Packing has four functions: protection, easy handling, information and branding & design. Packing technology mostly occupies itself with protection (from air, light, temperature, etc), and easy handling (opening-closing, transporting).
Food legislators and marketeers are responsible for information and branding & design. The latter is important to distinguish the packaging from competitors on the shelf.
There are three levels of packaging materials:
- primary, in which the final product is packed (e.g. a beer bottle, the cap and the label)
- secondary, in which the primary is packed (e.g. crate, carton box)
- tertiary, in which the secondary is packed (e.g. pallets, shrink foil)
For more information on packaging, see ITC Access Module 08 on the left of this page.
The availability of good packing material is major handicap in many emerging markets. E.g. Tajik fruit processors are still buying old soviet style 3 liter glass jars, which are not appealing anymore to modern buyers, who prefer twist-off jars of 0.5 to 1.0 liter. Imported jars from neighboring countries form the only option and they are expensive.
The cost of packing material has a big impact on the total variable costs of agro-processed consumer goods. Often it is around 30-50%, but it can even be as much as 80-90% as in the case of beer.
An important point to realize is that manufacturers of filling equipment design their equipment in such a ways that only specific material can be used (usually their own material). E.g. Tetrapak filling machines for milk and juice can only handle Tetrapak carton.
The price of packaging machines varies according to their origin. European and American machines usually come with customized engineering. They are more expensive to buy, but have higher durability, reliability and speed. Chinese and Indian machines are simpler and cheaper; after assembly by a local expert they ready to use. Reconditioned used equipment from European origin is a third, cheaper option.