How do you code Primary vs. Secondary Packaging?

  • By Domino North America
  • May 18, 2016
  • Beverage
  • Beauty & Grooming
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What is primary packaging and what's its function?

When the average consumer thinks of the word 'packaging,' more than likely, they're talking about your product's 'primary packaging' level. It's the packaging that actually houses your product - the final line of defense between your product and the outside world and can feature everything from logos, branding, price messaging, etc. - everything that you see and know walking into your average storefront before you started down the path of thinking about QR Coding, Barcoding and Traceability

When one of our Product experts asks you about the material of your primary packaging, that's what they're talking about. 

Some examples: the chips bag design you keep having to redesign; a tried and true wine bottle label, an aluminum can, a chocolate bar or candy wrapper.

Sometimes, primary packaging will be fully removed (e.g. sandwich packaging), other times it remains intact (e.g. a wine bottle). But in the FMCG world, as you know, it’s almost always there.

What is secondary and tertiary packaging?

Moving beyond the basic product wrappers and containers, the next level of product packaging is called Secondary Packaging. That could be the large multipack bag containing individual packets of chips, the shrink wrap that holds together multiple drinks cartons, or the cardboard box that contains cans of beer.

In traditional stores, secondary packaging is typically out of sight, out of mind where the end consumer is concerned. In that case, it's the strength of the packaging itself or the clarity of the tracking code that's most important.

The consumer rarely sees this level of packaging - except at bulk retailers that have eschewed their own bags and instead, use the product's own cardboard box as the packaging material. 

Bulk Retailers and Taking Your Secondary Packaging to '11'

Now, think about where the average person has actually seen your Secondary Packaging - Bulk Retailers - sometimes carrying or even housing products that aren't your own - maybe even competitors. They ultimately will end up at the homes of consumers, giving you one last chance to advertise your product or logo - even when your competitors may have been the intended purchase.

Why not dress up your corrugated with a superior design and logo and catch the customer's eye beyond the storefront? Having simple corrugated as your box design may be missing out on a chance in today's world with a significant population obtaining household items at bulk stores.

What is tertiary packaging and what is its purpose?

This explanation is going to be shorter than the Primary and Secondary levels, because while Tertiary Packaging may be the most important in terms of protecting your product during long distance shipping, it's also essentially the simplest.

Tertiary packaging is third level of packaging, rarely, if ever, seen by the customer except in low cost retail outlets. It relates to the shrink-wrapped pallets used to transport products in bulk from manufacturers to the retailer usually via large distribution centers.

Examples of Primary Packaging (Can Label) Secondary Packaging (Cardboard Box and Shrink Wrap))

Let’s go to the wine example. The wine itself goes into bottles with your branded logos (primary packaging). A number of these bottles goes into a corrugated carton or cardboard box, to use standard terms (secondary packaging). Finally, these cartons then loaded onto a pallet and shrink-wrapped for distribution (tertiary packaging).

Make sense? If not, you can also use this example for cans of corn pictured above.

The corn goes into cans that has your company's branding imagery and is what customers think of when they think of your product (primary). These cans goes into the corrugated cartons (secondary) and finally loaded onto pallet and shrink-wrapped for distribution (tertiary). 

Even if you might not use this terminology for your packaging, we do, and if you hear us use these words, hopefully, you'll know what we mean. 

Why MRC coding matters

In order to properly track products through the supply chain so your company can track its , each level of packaging (and sometimes even the very product itself, for example in the case of eggs) must carry a code that identifies the product and reveals information about its origins and authenticity.

This normally takes the form of a linear barcode, but could also be a more modern machine-readable code such as a 2D data matrix or QR code. If you don't have this kind of traceability built into your distribution network, it can really help with customer relations, inventory management and ultimately, help ensure that your customer receives their promised goods as you can better track them all the way through the supply chain.

There’s a diverse range of coding technology available

There’s no one-size-fits-all technology that can code appropriately onto every single type of packaging for every type of industry – despite what some coding and marking suppliers might claim.

Different coding technology might be better suited to different substrates and packaging environments. For example, industrial laser markers can sometimes produce indelible serial numbers, batch, bar and 2D matrix codes at high speeds, yet for certain packaging materials, they may not be able to make a high contrast mark.

The point is that each coding technology should be carefully chosen according to the unique and specific needs of your substrate and the environment it's printed within.

Coding technology is indeed can be somewhat susceptible to environment. If you have a product that's created in a refrigerated or heated environment such as chilled environments in the Beverage industry or heated environments such as for metallic components, it can change the type of recommended code.

Here at Domino, we have our own custom Sample Lab that's built to test your substrate against each and every one of our menu of coding and marking options to ensure a clear and code that will last a long time. 

This way, you're not paired with the incorrect coding technology and your company doesn't end up a coder that's not best suited for your factory environment.

Ax-Series i-Pulse Code Verification Technology verifying codes at speed

While there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all coding technology, industrial inkjet, are incredibly versatile and can be tagged in for a wide range of industries. They capable of marking multiple products and packaging types through a vast array of ink types, in just as wide a gamut of manufacturing environments. Plus, there are several types of technology underneath the inkjet umbrella.

While well-worn technologies such as wax jet printers for example suffer from regular downtime, the quality of code produced by TIJ (thermal Inkjet) printers depends on the way your products pass the printer head on the production line. This may make things difficult if the packaging you are coding is moving and unstable.

It’s also important to remember that primary packaging has different coding requirements to tertiary packaging. While the coding on primary packaging will generally need to be scratch-resistant and indelible, tertiary packaging is all about consistency and readability, and the need can often be satisfied with a print and apply system – where an adhesive label is printed and applied to the outside of a case, tray or the shrink-wrap that surrounds products or even a pallet.

What's the right technology for your business?

When you have the right coding technology for your production line, you will have the ability increase production efficiency and ensure your codes fulfil their purpose. Then, you will hopefully be able to sell more product and more profit that goes with it.

Finding the technology that best fits your business means being very clear the your company's requirements, and in turn, what your substrate needs for a clean, clear code. That's where our engineers can help.

What kind of production environment are you working in? Are regular wash downs required? Does your production environment experience things such as syrup, sugar or oil contamination? Is the substrate produced in a refrigerated or heated environment? What is your current line speed? What is your desired line speed? Is the surface glossy or porous? 

These are just some of the most basic questions that we will be asking you during the initial discovery process so you're matched up with the correct coder for the needs of your substrate. We want your company to trust Domino printers and its codes for the entire factory, and at all packaging levels.

Production line running at speed

Then there’s production line speed to consider – not all coding technologies work at high speed. The variables don’t stop there. Do you need the flexibility to print onto multiple substrates or do you always work with the same packaging materials? Are there specific health and safety legislation to consider in terms of installation (guarding) or ink types (food migration)? Do you need software that automatically generates unique codes at the item-level? Do you want flexibility in the short term, or will the line be installed for the long term?

There are important questions to answer. But the optimised efficiency and the overall significance of your production value that comes with getting the right equipment means it’s worthwhile taking the time to get specific about your coding requirements at an early stage in your project.

Confused? Make a decision that matters…

Domino M230i Print and Apply

As you can see, there are lots of variables to consider when choosing the correct coding technology for your business. It’s not as simple as weighing up a list of pros and cons – the devil is in the details. it's up to you to decide what those details are, but our engineers are more than capable of giving you a tried and true roadmap.

You need to think about how well your choice of technology matches the nuances of your production line and your business. If you would like the help of an expert, get in touch with one of our specialists to discuss your application.

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