Although you may never see it, there are actually three separate levels of packaging that goods are typically enclosed within before products make their way into your home. Each of these levels of packaging serves a different purpose in protecting, transporting, and containing the product.
The three types of packaging are primary packaging, secondary packaging, and tertiary packaging. Primary packaging comes into direct contact with the product, secondary packaging holds a certain amount of products together and can be used as a shipping container, and tertiary packaging is used for distribution purposes or bulk transportation.
But, it’s not enough to just know the names of the three levels of packaging! To properly decide which material to use for packing purposes, it’s crucial that you understand the purpose of each, as well.
The Three Types of Packaging Explained
Primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging all serve important purposes. Each provides a certain level of protection to the product and makes it easier to distribute and stock items in a store, storage unit, or warehouse. Here is some additional information about each level of packaging:
What is Primary Packaging?
Primary packaging (also known as the “consumer unit”) holds and protects the product itself. Examples of primary packaging include:
- Cereal boxes
A product’s primary packaging will often include some kind of:
- And information about it
This branded material differentiates one product from another, makes it look more appealing, and conveys important information about the product such as nutrition facts or a list of product features.
What is Secondary Packaging?
Secondary packaging, sometimes called the stock-keeping unit, holds a certain quantity of products in their primary packaging for added protection and ease of transportation. Secondary packaging includes things like plastic rings that hold a 6-pack of cans together or a large cardboard box that holds smaller primary packaging boxes.
In addition to protecting primary packaging, secondary packaging is sometimes used as a shipping container for small quantities of products. While it’s typically less marked than primary packaging, secondary packaging may still have some kind of identifying text or image on it.
What is Tertiary Packaging?
Tertiary packaging holds large amounts of SKUs for distribution or shipping purposes. This kind of packaging is almost exclusively used for shipping very large quantities and is usually removed long before the product hits store shelves. One example of tertiary packaging includes wood pallets with boxes stacked on top, plastic-wrapped for added protection.
The Different Packaging Materials
Within primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging, there are many different kinds of materials that may be used by manufacturers and distributors. Some of the most common include:
Each of these packaging materials is best suited to different purposes, so it’s important to understand the most appropriate uses and benefits of each before making a decision.
Plastic Packaging Materials
Plastic is probably the most common packaging material, used to package a wide variety of different products. Some of its packaging uses include:
- Beverages and other liquids
- Prescription medications
Plastic is very popular because it’s inexpensive yet durable, and very lightweight. These properties make it ideal for easy shipping and stocking.
Steel Packaging Materials
Steel is most often used to transport industrial goods in large quantities, like drums of oil. However, it is also sometimes used to package canned foods, paint, or aerosol products. Steel is popular because it is incredibly durable and protective, resistant to corrosion and water, and easy to recycle.
Aluminum Packaging Materials
Like steel, aluminum packaging can be used for canned goods and aerosol products. Apart from aluminum containers, aluminum foil is also often used as an extra layer of protection for food products or over-the-counter medicines packaged in cardboard or paper. Aluminum has been a popular packaging choice over the years due to its high resistance to corrosion and excellent ability to extend a product’s shelf life.
Glass Packaging Materials
Glass has remained a popular packaging material because:
- It’s non-porous
- It’s non-toxic
- And it can preserve goods for a very long time.
Because of this, it’s a popular packaging material for things like food, drinks, and medications. However, unless the glass is very thick, it often requires a different type of packaging around it to ensure it doesn’t break in transit.
Wood Packaging Materials
Wood is not as popular as it once was, due to the widespread use of plastic and paper products. However, wood is still sometimes used to package large quantities of products. Manufacturers or distributors may do so in wood crates or on wooden pallets. Wood has remained a popular material for eco-friendly brands because it’s reusable, recyclable, and compostable.
Paper Packaging Materials
Many different kinds of paper, including cardboard, are used for packing and shipping products. Corrugated cardboard, or cardboard with a wavy layer in between two flat layers, for example, offers excellent durability for both shipping and storing purposes. Paper products are often inexpensive and recyclable, making them a very sustainable packaging option.
All of these materials can be used in several different ways. The best material and the best way to use it depends heavily on the item or items you’re packaging and what purpose you’re packing them for.
What is the Best Type of Packaging?
The best type of packaging depends on several factors, including:
- What you’re packing
- Why you’re packing it
- How long it’ll be packed for
- How it will be stored/transported
- What level of protection you need
While you’ll need to consider all of these factors before deciding on the best type of packaging for your situation, these are some of the most versatile options:
Cardboard Boxes: For Shipping and Storing
Cardboard boxes are a popular, versatile packaging method. They’re typically very durable and can transport a wide variety of goods. Many people like to use them while they’re packing up to move or store things, but cardboard boxes are also very useful for shipping purposes.
Bubble Wrap: For Protecting Goods
Bubble wrap is not usually used as standalone packaging but is very effective at providing extra protection to products packaged with other materials. For example, you may wrap a glass vase in bubble wrap before placing it in a cardboard box to prevent it from breaking while in transit. Bubble wrap is inexpensive and widely available in a variety of sizes and colors to suit your specific needs.
Board Back Envelopes: For Preventing Damage to Documents
If you need to mail a document, certificate, or other important paperwork, your best bet is to use a board back envelope.
These mailing envelopes include either one or two pieces of sturdy cardboard to prevent creasing, bending, or other damage to documents during transit or in storage. These envelopes are typically inexpensive and widely available at post offices and stores.
These are just a few of the ways to pack items for maximum durability and protection. Be sure to take all of the above factors into account when choosing the most appropriate packaging method for your needs.
Whether you’re mailing, shipping, or distributing products, it’s important to understand the purpose of each level of packaging and the best way to package for optimum protection. When choosing a packaging method, take into account:
- What purpose you’re packing for
- How long the items will be in their packaging
- How much protection your items will need
Once you understand what each type of packaging can provide, you’ll be able to make the best choice for your packing needs.