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What Ali Baba really meant was 'Access, Sesame!'

We packaging junkies are afflicted by a curious malady: we relate everything in life to packaging.
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It struck me again at the recent Philadelphia Flower Show…

I’d recently been thinking that the quest for improved product access may be the final unexplored frontier of packaging development. Access to a package’s contents is one of the defining characteristics of good functional packaging.  And lack of access to a package’s contents—all its contents—causes frequent consumer aggravation with packaging.

Ali Baba wasn’t as interested in magically opening the mouth of the cave where the thieves had hidden their treasure as he was in getting the gold coins in the cave.

Packaging product access is related to ease of opening. But it’s not the same thing. And the common problem of lack of product access can lead to another, even larger packaging problem: wasted product when the package is “emptied.”

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Packaging product access—or the lack of it—came to my mind during the flower show when I experienced a serious (though not packaging-related) situation in which lack of product access played a role.

Stepping on the down escalator as my wife and I left the show, we traveled down about 8 feet when the escalator jolted to a sudden stop, throwing us forward but, thankfully, not down. We backed up and off the now motionless moving stairs and took an elevator down to the first floor. As we passed the unmoving escalator, we saw a technician wrestling with a woman’s wool coat, a corner of which she had dragged and caught in the teeth of the conveyor’s off ramp, causing the escalator’s sudden stop. The owner of the coat was hovering impatiently over the workman as he struggled to remove the coat from the steely bite of the escalator.

I don’t know what happened. But I assume without full access to the coat, the woman stepped into the cold later that afternoon wearing a frown and a wool coat with a fresh, greasy scar torn in it.

The interesting thing about product access is that while it’s always a desired consumer packaging feature, it’s sometimes lost as packages are improved. Take jellied cranberry sauce, for instance. The move from three- to two-piece steel cans was a distinct setback for product accessibility. Removing both ends of a cranberry sauce can and pushing the cranberry log onto a monkey dish was a happy holiday meal preparation tradition enjoyed by momma’s helpers of an earlier generation that today’s kids won’t know.

On the other hand, we’ve noticed that it’s a lot easier to squeeze the last dab of toothpaste out of multilayer plastic tubes these days because the shoulders of the tubes are thinner and let you squoosh out the last bit of paste.

And now that Dean Foods has rounded the bottom profiles of its sour cream and cottage cheese cups to “allow consumers to easily scoop up every last bit” of product,  maybe the makers of peanut butter, jelly, yogurts, ketchup, and other cling-to-the-container-sidewall products will consider ways to make complete product extraction and waste minimization possible.

About the author: Ben Miyares, Packaging Sherpa, is a packaging market and technology analyst and is president of The Packaging Management Institute, Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].

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