Professional Persepctive September 2020

The road to a successful package: a sound package development process

By Rebecca Lane Oesterle, CPPL

Consumer packaged goods often are purchased because they catch attention, the item was something specifically called out on a shopping list, or perhaps out of habit or familiarity. However, more often than we may realize, a well-designed package can be a deciding factor in product selection.

This article focuses on the package development process, starting with the decision to produce the new   package and ending with the transition to the manufacturing implementation team. The steps in the package development process are:

• Idea formation and concept brainstorming

• 3D drawings and prototypes

• Patent/trademark discovery

• Cost estimation

• Research (optional)

• Go/no-go decision

• Team selection and project kick off

The steps are not necessarily sequential; the patent/trademark discovery can start very early and be done concurrently. In addition, research can be done at numerous steps, with just 3D renderings or full-blown prototypes. Research can happen before or after cost estimation and depends on the specific packaging project. In some cases, no research is done (especially if the new package is a retailer request.) 

Idea formation and concept brainstorming
At the start of the package development process, ideas can be formed in many ways, including: a perceived need in the marketplace, at the request of a customer, or to promote a specific initiative. In any event, a central point of contact should be responsible for reviewing the ideas. This person (or group of people, depending the organization’s size) should have a screening process to determine which ones have merit and should continue down the path. When ideas are determined to have merit, it is important to brainstorm concepts. This can be done in numerous ways, depending on the goal of the new package structure.

Often, it is helpful to look at existing package formats available in other categories or what the competition is doing. A brainstorming session can be developed with assistance from consultants. Some organizations develop this expertise within their packaging development departments. One essential participant in a brainstorming session is a graphic artist or someone who can quickly turn ideas into sketches. It is much easier to visualize the idea as a picture.

Regardless of how organizations proceed, there are a couple of good techniques that can be helpful. The first is to spend time shopping! Prior to the brainstorming session, have participants spend time at retail. Participants should look at various packaging alternatives, even purchasing some favorites and bringing them to the session, or at the very least, take photos. The participants should know the idea or design intent so the “shopping” experience is focused.

Another good technique is SCAMPER: Substitute, Combine, Adjust/Adapt, Modify, Put to other Use, Eliminate and Reverse or Re-arrange. SCAMPER is a basic creativity, thought-manipulation tool. It was created by Bob Eberle and is covered by Michael Michalko in his book, “Thinkertoys.” It helps the participants look at things from a different perspective. It may seem strange at first but it can work!

If brainstorming teams are ideating around a specific need, then it is important to have Voice of the Customer (VOC) information. VOC helps determine customers’ wants and needs, prioritized by relative importance. VOC will assist the brainstorming participants in identifying ideas that should resonate with consumers.

3D drawings and prototypes
Once the idea is formed, the next step is determining how to develop the concept and move forward. Depending upon the reason for the new package ideas, 3D drawings and prototypes, using a 3D modeling software program, can help to further refine the ideas. Since it would be cost-prohibitive to bring all the ideas to market or even to test them, it is imperative to have 3D drawings and possibly prototypes that can be shared more broadly within the organization and perhaps even the customer.

Next, 3D drawings can be created with the potential package designs and graphics can be applied to the structure utilizing software on the market. This will help further refine the concepts, because applied graphics in 3D help establish whether the concept is meeting the design intent.

Once the concepts have been further refined through 3D drawings, it is helpful to have 3D prototypes developed. An outside agency can create 3D prototypes, but if using outside firms becomes commonplace within an organization, it is cost-effective instead to develop and invest in internal capabilities.

One basic tool that has become very popular in companies is a 3D printer. A CAD cutting table also is helpful. Cutting tables quickly create paperboard or corrugated packages.

3D prototypes make it easier to estimate costs and conduct research. An analysis of the business opportunity makes it more concrete to share with others in the organization or to share with retailers/customers.

Patent/trademark discovery
During the brainstorming and prototyping phase, good documentation is essential to protect intellectual property. All drawings should be dated with all “inventors” listed. After concepts are finalized and prototypes are developed, research for prior patents or trademarks. Organizations need to protect homegrown ideas, as well as research concepts, to guard against infringements.

Patent-search websites are referenced at the end of this article. If there is no risk of patent infringement, then packaging development should consider whether any concepts are worthy of patent application. It is always beneficial to consult with a patent attorney.

Cost estimation
Cost estimation efforts should include the cost of producing the package on a daily basis, as well as upfront costs for equipment, tooling or artwork. To determine comprehensive package production costs, organizations need to determine the cost of direct materials, direct labor, variable costs and fixed costs.

Ÿ Direct material costs can be determined once a Bill of Materials (BOM) is developed. A BOM details all direct materials used in producing the primary, secondary and tertiary packages. It specifies the types of materials and the amount required.

Ÿ Direct labor costs can be determined once the production process is identified. The production process will detail what equipment will be used, what the production rate is and how many operators are required.

Ÿ Variable expense costing takes into account any other materials or labor that are used, based on the amount of packages produced. This can include items such as tooling, mechanic labor and electricity to run the equipment.

Ÿ Period expense costs takes into account any other costs that are incurred, regardless of whether a package is produced. These are often referred to as “overhead.” Examples of period expenses include the building and plant staff.

Upfront costs would include those required to get the package into production. This would include new equipment and tooling if required, new tooling for existing equipment and artwork charges.

Depending on the packaging project, research might be warranted. Research can be qualitative or quantitative.

According to the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, “Qualitative research is designed to reveal a target audience’s range of behavior and the perceptions that drive it with reference to specific topics or issues. It uses in-depth studies of small groups of people to guide and support the construction of hypotheses. The results of qualitative research are descriptive rather than predictive.”

Focus groups are an example of qualitative research. Focus groups generally can be described as a process where a group of people engage in a session to provide input on various package structures. The session is facilitated and the objective is to solicit feedback in the form of impressions, reactions, attitudes and behaviors. Traditionally, there is a moderator and the session is conducted in a room with a two-way mirror with intercoms so representatives from the CPG company can observe and hear feedback from the participants. Focus groups can be helpful in identifying features and attributes those participants like in a package.

Another example of qualitative research is in-context observations. This is best described as an observed study to watch a person handle and use the package where they would normally use the product. Depending on the product, the package might be used in the kitchen, bathroom or their car, etc. This helps the observer identify any issues the user might have with the package structural design.

Quantitative research generally costs more money to conduct. Therefore, qualitative research is good to further refine concepts. Once refined concepts are narrowed down to a few ideas, then quantitative research can be conducted, perhaps with help from an outside consultant.

Go/no-go decision
At some point, generally after cost estimation and research (if conducted), a decision needs to be made on whether to proceed with the new packages. Assuming it’s a go to proceed, packaging development can take from several weeks to several years, depending on the project scope. The simplest situation is where graphic changes are made to an established product line or pack type:

Ÿ Copy or graphic modifications

Ÿ Packaging structure is unaltered, work centers on artwork functions

Ÿ Suppliers remain the same, no changes to production line

A second situation involves changing the package’s physical design

Ÿ Size, footprint, promotional/bonus incentive or new graphics

Ÿ Machinery and tooling requirements, material specification changes, QH testing

Or, a truly all-new package

Ÿ No history of consumer attitude toward package

Ÿ No existing production or marketing experience

Ÿ Material, equipment, prototypes, testing, testing and more testing is required

Team selection and project kick-off
Depending on which category the packaging project falls into, the size and make-up of the team will be different. The first step is to identify the project sponsor and project leader. The sponsor should scope out the work to be completed, identifying the objective of the packaging project, any project boundaries and the project deliverables. These process steps can be done in conjunction with the leader. The sponsor and leader should then identify and secure the necessary team members and resources.

Once commitment has been reached on team members, a project kick-off meeting should be conducted. In this meeting, the scope should be reviewed, allowing team members to ask clarifying questions and suggest changes. The team also should determine how they are going to manage the project, choosing from among the project management software and workflow systems available. Correct team make-up and good project management are key to successful completion of a new packaging project.

In summary, to get a new package on the shelf, the package development process needs to be well-defined and followed. The steps of ideation, 3D drawings and prototyping, patent discovery, cost estimation, research and team selection and kick off, when followed, will ensure that implementation teams have a good chance of successfully launching a new package.

The author, Rebecca Lane Oesterle, CPPL, is Chair of the IoPP Board of Directors. She recently retired after spending 31 years in production management, supply chain management and packaging at Energizer and most recently in confectionary packaging at Just Born Inc. She remains active in other aspects of the packaging industry.

Where to search for patent information

Ÿ U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office publishes U.S. patents. These can be searched by number, subject or bibliographic information. Patent documents are available in the .tiff format. To view the images of original patents you must install a free plug-in view called Alternatiff. In either the green or yellow boxes that appear on the search page, check the links to this plug-in under “How to View Application Images.” The documents can be downloaded and printed, one page at a time.


Ÿ European Patent Office. The European Patent Office website publishes U.S. and Foreign patents to its website. Patents can be searched by number, subject, or bibliographic information. Patent documents are available in the pdf format. To view the images of original patents, you must install Adobe Reader. Documents can be downloaded and printed as single files. U.S. patents are downloaded to the European Patent Office site about one week after appearing on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office site.

Ÿ Google. Google recently announced this patent search site. Only U.S. patents are covered. Patents can be searched by number, subject or bibliographic information, and are viewable in the html format.



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