Reaching Patients with Samples

Sample formats seek to add value while limiting the cost of the giveaway packaging.

By David Vaczek
Senior Editor

McKesson’s RxPak has developed sample packs for doctors that carry the same unit dose packaging used for the trade packaging.

Sample packaging continues to evolve to support drug marketers seeking to reach patients with compliance and brand messages.

Through the use of enhanced sample formats, marketers can engage patients who are often introduced to a drug through the samples handed out by their doctors. If bottles and pharmacy-packed amber vials are used in the trade packaging, the sample may be the marketer’s only chance to ensure that patients receive instruction and branding information integrated with a product’s packaging.

“The challenge for the brand team is to develop sample packaging that drives the patient to get that first script,” says Peter Belden, vice president, marketing, Anderson Packaging (Rockford, IL).

Pursuing brand reinforcement, some marketers are choosing sample packaging that features elements common to the drug’s trade packaging. “Patients are introduced to the package, so when they fill their prescription, they understand the opening feature, and the marketer is delivering a consistent brand image,” Belden adds.

Meadwestvaco (Richmond, VA) has employed panels to convey information on blisters and secondary packaging. “Customers are asking, ‘How can I additionally brand and convey information with the sample?’” says Brad Jones, compliance development specialist for Meadwestvaco, Health and Beauty Packaging.

Jones says that sample packaging can demonstrate value to the physician, promoting control of sample distribution. Doctors might be less inclined to hand out multiple sample counts when a package is designed to deliver added value. “You can provide information and create value that the doctor will then pass along to the patient,” Jones says.

While suppliers report mounting demand for multiple-panel blisters, wallet formats, and cartons for bottles in sampling programs, customers’ budgets for sample spending challenge converters to keep sample packaging costs in check. A different mind-set prevails for the giveaway product.


The Key.In package from Nosco features a perfed card key that is re­moved and inserted into a lock to enable sliding out the blisters.

“Sample programs have limited amounts of dollars attached to them. Companies want to get as many samples out as possible, so limiting unnecessary package spending is critical,” says Gene Giordano, vice president, Meadwestvaco, Health and Beauty Packaging.

The packaging, therefore, has to demonstrate value, such as improved patient compliance or aid in market-share gain, Giordano says.

For commercial packaging and samples, Meadwestvaco’s Dosepak features an inner printed billboard space. By using the Dosepak scaled for samples, doses can be presented in a regimented format with child-resistant and senior-friendly functions.

“These formats can help the patient associate your drug with a particular style of package. If you have a value-added design for the sample, you can carry that through to the trade, so the brand is consistently reinforced,” says Giordano.

With the Starterpak, Meadwestvaco provides a lower-cost sample pack solution. The format features the same push/pull opening feature on the outer carton as the Dosepak, while eliminating the fold-over inner paperboard card.

“Cost is always a consideration, [given that] samples are giveaways. There is a delicate balance between cost and packaging that educates patients to take their medicine properly and get the prescription filled. The Starterpak offers an effective solution to help keep a blister sample with the secondary packaging so that patients can receive information about their medicine,” says Jones.

Belden sees the Starterpak as “a promising format. There is ample space for delivering a brand and compliance message by printing on both sides of the blister lidding stock.”

Cost can be addressed by scaling back the secondary packaging in formats that retain advantages such as child-resistant, senior-friendly features.

Kevin Carter, sales executive for RxPak (Memphis), McKesson’s contract packaging division, says that RxPak is developing alternative packaging for a highly toxic product for which blisters are being packaged in a tear-resistant poly pouch that requires scissors to open.

“Going forward, we are trying to eliminate the secondary package as a cost-reducing option. Child-resistant blister designs such as peel-push and tear-notch opening features that are used in trade packaging can be employed,” he adds.

Converters are innovating to support marketers’ branding and compliance programs.

“We have seen growing interest in wallet configurations, the use of patient information cards and business reply cards, and literature, that promote patient compliance while reinforcing the brand message,” says Belden.


Belden says customers have used glossy credit card–sized patient information cards to deliver incentives, such as discounts on the first prescription. Web ad­dresses and 800 numbers are employed to support permission-based marketing dir­ectly to the patient.Anderson developed a two-tiered sample ap­proach for one client’s mainten­ance drug that reinfor­ces the brand and compliance message. The start­­­er kit in­cludes a three-pan­el card­ed blister featuring pa­tient ed­u­­­ca­tion and com­pliance in­structions, patient information, and business reply cards. Doctors also receive sample packs to give to patients between refills. A two-sided, foil-printed blister is overwrapped with preprinted material.

“The blister lidding side facing the blisters includes a background color and the name of the brand where it can be seen by patients. Literature can be added in the package. The patient is on the drug and knows it works. This gives the doctor the opportunity to give them a couple days’ worth of product until the patient refills the prescription,” says Belden.

Carter says that “wallet use will continue to grow, particularly for long-term-therapy medications for which companies want to emphasize the importance of compliance. The sample is the first and sometimes the only opportunity to get a lot of information to patients and to convince them that the medication is the right one for them. In many cases, customers may not be looking for a calendar-style design to support compliance, but they want a two- or three-panel wallet, such as for new drug launches, where they can include a Web address and tear-off coupons,” he adds.

For sampling of solid doses and ointments, RxPak has developed solutions where the trade and samples use the same unit-of-use packaging. This approach promotes patient brand recognition and reduces manufacturing costs.

In one RxPak solution for a drug that is mostly prescribed as four daily doses, the trade package carries 10 four-count blisters in a tray. The sample pack features a tear-off top and display card with the identically packaged individual unit-dose packs.

“The same unit-dose packaging with a change of labeling and NDC number goes to the doctor’s office. From a cost standpoint, you don’t have to tool up to make a different sample package,” says Carter.


Unit-dose packaging supports economical sampling of liquids and creams. When companies use trade-sized bottles or tubes for sampling, the larger the sample given out, the longer before the prescription is filled, says Howard Thau, president, Sonic Packaging Industries Inc. (Westwood, NJ).

“Unit-dose packaging of liquids and creams is one of the fastest growing categories on the pharmaceutical side, since manufacturers and marketers see a higher value in creative delivery systems. Instead of multidose bottles or tubes, the patient receives a blister card with multiple premeasured unit doses in a regimented format. Billboard space can be used to ensure the patient takes the medications as prescribed, to provide an area for warnings and precautions, and to offer higher perceived value than sampling with sachets or packets,” Thau says.

Sonic has identified opportunities for unit-dose formats in categories including cough/cold, topical ointments, injectibles, and analgesics. For ointment packaging, one multidose tube presents the risk of patients reinfecting themselves when they apply the medication. Sonic developed a package that incorporates custom injected-molded parts with and without applicators to promote dispensing accuracy for topical applications. A single blister for a liquid unit dose may be packaged with an applicator in a sealable pouch.

“We are currently in various stages of stability for single-dose blister packs for an over-the-counter cough/cold product. A full-color label is applied to the sample package as an exact miniature version of the salable bottle,” says Thau.

“Each of our customers looks at it differently. Some see a unit-dose format as way to sample the drug when the trade packaging remains in a multidose container. Others will use the same unit-dose format in multiple counts as the salable unit,” he adds.

Customers are taking a more conservative approach to meet regulations for compliant packaging, Thau states. “Billboard space has increased with the use of sleeves to carry warnings and precautions. A multipanel outsert on a child-resistant blister card might accommodate instructions on how to open the package and a coupon for purchase at retail. Our challenge is to make the package as convenient and portable as possible to increase the chance the patient will use it,” he adds.

Sonic has installed an in-line printer for on-demand printing on the face of the blister to incorporate product names and dosage sizes on the blister cavity film, avoiding the need to inventory preprinted materials. “We don’t have to wait 10 or 12 weeks for custom printed materials, so we can meet our customers’ needs a lot faster,” Thau says.


RxPak is using the recently launched Key.In package from Nosco (Gurnee, IL) for some customers’ trade packaging. “These packages are capable of being scaled down for sample packaging as well,” says Carter.

The Key.In wallet features a perforated card key that is removed and inserted into a lock to enable sliding out the blisters. The wallet can be kept locked after use with the key stored in its holder, while in households without children, seniors can just leave the key in the lock for less-cumbersome opening and closing.

Incorporated into Key.In is a feature called distract, which creates a visual distortion through a printed pattern on the blister lidstock that hides the die-cuts where the pills are pushed through. “Children generally have limited ability to push, but they will pull at packages. Distract makes it difficult to see where the blister chads are located,” says Tom Caldwell, marketing manager for Nosco.

Nosco achieved an F=1 rating for the package in testing to CPSC protocols. Designed to run on standard equipment for child-resistant and senior-friendly packaging, Key.In has been run and tested by Nosco in a range of sizes for accommodating different pill sizes and quantities. “While Key.In is our first child-resistant and senior-friendly package with an F=1 rating, we have had solid commercial success to date and have received a high level of interest after Key.In’s launch,” says Caldwell.

As marketers have favored new packaging styles and approaches such as integrated sample and trade packaging formats to promote brand awareness, they are exploring sample distribution alternatives. Carter says customers have expressed interest in sample kits given to patients when they are discharged from the hospital. “Some of the larger brand companies with institutional pharmaceutical and consumer groups have discussed developing sample discharge kits to sample the consumer product, such as with the first day’s dosage. This promotes brand recognition for the consumer product,” he says.

Sonic is working with a partner to develop a turnkey solution for fulfillment of samples ordered by doctors and patients over the Web. Thau says that Web-based delivery will grow demand for creative sample-package solutions that protect the product and support patient compliance. “For Web-based fulfillment, child-safe and senior-friendly packaging has to be protected in the distribution environment. Web-based fulfillment could provide a huge cost savings to drug companies, because they would have traceability on the sample distribution. They can obtain data on patients receiving the samples when patients enter a Web site security code,” he says.


No votes yet