Canadian Packaging

Packaging comfort for seasonal blues

Joe Public speaks out on packaging hits and misses on cures for flu and cold season.


May 6, 2011
by Canadian Packaging Staff

Having finally reached the end of another annual flu-and-cold season, I have had more opportunities than I really wanted to evaluate the packaging of some life-saving items that got me through it all in one piece.

A few years ago I got hooked on the President’s Choice Memories of South Africa Rooibos Citrus Spice Loose Leaf Herbal Tea, which came in an irresistible package adorned with a beautiful green savannah scene labeled onto a brushed aluminum tin. Only after bringing it home and opening it did I truly appreciate the natural beauty of the looseleaf tea—an aromatic blend of red rooibos, dried orange peels and various assorted dried flowers.

Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed on my recent return to the same store when I could no longer find that same package. Instead, all I could find was a new President’s Choice Rooibos Red Tea offering, but the plain photo on the white paperbox is just plain to the point of being off-putting—looking a pile of red mulch with no resemblance to the beautiful tea mix I remembered from the first time around.

While simplicity can be an attractive trait when used wisely, the raw ingredient depicted on this package just doesn’t look inspiring at all: a picture of a steaming white mug of glowing red tea would have been far more appealing.

There isn’t much inspiration inside the box either, as each individual two-gram tea-bag is sealed in a piece of white paper with fairly redundant diagrammatic instructions on how to make both a cup and a pot of tea.

While there’s nothing terribly wrong with it all, the whole experience does come across as being very sterile and clinical—tea as medicine, rather than a treat or indulgence.

Which may well be appropriate when I’m sick, but surely there nothing wrong with trying to aim just a little higher, no?

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Prompted to look for an alternative, I was happy to come across the Mighty Leaf Tea Organic African Nectar from the California-based Mighty Leaf Tea Company, whose packaging boasts an inviting photograph of a roughly-hewn wooden spoon filled with a mix of rooibos tea and dried flowers, with a soft-focus background image of a sliced orange suggesting that it might have the same delightful mix of ingredients as the original
President’s Choice Memories of South Africa tea.

This suggestion was further reinforced by the rather rarefied product description on the box, comprised of fancy turns of phrase such as “handcrafted silken pouches,” no less, “artisan blends” and “flavors too big for ordinary tea-bags.”

After such a hard sell, it was a real treat not to be disappointed by the product itself, which smells absolutely heavenly as it steeps, and tastes just as good as it smells.

If there’s any note of disapproval in this corner, it has to do with the fact that each of the 15 silk pouches—prominently described as being ‘biodegradable”—is wrapped in an outer layer of cellophane, which seems to negate the whole noble effort of making each discarded tea-bag biodegradable to begin with.

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It’s been a while since I’ve had a cold bad enough to prompt me to run out and buy a stick of Halls Lozenges, but when the need struck, I wanted to get the strongest off-the-shelf remedy possible. This was not easy, alas, due to the somewhat disorienting packaging.

With all the many varieties of Halls Lozenges screaming for attention—including such mouthfuls as Triple Soothing Action and Icy Syrup Centres with Advanced Vapour Action—how is a person to know which one is the right choice at a given time?

While the flashy faux metal foil packaging design is undoubtedly catchy, it serves more to distract the shopper from being able to discern the really important medicinal information about the product, which I suppose could have been achieved with some sort of a numeric scale ranking the increasing strength of a given formulation, essentially leaving one with the unenviable task of comparing apples to oranges.

While the brand does deserve credit for demystifying some of this ambiguity on a very helpful website (www.gethalls.com/choose_your_halls.aspx) that actually addresses the common symptoms—an irritating cough, a
scratchy throat, etc.—a better effort could have been made to convey some of this basic information either on the package itself or at the POP (point-of-purchase) product displays.

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In contrast, the Cold-Fx brand of all-natural cold remedies from Afexa Life Sciences Inc. has no problem with the notion that the less thinking that an under-the-weather consumer needs to do in a sick state, the better—clearly outlining a fairly complex dosing regimen right on the back of the package, specifying the decreasing number of capsules to be taken every passing day of treatment.

It would be quite easy to get confused between the number of the day, the number of capsules, and the number of times to take them if the only consumer guidance was restricted to reading the fine print, but the brand-owner has cleverly grouped all that information by conveniently labeling each dose in the blister-pack as Day 1, Day 2 or Day 3—leaving no excuses for not taking just the right amount of medicine each and every time.

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For all the new cold- and flu-busting tools enabled by modern medicine and food science, it is reassuring to know that some time-honored and tested home-made comfort remedies—like the good old chicken soup—are still as relevant today as they have ever been.

Having weaned myself off using soup stock packaged in metal cans—getting somewhat spooked by the prospect of Bisphenol A leaching from can linings—I came across some great chicken stocks packaged in Tetra Pak boxes and other similar types of paperboard cartons.

Unfortunately, the weight of these cartons quickly adds up when you’re hauling you groceries home on foot, while making chicken soup from the lightweight powdered stock just doesn’t deliver the real authentic taste I crave in my soup bowl.

So I was naturally delighted to have come across the new packaging format for the Knorr Homestyle Stock brand of concentrated stock from Unilever Canada—served up in tidy little four-packs of liquid stock concentrate packaged in lightweight, 33-gram plastic bowls that closely resemble the dipping sauce containers you find at many fastfood outlets these days.

My only complaint is that each bowl contains enough concentrate to make three full cups of stock, which is often more than I require, but if that means making bigger batches of soup, and ending up healthier for it, so be it!

Julie Saunders is a freelance writer living in Toronto.