Archive for the ‘Packaging’ Category

Service of Refills: Do Consumers Have the Time & Money?

Monday, January 28th, 2019


I found fault with the hullabaloo over the so called huge benefits to the environment when businesses announced they were banning  plastic straws in the post “Service of the Last Straw,”—literally too little in the plastic litter wars.

I perked up reading Saabira Chaudhuri’s article “The World’s Biggest Brands Want You to Refill Your Orange Juice and Deodorant–P&G, Nestlé and others try to curb plastic waste; Tropicana in glass bottles, Tide in metal cans.”

Chaudhuri reported: “Refillables once dominated industries such as beer and soft drinks but lost out to convenient, affordable single-use containers. In 1947, refillables made up 100% of soft-drink containers by volume and 86% of beer containers, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit. By 1998 those figures dropped to 0.4% and 3.3%, respectively.”

She added that the refill business exists but is niche, done by some grocery stores and entrepreneurs largely

Statewide Refillable Bottles Photo:

in shampoo and detergent businesses.

The trial will include PepsiCo’s Tropicana OJ in a glass bottle and Quaker Chocolate Cruesli cereal in stainless steel. Some of P&G’s 10 participating brands include Pantene shampoo in aluminum and Tide in stainless-steel.

In addition, Chaudhuri wrote: “Shoppers who the companies select for the trial will be able to order hundreds of products—including Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs ice cream and Clorox Co.’s wet wipes—from a website for home delivery. Products arrive in a reusable tote with no extra packaging. Once finished, users schedule a pickup for empty containers to be cleaned and refilled. They can sign up for a subscription-based service that replenishes products once empty containers are returned. TerraCycle will handle delivery, returns and cleaning.


“The products will cost roughly the same as the versions in single-use containers, but users will also have to pay a deposit of $1-$10 per container. Shipping charges start at roughly $20, decreasing with every item added.

“Susan Collins, head of the Container Recycling Institute, said high deposit fees could be a barrier to entry for many consumers. ‘It sounds like it’s only meant to attract the most green, virtuous shoppers,’ she said.

I’d add that customers who look for sales are also out of the loop.

“TerraCycle hopes to bring big retailers on board so that customers eventually buy and return most of the products in store or online via retailers, lowering the project’s costs and expanding its reach,” Chaudhuri concluded.

If shoppers don’t have a doorman or house staff or if they aren’t retired, who will accept the packages and what about ice cream sales shipped in summer? Will the shipping and container costs impact the success of these initiatives? Can we go home again, to the middle of last century, when refills in certain product categories were standard? Will a sufficient number of customers, spoiled by taking three seconds to toss out a bottle or container, make the time to wash out each container and prepare the package to ship it back?


Service of Packaging V

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Floral Packaging

Packaging has inspired me to jot yet another post, this time inspired by some stunning simple brown bags of flower bulbs [photo above] that caught my eye on my way to buy food at Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie. Like the sound of the first ice cream truck’s bell in spring, the images of flamboyant blossoms and simple display on a brisk day at winter’s end attracted me and no doubt many other customers.

Deceptive Packaging 1That’s the only positive packaging example today. I was dismayed by the deception of the iron-on patches made to look as though they took up the length of the paper sleeve [photo right] when in reality, they hardly Deceptive Packaging 2made it to halfway [photo left].

And while I’ve mentioned toothpaste tubes before, I have not been happy living with this heavier-than-standard gauge tube with a silver finish that, for its heft and shine, comes at a higher price. I was duped into thinking it would be better than the typical tube I’ve bought for decades. Half the time the top doesn’t close and when this happens the paste hardens when air hits it [which is a formula problem as the other paste doesn’t do this in the hours between brushings]. I need to search kitchen drawers for something long and thin to pry out the hard stuff that even countless squeezes won’t dislodge. It’s back to the standard tube for me!

Do you have any packaging praises or gripes to share?

 Crummy Packaging

Service of Packaging IV

Thursday, June 7th, 2012


News moved the spotlight on packaging again-you must have read about those striped Tide detergent pods, reminiscent of candy, that have poisoned young children, who are fooled into thinking that they look good enough to eat [photo below, right]. Even the container is reminiscent of the ones in old fashioned penny candy store displays.

tidepodsI’ve covered packaging several times before, not because it looks good enough to eat and poisons but because it frustrates and can even cut you.

I’m embarrassed to admit how hard and long I tried to open the liquid soap in the photo above. [You see it in its ready-to-use state. Missing is the mystery piece that stumped us.] I’d twirl the plastic pump, inspect the hose, pry the top with a knife hoping to coax it up and down…even my husband determined it was faulty after giving it a few minutes of his time. So my nephew came over for dinner, walked to the kitchen sink where I’d left the recalcitrant setup, snapped off the white plastic middle piece and gave his hands a squirt. I stood dumbfounded.

I told him about my history with the thing and to make me feel better he admitted that packaging had baffled him at times. He owns a body shop. A front strut–shock absorber–that was locked for shipping, fooled him and his crew when they tried to get it to function before installing it in a car. After a while one of the men pointed to the instructions that told them to hold it down and twist it-like a childproof pill bottle top. That worked and he felt silly. (I saw no instructions on my liquid soap container.)

I wonder if my husband owns shares in companies that make popcorn or chips. When he’s torn open the package, top to bottom, the leftovers are guaranteed to turn stale in a trice. [Is that where the term “stalemate” came from?]

packagingcrackers2012-smallHave you cut yourself trying to open the hard plastic containers [pictured left and below] that increasingly hold dips, crackers, salsa and other goodies? While they keep the items fresh, [hooray!] you need strong or metal-coated fingertips or no fingernails to pry them open.

Sometimes I think the packaging that gets between me and the products I want to use or eat are deliberately difficult to open so I end up breaking or ruining them. That causes the contents to spoil or spill. The result?  I need to buy more sooner than necessary.

What packaging do you praise or struggle with?


Service of Packaging III

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011


I’ve always used Tide laundry detergent and my mother did also. That is until recently. A large bottle of the stuff just doesn’t seem worth $26 to me especially when I can get something else the same size that cleans our clothes and smells just fine for $7 or $9.

It doesn’t matter how you dress up the bottle. Sarah Nassauer wrote in The Wall Street Journal about how marketers of products from Doritos to Downy–and Tide–are trying to pry open wallets by harking back to the 1970s for packaging design precisely because the brands are feeling competition from the less expensive private label offerings. I think that nostalgia and product loyalty go only so far when stringent budgets are concerned.

cupcakes1In New! Improved! (and Very Old) Nassauer wrote: “As a direct appeal to get moms to buy more Hostess snacks for their kids, the company earlier this year brought back some logos and animated characters from the ’70s and ’80s, such as Twinkie the Kid and King Ding Dong for a limited time. ‘Today’s moms are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and ’70s packaging is what they remember,’ says Amy Clark, director of snack marketing for Hostess. Hostess hoped parents would ‘want to pass it down, share it with their own kids,’ she says.” [While nobody asked me, I say teach the children to make cupcakes.]

19thcenturypatternI adore vintage patterns from textiles designed in the 19th century such as those by William Morris. I wonder if designs over 50 years old translate to food and cleaning products when price is concerned. According to Nassauer, “The emotional play for shoppers doesn’t always work. Kraft Foods Inc. produced a retro look for the 2009 redesign of its Miracle Whip brand, incorporating elements of the brand’s original label from 1933. At the time, with a recession in full swing, there was a longing to ‘celebrate the past and push toward our future,’ says Carol-Jacqueline Nardi, director of design and innovations for Kraft.” I wonder if Kraft marketers were thinking clearly. While 85 year olds may have warm and fuzzy memories of a 78 year old package design, how many of them will eat a ton of Miracle Whip?

I fell for a $1 tin of Nivea cream [I didn’t need] at the checkout counter of my favorite discount cosmetics store. But what closed the sale: The price or the cute mini blue and white tin with the familiar Nivea name?

Packaging is an art. But I wonder about its impact on consumer choice as disposable income is increasingly diverted to cover necessities and as more and more money is owed to Messers C. [as in Con] Edison, C. [as in Central] Hudson [Gas and Electric], Mobile-Exxon and others? Do sufficient numbers of wallets have enough flexibility to fall for the charming, familiar or stunning package?


Service of Packaging II

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010


I couldn’t open the front door after the blizzard this week and it got me to think again about disobedient packaging. I last covered the topic in April 2009 focusing on medicine bottles and boxes of brown sugar that are crummy for storing the leftover because the sugar turns to brick no matter what you do [on purpose, no doubt]. The comments to the original post covered almost everything else but because of some recent glitches, I felt moved to again address the topic as most manufacturers have not gotten any better.

Take cereal boxes. I can’t get the flap to stay closed and there’s no good way to open the inside packaging so as to keep air out of the cornflakes.

flourI fought with a five pound bag of flour hoping to unwrap the folded over top part, jiggling it with a knife and coaxing it open with my fingers. I wanted the package to protect what was left after I’d removed several cups for holiday baking. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do anything with it but cut open the side. Infuriating.

Two adults worked to jiggle open a milk carton. We ended up using a knife and creating an awkward pouring shape for the life of the quart. This happens too often to say that the carton was a lemon. Some milk comes with a plastic twist off cap that works well, if you want to pay an extra $1. And then there are plastic bottles. But some people don’t care to buy food or drink in plastic.

Several people in previous comments mentioned struggling with CD wrapping. That’s a puzzle because the exterior cellophane doesn’t involve food or medicine safety. Its inaccessibility has to do with theft in which case manufacturers might package CDs ordered over the Internet differently from those bought in a store.

plasticpkgingI have the cuts to confirm another comment made almost two years ago about the challenge of breaking open the super thick plastic around light bulbs and electronic equipment. This option by manufacturers has to do with keeping the items intact during shipping and no doubt, discouraging theft. With all the talk of the environment and the importance of using green light bulbs, you’d think that manufacturers would revert to the paper packaging of yore or think of something else because those heavy plastic covers must remain intact in dumps for eons.

In addition to the milk carton cap, I can think of one other advancement: The bag our kitty’s cat food comes in. There’s a clearly marked perforated line to rip open the bag and half an inch below the perforation the bag pinches closed along ridges, similar to the way some baggies work.

I’d love to hear of your packaging battles and of enhancements you’ve discovered.


Service of Follow-Ups

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Have you ever watched a movie and had to leave early–so you don’t know the ending? I like to know what happens. So here are some follow-ups to four previous posts.

Postal “Service”

Mervyn Kaufman wrote about his excruciating US post office experience in “Service of Ho Hum,” December 8, 2009. The who cares attitude he described struck us in other ways this Christmas, the first year that the postal service lost two packages-one we sent and one destined for us, mailed from the Midwest.

All we have from our lost package is the address and return address ripped from the book mailer packaging and sent us, with a printed form letter postmarked Atlanta, noting that the package had fallen apart and sorry, but the contents [wrapped gifts] were lost. The package, mailed from upstate New York, was slated for New Hampshire.

In addition, a letter with a check in it that we mailed to Brooklyn in mid-December has yet to arrive or be returned, and we hear from a friend who lives in the Midwest that she hasn’t received a bill from a credit card company for the past two months. All this happens as USPS business continues to drop off while staffing doesn’t. 

Fur Flying

We left Catherine C’s story in “Service at the High End,” November 23rd, up in the air. Did the furrier find and return her lost coat? No. This is what she reported:


“I got a check from my insurance company, which will duke it out with the furrier.  I had to ask the furrier to give me a refund for the storage, cleaning, and relining of my coat (shouldn’t have had to ask), and I never got any kind of written apology.  I still believe the latter knows what happened to my coat.  

“I’ve learned some things that make me question their quality and make me thankful I’m no longer dealing with that firm. I’m glad I didn’t take their offer of a more expensive coat if I paid the difference in value between the new one and my coat. 

“I am in the process of having a new coat made at a furrier that was recommended by the style editor of my client, Departures magazine.  It happens to be a close friend’s furrier, too.  And I’ve triangulated and heard only good things.  This furrier stores on premises, which is good.  It’s taken me a little while to get my head around the whole idea of making a coat because there’s an element of faith involved in what it’s going to look like.  It’s starting to come together.  Wish I had it now!” [Catherine wrote this on a frigid day.]

Ring Up a Great Deal

On a cheerier note, I visited the same T-Mobile phone store that was the subject of the January 28, 2009 post, “Good Service is In the Air, Isn’t It?” Last year, I bought a cell phone with charger, earphones and 1,000 hours of service for $130–$10.83/month for 12. The purpose of the visit last week was to renew the account, which I did for $10-there were 700 phone hours left to use. This brings the monthly cost of the phone and service to $5.83-for what I hope will be 24. The charming and efficient young woman helping me had me in and out of the store in minutes.

Cup of Joe from Sam

And Sam in his coffee cart– “Coffee Service with More than a Smile,” December 15, 2009–is as welcoming as ever. His music transitioned this month from seasonal Christmas to energetic music with a Middle Eastern twist. He’s added a variety of cold cereal to his breakfast offerings and his prices remain reasonable–75 cents for a cup of coffee.

We missed him when he left a substitute coffee person to tend his cart on the southeast corner of 44th Street and Third Avenue so he could visit his family in Egypt. The substitute had no interest in any of us–didn’t bother to remember if we took sugar, skim or regular milk and could be sour and rude. He also left each day hours before Sam does.

Do us a big service: Share some follow-ups either from one of our post topics or your life.


Service of Hidden Charges

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

I’m not sure anyone wins when a company hits its customers with hidden charges. Seems crazy to go to the trouble to make a sale and then either turn away or annoy the customer when there are so many better, legitimate, straightforward ways to get the money you need to make a profit.

I’ve known PR agencies that cheat on out of pocket expenses rather than charge the fee that they should.

I have a favorite place to buy tops and sweaters, a manufacturer that also sells directly to the public. I dove at the opportunity to buy a $60 summer tee shirt reduced to $20 at season’s end, until at checkout I saw a $10 charge for shipping and handling.

The shirts are sold in protective plastic bags and it takes one second to toss one in an envelope. It can’t break and it weighs less than a pound. I cancelled the order–I felt taken. Yet, I might have bought the shirt priced at $25, with a $5 shipping and handling charge.

A friend picked up the phone to buy a gadget advertised on TV for $19.95–a second one would only cost the price of shipping and handling. The order-taker wouldn’t let him request the car-conference-calling-gizmo he wanted. The operator kept trying to divert him to buy this, that and the other, wasting his time and irritating him. When he was emphatic that he only wanted the one item, he was told to expect it to take a few months to arrive.

Many airlines charge a fee for checked or overweight luggage and one, I heard on a weekend radio travel talk show, charges passengers who use the lavatory. Meanwhile, a friend’s airfare increased only $15 by adding a detour to New York City on her way to San Diego. Starting point: Minneapolis! So why not charge a proper amount for the travel and stop the nickel-and-diming?

There is an exception. Some books in the secondary market on are priced at almost nothing. The rock-bottom book charge is almost ridiculous so I don’t mind paying twice the cost of the book for postage and packaging, even if I know that shipping Media Mail is inexpensive.

What hidden costs exasperate you? Do people think that their customers are stupid?

Service of Full Measure

Monday, August 17th, 2009



Maybe there is the same amount of liquid as always in the cup of coffee I bought this morning but I doubt it. The size of the cup is dramatically smaller than standard takeout and nowhere near as big as the cup I usually get from this vendor. The price is the same.


The coffee industry isn’t the only culprit in flim flammery, but as I walked it back to my office, I immediately thought of the old one pound coffee can trick where the measure of grounds inside continues to shrink to as little as 10.5 ounces while the tin stays the same. Wonder if this visual hyperbole carries over to words at Starbucks where you don’t buy a small cup of coffee–it’s a “tall.”


I’ve purchased boxes of fancy cookies only to find, with company already in the house, that there are embarrassingly few inside. I hate to serve a skimpy plate of anything. Reminds me of folks who buy one chicken and cut it up into a million small pieces for six guests to share, leaving one generous piece that the host, last to be served, takes with a reluctant sigh, “Since nobody else wants it…..” [True story.]  Or the host who buys ¼ lb of sliced smoked salmon for a crowd of brunch guests and comments to his wife, at the end of the party [with some guests still around to hear], “See dear, we had plenty of salmon, there’s some left” which is only true because nobody dared take what little there was. [Also true.]


On the other hand, last weekend, we bought ice cream from a vendor in the Poughkeepsie, NY Galleria. Her “small” portions were so generous that one of our guests asked her to stop as she kept stuffing more into his cone. Milkshakes are all over the map. Some taste like flavored milk while others are too thick to sip through a straw [yum]. Making a profit is crucial to staying in business but so is repeat business.

Shorting the customer to make an extra buck is as old as shopping itself, but does it work in the long run? Maybe? Your thoughts?

Service of Safeguarding a Brand

Friday, June 5th, 2009

I was on a NYC bus years ago holding a sled gift wrapped in FAO Schwartz paper. A little girl stared at me for several stops. Finally she could no longer contain her curiosity and asked me what was in the box, noted how lucky the child receiving the gift was and volunteered how much she loved FAO Schwarz.

I don’t know if she was old enough to read, but like Tiffany’s blue box that you recognize from blocks away long before you can see a logo, children all over the city at that time recognized FAO Schwartz wrapping paper.

When FAO Schwartz failed the first time, it was partly because its marketers forgot how special it was and tried to compete with toy discounters. I read that mothers said they’d gladly pay the supplement for the play dough they bought there because it didn’t ruin furniture as less expensive versions did. To compete with discounters, FAO Schwartz dropped a lot of the pizzazz that attracted visitors from around the world.

Recently, I read that Toys R Us bought FAO Schwartz. I worry. I’ve been burned by once high-end brand toasters or coffee pots available at discount that break in a year. I admire brands that stick to their last.

Granted keeping up quality and price is a tough call in this economy. But if we represent or work for a brand, do we owe it–and the public–anything? Should we warn folks that we’re changing the formula?

Packaging that Serves to Annoy

Monday, April 27th, 2009

A colleague plunked a round pillbox on my desk last week and asked me if I was able to open it. It was white plastic and the opening instructions, “press the dot,” were also white, indented in a kind of intaglio.

The medication was for migraine headache.

I was feeling fine until I couldn’t locate the dot! Eventually I did, but by then I almost had a migraine myself. You don’t have to have suffered more than a mild headache to know what a nightmare it is to fool around with a bottle top to get at an Advil, Bayer or Bufferin. Imagine being blurry-eyed with pain looking for a white-on-white dot. There must be a better way.

It’s not always the fault of the package. Tricky medicine bottles are obviously designed to save children from swallowing dangerous medications but there are times when the easy-to-open variety is in order. When my sister slipped on ice and broke her wrist, the hospital staff asked her a slew of questions. One was, “do you live alone?” Her answer: “Yes.” When she got home and tried to open the painkillers they gave her with only one hand in operation, she discovered that the bottle had a childproof cap.

If you’re slightly uncoordinated, try pressing and twisting open certain mouthwash bottles.


A box of brown sugar is easy to open but the sugar turns into a brown brick once you open the plastic inside, no matter how carefully you re-close it with tape or rubber bands.

So that toothpaste can no longer be accused of breaking up marriages, i.e. “You never put the top back on the toothpaste tube!”–some manufacturers attach the top to the tube. In my experience, those tops usually don’t stay closed, making me want to divorce the manufacturer.

Do you have favorite packaging grumps?

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