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High-visibility theft-prevention packaging: A love/hate relationship

So you come home from the store with a new toy for your child’s birthday. You know exactly what it looks like because you can see it through the package. You were actually able to play with it at the store in the package to see if it was "cool enough" and the right level for your child. The clear all-plastic thermoformed sealed clamshell package allowed you to touch various controls on the toy through strategically designed slots. The high visibility functional pack has significantly enhanced the shopping experience and aided the purchase decision, all without opening the package. When your child unwraps the present he or she can get a good feel if they like it or not by playing with it (at least to a degree) through the package.

Now comes the difficult part…it is time to open the package! A tool, such as a scissors, is generally required to open a sealed clamshell package. From talking to a few executives at major consumer products companies, many consumers used to have major complaints about the difficulty of opening up these all-plastic clamshell packages. Even though there are still a number of complaints, consumers appear to be getting more accustomed to the package type. Consumers also have a sense of security with these packages, that all of the package contents (e.g., multiple parts of a toy or power tool) will be there, which is not always the case with other package formats, e.g., folding cartons.

Most retailers are strong advocates of sealed plastic clamshells because they reduce theft by both shoppers and employees. Theft is a major issue at the retail store level for products such as: electronics, toys & games, sporting goods, house wares, office supplies and toiletry & cosmetics. The oversized all-plastic sealed clamshell package helps to reduce in-store theft because it is extremely difficult to open without a tool and is generally too big and bulky to stick into a pocket. Retailers and consumer product companies have also realized that for various product categories, a change of packaging format from a folding carton to a high-visibility format such as a clear plastic clamshell can lead to increased sales. A major US supplier of home test kits converted its package type from folding cartons to clear plastic clamshells. There are various specific test kits available in the line including kits for radon gas, mold water quality, and carbon monoxide. When they converted their package type to clear plastic clamshells there was a marked increase in sales, which they attributed to the high visibility of the product through the package.

PVC is the dominant resin type used for clear plastic clamshell packages. It has served the industry quite well having excellent clarity, thermoforming, and sealing properties. PET is starting to be used.It’s viewed as more recyclable than PVC, even though this claim is dubious at best. While it’s true that PET bottles are established in the stream of recyclables, PET containers shaped unlike bottles are generally not accepted in this stream due to automated sorting systems in place. Some companies are using RPET to incorporate recycled PET resin into the package. Clamshells generally have a printed paperboard card inside them with product graphics and instructions.

International Paper and MeadWestvaco have both introduced tear-resistant paper packaging products with an internal clear plastic blister for product visibility into the high visibility packaging market. Mead Westvaco’s product is being used commercially at Costco for warehouse club size packages of Borghese cosmetics and Lexmark ink cartridges. These package concepts are still somewhat embryonic in the market, but they do provide an alternative format to the clamshell for high visibility theft prevention packages with high quality graphics.

TAPPA believes that the use of high-visibility theft-prevention packaging will continue to grow as retailers and consumer product companies increasingly see the benefits of the packaging format. Consumers overall seem to like the ability to see what they are buying and in some cases test the product out while it’s still in the package. They appear willing to accept the somewhat difficult task of opening clamshells as a small price that must be paid for the overall inherent benefits of high visibility.

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