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Primary, Secondary, Co- or Contract Packaging- the Choice Is Yours

Posted by Adam Bates on 5/12/17 7:30 AM
Adam Bates
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Packaging line and machine with canned product in cardboard flats with text- Packaging The Choice Is Yours


In the packaging industry, sometimes there are discrepancies between what a company says they do and what the industry would say they do. This causes confusion and can make it difficult to determine what you are looking for when considering outsourcing packaging processes. The key to avoiding this is familiarizing yourself with the industry terms and distinguishing which of them best describes your operations. To help with this process, here are some terms that seem to cause the most trouble.

Primary Packaging vs. Secondary Packaging

The packaging that comes into direct contact with the contents it is holding is considered the primary packaging. A company that deals in primary packaging is going to be handling the physical product itself. The primary packager for a brand of bottled water is the company doing the liquid filling. Often the product manufacturer will primary package their product in-house. Other common primary packaging methods include flow wrapping, blister packing, and clam shell packaging.

Secondary packaging on the other hand, is defined as the additional steps in the packaging process after the product has been put into it's primary packaging. Secondary packaging is used for the grouping of products for shipping as well as protecting both the the product and the primary packaging. In some cases, the secondary packaging is discarded before it reaches the end consumer. In the case of bottled water manufacturing, this would be the shrink wrap that bundles the individual bottles into cases of water. Some manufacturers will even do the secondary packaging in-house, but there are many times when it is more appropriate for a company to outsource these processes to packaging services providers called "contract packagers." How to know when your company should use a contract packager is covered in this article by the Contract Packaging Association.  

Contract Packaging vs. Co-Packaging vs. Contract Manufacturing

There is a great deal of confusion when it comes to the terms contract packaging, co-packing, and contract manufacturing. Companies use them interchangeably to describe the same range of services. Contract packaging and contract manufacturing are used to describe the services a co-packer provides. There are many potential activities that fall under the umbrella of "contract packaging" and "contract manufacturing." These services include: 

  • Product manufacturing
  • Package design and manufacturing
  • Labeling
  • Liquid filling
  • Cartoning
  • Shrink wrapping

A co-packer can provide any number of the services listed and still say they provide contract packaging or manufacturing services. The ambiguity of these terms makes it increasingly hard for the customer to find their way to the right co-packer.

How to Choose

Outsourcing an essential supply chain process to a third-party provider is no easy feat for most businesses. It is important to choose carefully to ensure all your packaging needs are met. There are some essential criteria to take into consideration when determining who best meets your packaging needs.

To save on delivery time and freight charges, a location close to your facility OR closest to the end customer may be the best for your bottom line, however, the nearest contract packager may not be the best for your needs, so qualifications should outweigh cost savings. Make sure the packager has experience with processes similar to those you are looking for. Good communication is critical from the discussion of options to contact in the instance of something going wrong on the packaging floor. Procedures and quality control requirements should be in place to ensure high quality. Make sure potential companies have enough machines, supplies, and workforce to handle your project in your time frame. Ask for references or testimonials from other businesses that have used the company's packaging services.

See examples of some of the secondary packaging solutions Keller Packaging can provide for you.

The Packaging industry is full of key terms, and we only touched on a few here, so we've provided a handy glossary for your reference:

Download Speaking Proper Packaging Glossary



Topics: Co-Packing

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