Designed for Distribution

By Bob Fiedler | Principal Associate & Packaging Engineer, Chainalytics

When a product leaves the production line, it’s in the best possible shape of its life. No product ever improves during its distribution journey to the end customer. But what happens en route to the customer does affect your product’s integrity.

So how well does it travel through a complex and often hostile distribution system? Why does it sustain damages? And what does your customer experience when your product reaches their hands? Hint: These question’s answers all begin with your packaging. 

The Three Main Functions of Packaging

1. Protection

Have you ever mapped the end-to-end supply chain distribution journey of your products? Are you aware of the various touch points and handling methods or hazards that your product will experience?

Effective packaging design ensures your product is adequately protected from the wide range of mechanical, manual, and environmental hazards it will encounter on its distribution journey. Many companies do rudimentary package testing–simulating the distribution environment in a lab to simulate and predict problems in order to prevent future failures. But when packages are designed without the distribution environment in mind to provide adequate protection, they are rarely “culled out of the system” and can easily percolate through to the final customer, resulting in excess damages and returns. Conversely, while improper packaging may result in damage, too much packaging can incur additional expenses as well, ranging from excess transportation costs to increased material costs.

2. Containment

At it’s highest level, packaging encompasses a wide variety of products. From soybeans to cleaning supplies to toys to generators to engine motors: this wide array of product needs a mechanism to move from Point A to Point B.

To minimize in-transit damage, a product must be designed to be contained within a series of ever-larger “packages”—from its primary box, carton, can, bottle etc. to secondary packaging like cases and  pallets to its means of conveyance, whether van, truck, plane or rail/container car. Each of these last containers has specific space available and potential for damage, as it moves or stops along the way.

3. Communication

Do you know the color of the packaging for your favorite cereal box? Packaging serves as a form of direct and indirect marketing. Your name and logo are likely on your product’s primary and secondary packaging.

Consumer goods packaging has a high marketing value: As consumers shop amongst thousands of products in an a given category, point-of-sale engagement directly encourages them to interact with product brands and overcome visual indifference between brands on their own volition.  How does your packaging add value to your product (or brand)? Better yet, how does packaging protect and best convey your brand’s imaging?

A Can’s Distribution Journey 

The graphic below illustrates almost 10 manual and mechanical touch points that can affect a can as it moves into and out of new distribution environments along its route to the end-consumer.

As the packaging changes its form and functions along the way, think about the distribution journey and [tweet_dis]all the steps a can must take in order to reach your refrigerator shelf[/tweet_dis] undented and in one contained package.


This overly simplified packaging example above shows how the form and function of the product’s packaging must change and evolve through each distribution channel. When marketers and/or designers are creating a new product design, they need to have this supply chain distribution relationship relative to the packaging environment in mind.

After all, a product doesn’t just miraculously appear on the store shelf. [tweet_dis]Products are distributed and thus need to be adequately designed for distribution [/tweet_dis]with their multiple channels in mind.

To learn more about the major distribution hazards your packaging will need to withstand during its distribution journey contact the experts at Chainalytics using the form below.

Bob Fiedler is a Principal Associate of Chainalytics’ Packaging Optimization Practice and Packaging Fellow with the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP). He earned a lifetime achievement award from ASTM D10 Packaging Committee in September 2014 and worked closely with Alfred H. McKinlay to create and establish ASTM D4169 as the leading global package testing protocol.


In this article