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What Is Primary vs. Secondary Packaging?

Primary packaging is the last piece that separates your product from the consumer. Secondary packaging holds together the different aspects of the product. Together, they play a key role in protecting your products and promoting them on crowded shelves.

October 15, 2020     2 minute read

As the all-encompassing term suggests, packaging serves multiple purposes. Packaging protects your product from damage, extends the shelf life of food products, promotes your brand to consumers, and maximizes shelf presence. It’s not just about what the consumer sees and opens, but also how the product is transferred, stored, and placed.

That comes together in three parts: primary packaging, secondary packaging, and tertiary packaging. We’ll focus on the first two as they have a more direct influence on how the consumers perceive your products (tertiary packaging is used for shipping large volumes of products—think shrink wraps around boxes—and storage).

Both primary and secondary packaging play a role in getting your product into consumers’ hands. They work in concert, and a defect in either will compromise the packaging as a whole.

Here’s what you need to know about each, and the elements to consider, as you look for a packaging solution.

Primary Packaging

Primary packaging is both first and last: It’s the first layer of protection for your product and the last piece of packaging that the consumer opens. It’s a bag of potato chips, a juice box, a book of matches, or a wrapper that covers a bar of soap. It can also be a tray that holds multiple products in place—say, as part of a beauty kit. No matter what, the primary packaging needs to be of the utmost quality.

Think of the food industry. Primary packaging plays a vital part in extending shelf life. If it’s defective, the product is waste. Even for non-perishable items, defective packaging risks damaging fragile products or sending the wrong message to consumers about your brand’s quality.

There’s another element to consider as well: branding. Primary packaging is often contained within secondary packaging (as is the case with folding cartons). In these instances, utility matters more than appearance. However, when the primary packaging is displayed, use it as a marketing opportunity. The packaging should feature clear branding and messaging about what exactly the product is. This can be elevated with the right effects—an elegant white background with a sleek logo for a beauty product, or cleverly placed windowing to give consumers a peek at the product before they open it.

For companies using tinctures, bottles, or something similar (especially those in cosmetics), supplement your packaging with a strong label that speaks to your brand and provides important information.

Finally, ask about sustainability when working with your packaging partner. They can talk you through options to limit plastic use or provide alternative materials, without sacrificing quality.

Secondary Packaging

The box that holds the aspirin bottle. The case that holds the soda cans. The plastic wrap on a two-for-one deal. All are examples of secondary packaging, which holds together the units that make up products.

In this sense, secondary packaging serves a practical purpose. It organizes or stabilizes products to get them shelf ready. It also makes for easier and safe storage, so when it comes time for a manufacturer to ship off more units, you can trust they make it to consumers intact. Like primary packaging that’s displayed, though, secondary packaging is an important tool for brand marketing, particularly when it’s a folding carton.

Folding cartons are one of the most common forms of secondary packaging, and you should take full advantage of them. The paperboard they’re made of offers a blank canvas of sorts for expert physical designs and possibilities for decorative elements, while remaining strong enough to protect your products.

The right packaging partner will work with you to deliver a well-designed folding carton (or other form of secondary packaging) that meets your goals. Every detail of the process is considered to optimize resources and instill peace of mind. You'll be confident in your product—so, too, will your customers.  

sustainability, food packaging, folding cartons


Custom Packaging Vs. Stock Packaging

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Custom vs Stock Packaging Sell Sheet
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Custom vs. Stock Packaging 

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