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Exploring the Various Layers of Product Packaging

Exploring the Various Layers of Product Packaging

When it comes to product packaging, there are several layers to it, all of which work together. While there are plenty of product packaging variations based on box styles and other factors, the industry uses three common classifications to describe the full range of packaging.

The main difference between the various packaging levels is how close they are to the product itself.

A Quick Overview

The following summarizes the three primary packaging levels:

  • Primary: This is the packaging closest to the product.
  • Secondary: This is the next layer of packaging. Secondary packaging is used for shipping primary packaging or retail displays.
  • Tertiary: This is usually for shipping secondary packaging. Customers do not see it.

An Example

To help put those quick definitions in perspective, consider the example of a 12-pack of soda. The individual cans would be the primary packaging, the cardboard on the 12-pack would be the secondary packaging, and the larger box that a bunch of 12-packs ship in would be the tertiary packaging.

Before we take a closer look at each of these, it is important to note that there is some overlap. Some types of packaging may qualify as either primary or secondary packaging, while others may qualify as secondary or tertiary.

Primary Packaging

As mentioned, this is the packaging closest to the product. The materials used will depend on the item or product. So, a soda can is the primary packaging for soda. If you buy a new smartphone, the box it comes in would be its primary packaging.

It may also be called “retail packaging.”  

The Goal

Primary packaging aims to protect a product. It also attracts customers and provides them with any necessary information. It has a strong focus on branding.

Secondary Packaging

There are two main types of secondary packaging. If a product has a primary layer of packaging on it (primary packaging), then secondary packaging is useful for shipping.

Secondary packaging can also just refer to another layer of packaging over that primary layer. It may still be customer-oriented, such as the cardboard around the pack of soda. It can also be more for display purposes. An example would be the candy boxes holding individual bars of chocolate or packages of gum by the cash registers.

The Goal

There is some overlap with the goals of secondary packaging and the other levels. It also works to protect a product. At the same time, it helps with branding during shipping. In the case of retail displays, it can also attract customers and give them information, just like primary packaging.

Tertiary Packaging

Most tertiary packaging is the packaging that is only used or seen behind the scenes and does not appear in front of customers. It is the larger boxes or pallets that several batches of the same item will ship in.

The Goal

The main goal of tertiary packaging is protecting the product. Unlike the protection from primary and secondary packaging, tertiary packaging focuses on safety during shipping, in particular. The focus is primarily on protection and transportation logistics. This packaging typically has minimal branding.


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