You’d think that companies would get it right. They spend $130 billion a year on boxes, bags, and blister packs. You spend on packaging, too. According to Joe Angel, vice president and publisher of the trade publication Packaging World, packaging accounts for roughly 7 percent of a product’s overall cost, and some of that gets passed along to consumers.
Yet illogical, misleading, and over-the-top packaging continues to annoy consumers, and we have the letters, e-mail, and photos to prove it. The annoyances come in four basic types.
- , our term for hard-to-open products. Often, they’re gadgets imprisoned in clear, tight-fitting plastic. That displays merchandise from all angles and discourages theft. But it also foils honest folks, who have tried razor blades, scissors, box cutters, and saws to free the contents they’ve bought. Other oysters: cereals in stiff bags that split and spew their contents when you pry them open and pills in blister packs that give you a headache even as you’re trying to treat your ulcer.
- , or products surrounded by lots of air. Federal law is supposed to prevent excessive “slack fill,” nonfunctional or empty space. But there are loopholes in the law if, for instance, the space limits breakage or discourages theft, or if the package does double-duty as a dispenser. One company we were about to criticize actually changed its packaging after buyers complained. Archway modified the tray design for its Original Windmill Cookies “to accommodate a more tightly packaged product,” a spokesman told us.
- , shrunken by companies unwilling just to raise the price. Downsizing can occur in sneaky ways, as when Huggies reduced the number of PullUps diapers from 72 to 70 but kept the words “New Larger” on the label. Companies usually blame downsizing on higher costs of ingredients, labor, and energy.
- , tiny doodads shipped in giant cartons, sometimes with enough paper, bubble wrap, or airbags (called “void fill” in the packaging industry) to cradle a priceless vase. At least some companies are aware of the problem. (Read “,” below.)
Here you'll find a showcase of our latest examples of packaging faux pas, submitted by Consumer Reports readers and Facebook fans. For each product, we asked a company rep to explain the packaging decision. Usually we received an answer, though not always to the question we asked.