Looking at Packaging with a Grain of Salt
By Elena Langlois
There’s no doubt that this global pandemic has changed the way consumers purchase things, likely for good. In the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, when panic buying left store-shelves empty, brand loyalty went out the window when faced with selection being fiercely limited to what was on hand. However, the optimist in me appreciates the opportunity to explore brands that aren’t usually in my shopping basket. Take for instance Lior Kosher Salt, imported from Israel by Galil Foods of Syosset, N.Y. Standing upright 23-centimeters-tall and containing a whopping 1.815-kilogam of salt, this paperboard box features a nifty perforated cutout on one side near the top that creates a sturdy triangular spout, which users can easily open with a slight press and pull of their thumb to allow the salt to pour out free and easy. A simple push the spout back tacks it in behind the double-walled face of the box. There are a few clues that this product was not originally intended for sale in Canada, namely the unilingual English-only text, and a large yellow circle on the front boasting its imperial “4 lb Value Size” product weight. Also, the product picture of the salt on the box face appears to have the grains of salt be magnified by 100 times, but with no disclaimer stating the image is enlarged to show the texture of the product, as required for food products retailing in Canada.
In the early days of the crisis, Canadians were encouraged to practice social distancing, which meant staying at home and shopping online. The trouble is that an online shopping experience is completely different from its in-store counterpart. Take the make-up category, for example. Reordering tried-and-true favorites is a snap online, but a cruise through a Sephora store can provide an opportunity for a consumer to explore a myriad of new products and sample colors to determine the ones that are best suited for their skin tone. Product sampling is a great way to learn. When I placed an online order for a favorite product through Sephora, I had the opportunity to select a product sample of Gimme Brow+ brow-volumizing fiber gel marketed by Benefit Cosmetics of San Francisco, Ca. When my parcel arrived, inside was a small paperboard booklet printed in feminine coral color and emblazoned with metallic silver stamp—giving the background a full burst effect behind a coquettish caricature of a cabaret dancer in a top hat, cape and tall boots. Inside of the booklet, the product name visually jumps out with an action-packed text set against dropped shadow and an inner glow of silver. Splitting the side panel’s clear sticker closure reveals a clever and ingenious product sample container in molded black plastic nestled within the folds of the paperboard. Simply slide the sample out, twist to break the seal, and gently pull apart to reveal a full-size custom brush. For a product adding up to a mere 0.2-gram of net weight, that’s a lot of packaging creativity packed into one simple insert.
While some people scoffed when the provincially owned liquor stores were deemed an essential service by the Government of Ontario after the COVID-19 crisis took a serious turn for the worse, many also sighed with relief at not having to endure an endless dry spell of a legislated Prohibition. Despite that, overcrowded LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and empty shelves at some outlets no doubt made some shoppers pick up beverages that may be they would not consume on a regular basis. Such was the case with my hopeful purchase a four-pack of the Nütrl brand of vodka coolers made by Delta, B.C.-based craft distillers Goodridge & Williams. Although I was initially attracted by the minimalist graphic design of the slilver-colored 473-ml Tallboy cans that seemed to be perfectly matched to the simple and clean ingredient list containing carbonated water, vodka and natural flavors, I also discovered that less is not always more when it comes to adult beverages. The only way for a consumer to know the difference between the brand’s grapefruit, pineapple and lemon flavors is via two miniscule-sized, 8-mm-diameter graphics of the fruit appearing as an umlaut above the stylized text of Nü on the bottom third of the can. While undoubtedly clever, the trouble is that when the cans are displayed on the shelf in the beer fridge, they are contained within a white cardboard carrier tray whose sidewalls cover the small graphics—making it a challenge to know what flavor the can contains. In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem because the flavor also appears under the brand name at the top of the can, but the text is exceedingly tiny and, moreover, features hard-to-read colors—pink for grapefruit, orange for pineapple, and entirely illegible yellow for lemon—that makes picking the desired flavor just too much of a burden for consumers in a hurry. With all that extra empty space on the can, surely the brand could do a much better job of differentiating its flavors with slightly larger images and lettering?
With so many packages being delivered these days, I am mindful of the impact on the environment of the sheer volume of products. Does a small item need to be shipped in a standard corrugated box when a padded envelope will do? Once the the pandemic is behind us, there is no escaping the uncomfortable truth of having to address the issue of climate change, and the health of our planet. In this light, I applaud Cupertino, Ca.-based computer giant Apple for its ongoing commitment to environmental values, as demonstrated with its succinct packaging that minimizes shipping volume and reduces carbon footprint. When I received the Mac Mini I ordered from the Apple-certified refurbish online store, I was surprised at the small size of the shipping carton that arrived, which I further appreciated when I saw two molded pulp packaging trays inside, securely holding the product in place within a minimal clearance from the box panels on the inside. In true Apple fashion, even their refurbished products enjoy the same packaging aesthetic and attention to detail as their new product launches. As I unboxed my new computer, I admired the 21x21x6.5-cm white sleeve box, glistening with a protective exterior shrinkwrap layer. Sliding out the tray revealed a perfectly fitted computer, supported in place by folded paperboard inserts, with all materials no doubt recycled and easily recyclable. This attention to packaging really cements my trust in Apple’s one-year warranty for refurbished product.
Elena Langlois, Toronto-based freelance writer and social media consultant currently staying at home in her bubble with her husband and dog, is immensely grateful to all people on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.