who look] for ways to reduce costs, such as with less-expensive wallet designs and pouches.”

“We have seen that pouches are sometimes adopted as a fairly inexpensive alternative for sampling,” he adds. “But these will not be as effective for conveying patient information and supporting regimen adherence.”

Nina Goodrich, director of innovation, Alcan Global Pharmaceutical Packaging (Kirkland, QC, Canada), says marketers need to weigh the cost of packaging against the potential for lost sales if patients don’t have the information they need to understand the drug. “Drug companies want the most cost-effective sampling programs possible, but patients are taking the drugs based on trust in their doctors, in the drug, and in the drug company,” says Goodrich. “Marketers have to consider the cost of a lost customer when patients have a bad experience and never find out whether the drug works.”

Starter packs are being favored for drugs with more-complex dosing and titration or where patients need more support to understand therapies’ benefits.

MWV offers the Dosepak Express as an economical solution for compliance packaging. Dosepak Express is an enhanced version of Starterpak, featuring refined package specifications that support higher line speeds of up to 250 units per minute on a standard cartoner, Grinnan says.

Dosepak Express foregoes the inner paperboard wallet that is used in the MWV Dosepak and other wallet formats, eliminating the need to heat-seal a blister card to a wallet in manufacturing.

“Many of our trade pack customers have preferred the Dosepak for the high-end graphic imagery that can be printed on the wallet,” says Grinnan. “The Dosepak Express offers a more economical, highly child-resistant solution for trade or sample packaging [where the blister itself is attached to the carton].”

Information can be printed on the blister foil, or inserts or booklets can be inserted during in-line production into a “5th and 6th” panel pocket attached to the outer carton.

“The Dosepak and Dosepak Express bring child-resistant function to the sampling market, which is an increasing need,” Grinnan says. “There is still not a regulatory requirement that you provide CR with every sample, but many of our customers have chosen to do this for both sample and commercial packaging, in order to reduce liability and enhance brand standardization and equity.”


Anderson Packaging Inc. (Rockford, IL) has seen growing interest in starter packs. These formats provide patients with more education on the therapy and the drug, along with more product in a sample, says Justin Schroeder, marketing and business development director.

“Customers are becoming more elaborate both in the support pieces they are offering to give the patient a better experience, and in the quantity of the drugs,” says Schroeder. “With more product, you can get a better feel for the side effects profile, and get patients into a dosing routine.”

For a women’s healthcare treatment, Anderson is packaging four standard sample packs, comprising an over-wrapped blister with a PPI, into a display carton with additional supporting literature, providing an extended treatment regimen.

An Anderson Packaging sample pack for a gastroesophageal reflux disease medication features a calendared blister with a printed description of the disease and treatment. The patient is invited to “learn how to get the most out of your treatment” with an enclosed business reply card.

“We are seeing companies use relatively sophisticated starter packs, particularly for drugs that require titration. Some of these chronic conditions are asymptomatic. For certain drugs, if you don’t do a good job in the beginning, the drop-off in compliance is pretty severe,” Grinnan says.

A zipper-pouched starter pack for a dermal product from Anderson Packaging includes a card that patients can submit to the pharmacy for copay reductions on filled prescriptions.

“A good sampling program gets the patient on the drug quickly, ensures they follow the treatment correctly, and gets them to prescribe quickly,” he adds.

Starter kits will often include business reply cards for enrolling patients in support programs, and cash cards debited at the pharmacy when the prescription is filled.

When vouchers and coupons are linked to the sample package, the patient is encouraged to visit the pharmacist. A coupon might feature 20% off the first prescription, or the packaging will direct the patient to a Web site where the voucher can be printed.

In a physician sample design project with Palo Alto, CA–based design firm IDEO, Alcan found that sample packaging should vary in design based on the different needs of customers in different therapy classes.


“Packaging has to reinforce a pattern of use to get the patient into the routine,” Goodrich says. “With the sample packaging, you can focus on a format that is easy to take and easy to remember. What is important to end-users varies by disease state. Variations on standard formats can be developed to meet different user requirements.”

Alcan’s project interviewed patients, doctors, pharma firms, and others in the sampling chain. Patient interviews revealed that patients often forget questions they plan to ask in doctors’ office visits. When literature is provided to them with packaging, it often doesn’t answer their questions.

Meadwestvaco has renamed its Starterpak the Dosepak Express. The compliance-promoting, child-resistant, and senior-friendly package is designed to run at higher speeds, up to 250 units per minute, than the early version.

“Patients, we found, often don’t get the type of information they need to know about the drug and their disease,” Good-rich says. “This is their first introduction to the product. They need a lot of support that they are clearly not getting. So oftentimes they take the drugs incorrectly or not at all.”

“More work needs to be done with end-users to find out what is important to them,” she adds.

The researchers found that ease-of-use and portability are important in sample packaging. When patients were asked to remember the last time they didn’t take their medication, disruption in routine such as from traveling was the second-most cited reason (the most cited reason was lack of faith in the diagnosis), Goodrich says.

Anderson Packaging is manufacturing a portable solution for a dermal care product. Materials are stashed in a zippered vinyl pouch that provides a premium feel to the starter pack. The pack includes a carded compliance blister with four doses, brochures, coupons, and a cash card that the patient can submit to the pharmacy for copay reductions on the prescription, Schroeder says.

Doctors or nurses often strip off secondary packaging to save space and fit samples into bins. Drug reps may be directed to remove the packaging before placing samples in cabinets. Patients then may be handed blister cards or tubes without any brand evidence on them.

“In practice, drug samples do not always end up in the end-users’ hands the way they were designed to be used by the pharma companies,” Goodrich says.

Grinnan notes that a top priority for brand managers is designing packs that stand out in the bin, but that aren’t so big as to invite push-back. “There is a battle going on at the sample closet every single day.”

Pharma firms are linking their sampling programs with expanding Web marketing programs. Marketers can gather patient information and get more face time with patients directed to a secure site, for example, by an inserted card to a voucher offer.

Alcan found the Web is becoming more widely used by patients as an alternative resource. Patients start out on a general site like WebMD or Revolution Health, then move on to sites specific to their condition. They may then seek out support groups at chat sites to have direct conversations with people with the same disease, Goodrich says.

“We were somewhat amazed at the patient Web use we found, and how informed many patients were using these external sources. The Web is a perfect vehicle for conveying supportive information to the patient,” she says.

Says Grinnan: “We have seen pharma companies linking their Web efforts directly to their sampling programs. It becomes important to coordinate the look of the packaging with the imaging and messaging you are trying to achieve on the Web. But many companies believe it is still valuable to have all the information in one place [with the sample].


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