Why (and How) We Should Nourish OTC Packaging Innovation

Education is the key to fostering the development of more competitive, strongly branded over-the-counter packaging.

By James W. Peters, CPP
Director of Education, The Institute of Packaging Professionals

James W. Peters

Three key elements must converge for true packaging innovation to occur: a new packaging concept, an investment commitment from a brand owner, and an opportunity for new growth in the marketplace. Two out of three might lead to a packaging change, but not to true innovation—the realization of a new packaging concept that meets a new market need.

Consider modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). MAP replaces air within a sealed package with an inert gas to reduce spoilage caused by oxygenation. MAP technology existed for years without being widely used. Then Target and Wal-Mart set out to open superstores with meat departments but without in-house butchers. MAP’s opportunity for growth emerged. Full-service stores, company investments, and the rediscovered right technology led to a sharp rise in the use of case-ready meat packaging.

OTC drug packaging is not often noted for its innovation. Major changes have been driven by threats of tampering and the need for child resistance. But using a tamper-evident band to secure packages or achieving child resistance with a difficult-to-open closure is not innovation. They are simply changes. They can prevent future sales loss by reassuring consumers, but they rarely lead to sales growth.

OTC drugs are usually branded products vying for consumer attention. Yet a walk through any drugstore aisle reveals packages that all look remarkably alike.

Among OTC drug packages, Abreva’s blister package from GlaxoSmithKline (which GSK calls its “wow” package) outshines everything else in its category. Seizing an opportunity for growth in a youthful target market, GSK pulled the product out of its original carton and clunky protective blister and adopted a unique three-part blister developed by Alloyd Brands. It features a domed front within which a shaped insert holds the medication tube as if it were floating. Surrounded by traditional fifth-panel cartons, the package is hard to overlook. Package quality projects an image of product superiority.

Abreva has seen consistent sales growth year after year since its 2001 launch. Package innovation has helped increase market share.

What can marketers do to nourish innovation and benefit from it, such as GSK has done with Abreva’s package? Finding the right technology relies on technical knowledge of packaging. Such knowledge can be nurtured by education. The Fundamentals of Packaging courses presented by the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP) typically include participants from packaging operations and management. The solid foundation they receive in packaging technology and production not only helps them understand the promise of the proper packaging concepts, but also allows the two critical groups to discuss how to realize that promise.

For instance, Andres Soto, an IoPP certified packaging professional (CPP) from GSK in Puerto Rico, was involved in implementing hospital unit-dose (HUD) blister packaging for a GSK product. The project involved GSK corporate managers and packaging specialists. “Because both groups were certified, they understood the basic concepts and the HUD requirement without the need for further technical explanation that would have slowed the process,” he says.

Exposing packaging specialists and managers to IoPP’s fundamentals course can provide them with a solid foundation to support the exploration of new packaging concepts as well as of existing ones with new potential. It allows clearer communication. It directly addresses the challenge of nourishing innovation.

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