Packaging must be robust, tamper-proof and leak-free, but, as the global population continues to age, it must also be easy to open. This can be a tricky balance to strike, but as Selig's Sales Director, Peter Tindale, reveals, a robust solution already exists.

Consumers rarely give much thought to the demands placed upon the packaging used for their favourite products. This packaging must be tamper-proof, it must not leak, and it must provide protection to the product. It must also be easy to open, and it is this aspect in particular that can capture the attention of many consumers. It can even inform purchasing decisions; many of us will swear never to buy a product again if a protracted battle was required in order to open it.

The ageing population

The need to strike a balance between safety, integrity, and ease of access is a growing issue for producers. More than 350 million people worldwide suffer from arthritis, a painful and debilitating condition that tends to affect those over 45. Furthermore, the prevalence of arthritis is expected to rise sharply as the global population ages.

For those suffering from arthritis, packaging must be easy to open. Dairies face a particular challenge when it comes to developing inclusive packaging for milk. As a household staple, packaging for this product must be easy to open, leak-proof and promote shelf-life, it must also achieve this while being suitable for mass production. As such, striking a balance between the safety of packaging and how easily it can be accessed requires careful planning and design.

With advanced warning that the proportion of consumers with mobility issues is increasing, manufacturers of products that are used by these consumers need to start defining their strategies for the use of inclusive packaging now.

Design guidelines

The issue is beginning to attract significant attention across the world. Associations such as Arthritis New Zealand and Packaging New Zealand, for instance, recently issued a set of practical guidelines for the design of inclusive packaging. The nature of these guidelines ranges from the relatively obvious, such as the use of foil seals that do not require tools to open, to the highly detailed, such as guidance on suitable features for seals and opening elements.

According to the Food Packaging Design Accessibility Guidelines, the size of the removal tab on foil seals is crucial. Arthritic hands lack both strength and dexterity, and people adapt by altering the way that they open packaging. As such, the grasping point on a seal needs to be sufficiently large to grip with a thumb and knuckle rather than the more usual finger and thumb. Guideline number 10 articulates that in order to ensure this, tabs need to be at least 0.47 inches (12mm) in width by 0.79 inches (20mm) in length. This is easily achievable for circular openings if an ergonomic half-moon tab is used.

Further, the guidelines stress the importance of supplying opening instructions that are easy to understand. Elderly individuals often struggle to decipher instructions, owing to a deterioration in their sight and/or cognitive abilities. Opening instructions that are not clear and simple can lead to frustration, loss of consumer confidence and, in extreme cases, malnutrition among these individuals. As such, the instructions need to be printed prominently. Opening features such as pull tabs should be clearly visible. Finally, simple pictograms should be used.

Considering the customer

Clever design is crucial in efforts to make packaging more accessible, but safety is an equally important element that must be considered. The freshness, shelf-life and integrity of a packaged product are core concerns for all consumers, but for those with mobility issues, having to clean-up products that have leaked because of poor packaging design can be particularly irritating.

The familiarity of product and packaging is an equally important concern, especially for the elderly. Older people are known to be highly loyal to the brands they favour, meaning that gaining trust and building bonds is a desirable strategy for producers targeting this market.

Studies have shown that older people rank convenience as one of the most important attributes that they look for in packaging. This includes the basic convenience of being able to open the product, as well as having wide access to their brand and packaging of choice.

Sealing the deal

In response to these demands, many manufacturers are employing foil seals, such as Selig’s Lift ‘n’ Peel, which can be applied using a process known as induction heat sealing or induction cap sealing. Through this process, electromagnetic induction energy is applied to rapidly bond the foil lidding to the bottle neck, creating a rugged hermetic seal that can be peeled away smoothly.

Induction heat seal liners with a half-moon tab offer a good solution for both manufacturers and ageing consumers. The combination of a flexible hermetic seal and an ergonomic approach results in a seal that is both strong and easy to open. Good design is central to the successful application of this approach, however. The quality of the polymer on the underside of the foil, the flexibility of the cap and the strength of the tab must all be considered and balanced effectively.

According to the Food Packaging Design Accessibility Guidelines, non-fiddly, easy-to-grip and understandable half-moon seals are a clear and convenient solution for those that find it hard to open milk bottles. For the 350 million arthritis sufferers, and for the 2 billion people who are approaching older age, this advanced and intuitive design presents a proactive response to their needs.

Finding a balance between safety and accessibility can be tricky for manufacturers, but the design of Lift ‘n’ Peel™ and other such products ensures that freshness and security can be guaranteed with a customer-focused design. Easy to use and understand, it is a complete solution to a pressing problem.