Four Approaches to Packaging Improvement for Cost Savings

January 23,2023 Category: Cost Savings, Packaging Development, Quality Optimization
Developing and maintaining packaging and packaging processes that help a brand succeed requires ongoing innovation. As materials and technologies advance, packaging teams must always evaluate whether new options can make their packaging more reliable, more sustainable and less expensive.

For brands with ample packaging support, a Packaging Development Center of Excellence (CoE) can provide an ongoing stream of new ideas to ensure packaging meets the needs of the brand and its products. For those that aren’t ready to implement a full CoE, there are a handful of approaches that can help ensure their packaging designs, materials and processes are optimized for efficiency and cost.

Approach #1: Consider Material Options

The materials that worked well for packaging when it was originally designed may not remain the best choice over the long term. As technology generates advancements in materials and distribution methods, it is often worthwhile to revisit materials choices and investigate options that may improve packaging’s cost, performance and/or sustainability. An efficient way to discover alternative materials is to work directly with suppliers to learn about which packaging materials and design innovations they offer that can match or improve package performance in a normal distribution environment at a lower cost.

While it is worthwhile to include the current packaging supplier in this process, the most promising alternatives are likely to come from other suppliers. Sharing a breakdown of packaging requirements, current specifications and target costs should get alternative material suppliers up to speed and provide the information they need to create prototype packaging design and deliver a quote. Working with a packaging consultant that takes an agnostic approach to packaging materials can help to organize the process and ensure suppliers return quotes that match the project’s needs and timeline.

Approach #2: Work with Current Supplier(s) to Rightsize Packaging Components

New material options aren’t the only way to bring down the cost of packaging materials; reducing the size and weight of current materials can reduce both the cost of the materials and the cost of shipping finished products. The challenge is finding the right balance between minimizing package size/weight and ensuring it will protect the product throughout distribution.

There are often options for reducing material thicknesses and weight without sacrificing product protection, often referred to as rightsizing. Rightsizing can not only optimize costs, but also provide a sustainability benefit, as smaller, lighter packages can enable more product per shipment and reduce shipping costs.

This is where working with your current supplier, along with an experienced packaging engineer, comes into play. The supplier should know their materials and understand options for reducing size, and a skilled packaging engineer can thoroughly document the distribution path and its potential hazards, then lead testing of new packaging options to confirm performance. Collaboration between material experts and packaging engineers is key to balancing packaging costs and product protection.

Approach #3: Behind-the-Scenes Improvements

Packaging pros tend to spend more time thinking about consumer-facing, outbound packaging for their brand’s products, but inbound packaging for materials shipping from suppliers can also present important opportunities for optimization. Thinking strategically about this inbound packaging can lead to changes that improve process efficiencies in manufacturing or packaging operations and other cost-saving measures.

Planning inbound packaging optimized for manufacturing and packaging processes can help increase efficiency and save time that makes a significant impact on the bottom line. Working directly with component and subassembly suppliers can lead to alternatives to current inbound packaging, optimized for that supply chain. While evaluating potential changes to inbound packaging, it is important to compare the per-unit cost of current packaging against proposed new packaging to ensure the changes meet cost targets.

For suppliers that make frequent shipments to your manufacturing or packaging facility, it may make sense to implement returnable packaging that both reduces waste and cuts costs in the long term. Performing an evaluation of current per-unit packaging costs against proposed costs for returnable shippers can confirm the project meets cost targets and supply information needed to secure buy in from leadership within the organization and with suppliers and other stakeholders. It’s also important to test returnable packaging to get a clear understanding of the number of trips it can withstand, which is a vital piece of information for evaluating ROI.

Approach #4: Revisit Packaging Decisions from Early in the Product’s Lifecycle

New product launches can often be a time crunch for packaging teams. Brands can be in a rush to get the product out the door once design decisions are finalized, forcing packaging that prioritizes speed to market over cost. In an ideal world, packaging designs and material selections will be updated once the initial time crunch passes and there’s time for more cost-conscious planning and design, but busy packaging pros can often be reassigned to other projects before there’s time to rethink early decisions.

Packaging components such as die-cut foam cushioning systems may be faster to create and supply, but considering long-term alternatives such as molded pulp or molded foam cushioning systems  while more time consuming to design, test and commercialize  can both reduce costs and improve packaging sustainability. For example, with precision aluminum tooling, molded cushioning solutions can be formed quickly (less cycle time) and reduce labor cost associated with manual assembly of die-cut foam cushions. The initial tooling investment cost results in a higher cost per unit, but over the long-term, the per-unit cost will decrease. Suppliers have a whole host of pricing options and can create financing arrangements to earn a customer’s business.

An audit of existing packaging, including packaging formats that have been in place for a long time, can reveal many such opportunities to optimize packaging for cost and often improve other metrics such sustainability.


There are many approaches brands can take to optimize packaging for cost savings and performance. An experienced packaging pro can help you determine which approach(es) will work best for your brand’s products and packaging. If cost savings are among your top priorities, the Adept team is ready to lend its experience and expertise to help you meet your goals.

Get in touch to discuss options and learn more about how we can help.