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Transport testing saves millions

Published 20/09/2013 by Olof Tillander

Do you ever find damaged products on the shelf in-store? If so, you can be sure that there are many more products that never reach the shelf, having been discarded or returned at various earlier stages of the distribution chain. Estimates of the value of goods damaged in transit vary, but the latest figure I saw was EUR 3 billion each year in the EU alone! The precise figure may not be particularly relevant, but one thing is certain: the cost is significant, and we all end up paying for this damage in one way or another.

Every day, goods are transported to Swedish consumers from producers and manufacturers, both within our immediate surroundings and from around the world. Many of these goods are inadequately packaged, resulting in many goods being damaged and having to be discarded. Regardless of the arguments about locally produced goods versus cheaper alternatives from low-cost countries such as those in Asia, with the resulting long transportation distances, the biggest environmental villain – and the greatest cost – in this context is not the transportation itself but the damaged products.

Almost everything that is produced or manufactured requires some kind of packaging, whether the product comes from our own country or from overseas. And everything needs to be transported from the manufacturer to a shop or directly to the consumer. But did you realise that it is during this transit stage that the product is exposed to the greatest stresses of its entire lifecycle?

We often say that packaging has three tasks to fulfil. Firstly, it must protect the product. Secondly, it has to facilitate transportation. Finally, it has to inform. There is a great deal to be achieved within each of these three tasks. Better designed shipping packaging results in pallets being filled better. In many cases, the information on today's packaging gets lost in the sophisticated, detail-heavy printing in order to give the packaging an appearance that stands out and to ensure that the product can be found more easily on the shelf. When it comes to product protection, and particularly shipping packaging, the situation is even worse. Manufacturers spend enormous sums on creating, developing and refining their products, and they invest significant resources in testing and verification. But this is not always true of the packaging, with very little being spent on developing good packaging. A lot of manual packing still occurs. Many companies do not have any dedicated packaging development resources to devise effective solutions, in terms of materials, design or enclosing. Often, the only thing that counts is a low cost. Of course, trying to keep costs down is a good thing, but in many cases it results in packaging that is unable to protect the product throughout the distribution system, all the way to the consumer.

In our work, my colleagues and I see many examples of poor packaging and damaged goods. As experts within our field, we are the resource that many companies lack: packaging development and testing specialists. We also see what a difference it makes if the fact that the product should be packaged and transported in a rational manner – and in packaging that can protect the product against damage until it reaches the consumer – is taken into consideration at an early stage of product development.

It is clear that many companies have a clear packaging strategy and package their products satisfactorily, develop well considered, effective packaging and carry out the necessary testing to check and verify the solution. However, there are too many companies that fail to take this responsibility. And in many cases it is those companies that do the right thing that attract the most criticism for causing environmental damage through the use of excessive packaging.

The fact remains that good product protection means products can be delivered undamaged to consumers. This results in lower prices for goods, as well as a better environment. So in actual fact, packaging is not the real environmental villain at all. Quite the opposite: it protects the environment and saves money. At the end of the day, it is always we, the consumers, who pay the price!


Olof Tillander Innventia
Olof Tillander works in the group Packaging development and product testing at Innventia.