03.What can be done?
What the industry says
Gavin Williams, CEO of the Packaging Council of Australia, says ease of use in packaging is gaining more attention in the industry. “Of course accessibility is an issue, and I’m sure we’ve all had examples of packaging that we’ve found difficult to open.”
However, Williams says that while manufacturers and retailers are under pressure to keep reducing prices in a demanding market, he disagrees with criticism levelled at the industry that it’s often at the price of accessibility. “If people can’t open your product they’re not going to buy it,” he says.
While he concedes it can be difficult for the industry to balance competing needs, Williams says if consumers don’t like something it’s vital to speak up. “Get in touch with the brand owner, or get in touch with the Australian Packaging Covenant and let them know you want to see change.”
Despite plentiful packaging war stories, there are some successful initiatives working towards increasing the “openability” of some products. And, in the case of US based online retail giant Amazon, this has proven to be a selling point.
When Amazon launched its Frustration-Free Packaging range in 2008, it started with just 19 items. Now, the range stocks more than 80,000 goods that are free from wires, plastic and the usual trappings, and shipped in a plain brown box with minimal protective filling.
In Australia, Arthritis Australia has developed the Ease of Use certification program and worked with industry and government to review products and provide recommendations on improving accessibility. So far, the organisation has worked with more than 125 products and collaborated with over 40 organisations, including Nestlé, NSW Health, Goodman Fielder and Amcor.
Gumnut Biscuits, a small Victorian biscuit manufacturer, holds a contract with NSW Health supplying biscuits to hospitals for patients, many of whom are elderly. The Garling Inquiry, released in 2008, heard elderly people were struggling to open and eat their food in public hospitals. Mathew McAlpin, CEO of Gumnut Country Bakehouse, concedes he was initially apprehensive about participating in Arthritis Australia’s program, particularly due to the costs of resetting machines and production. However, McAlpin says feedback from the changes has been so positive that the company has now re-designed its hospitality range as well, arguing “our packaging is now a selling point”. The redesigned biscuit packets were assessed by a scale developed by US University Georgia Tech for accessible packaging and hold the highest rating (+8), which means they should be opened easily by 95% of the population.
Nestlé has also participated in the program, and as a result rolled out a redesign of its Nescafé Gold, Nescafé Green Blend and Nescafé Short Black jars so they’re easier to open. A spokesperson for Nestlé says accessibility is high on the company’s agenda and that it’s looking at packaging across the business.