Packages that need a makeover

By Leslie WareLifestyle and BudgetConsumer Reports

Some packages have been annoying for so long that it seems as if manufacturers are teasing us all. Why, in 2013, must consumers open a box of farina pretty much as they have for decades, by pushing in a cutout on the side of the box? How many times have you opened a bag of chips only to have it split and spill the contents?

Patrick Reynolds, editor of the trade publication Packaging World, blames economics. “These are mostly low-margin, commodity products that yield small profits,” he says. “There isn’t a lot of motivation for companies to rip out equipment in their plants that’s bought and paid for and invest in new machinery, no matter how horrible the packaging.” Frito-Lay, for instance, abandoned an experiment to outfit snack bags with a resealable zippered closure because of cost, says Joe Angel, publisher of Packaging World, and besides, “they want people to eat all the chips all at once.”

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We’ve rounded up some familiar culprits and contacted companies to find out why they couldn’t do better.

The issue. You need a strong but delicate touch to pull the bag open without causing it to split apart and spill chips.

The company’s response. “It’s always great to hear from a fan. We want you to know that we are always looking to improve based on feedback from our consumers.” Then the company offered us coupons.

The issue. The cardboard container and metal top deteriorate in moisture, and powder kicks up through holes in the nonclosable lid when you set it down.

The company’s response. The limitations of the container are by design, to make it recyclable.

The issue. The paperboard box has a spout you create by poking a finger through a precut template. When you pour, cereal tends to get stuck inside the box, and you can’t reseal the carton.

The company’s response. “We are sure your suggestion for a metal pour spout for the Cream of Wheat cereals would be a great success. In fact, many of our consumers have requested this. Unfortunately we currently do not have the machinery to apply this type of packaging.”

The issue. The flour is tightly packed into a delicate paper sack that’s tricky to handle without tearing or making a mess.

The company’s response. “It’s very classic and the way it’s always been,” a customer-service rep said. “And flour is an openly traded commodity. We don’t make much money on it.”

This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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