What is Secondary Packaging?

Secondary Packaging Equipment

A great way to think about secondary packaging and its importance, is to remember an old industry phrase that states: “Secondary packaging is the last thing on your mind, but the first thing your customer sees.”

It is intended to protect not only the product, but also the primary packaging of a product, which often is most visible to the consumer in the form of retail displays. Common examples include cardboard cartons, cardboard boxes, cardboard/plastic crates, trays, paperboard cartons, shrink wrapped bundles, trayed PET bottles held with shrink wrap, taped or glued cardboard cartons containing cans of food, cans inside a paperboard carton, etc.

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Primary packaging is the term used to designate the layer of packaging in immediate contact with the product. Think about primary packaging as the container in which the product is stored. For instance, the primary packaging of milk is typically a plastic gallon jug. Manufacturers determine their primary packaging with both the product and existing secondary layers of packaging in mind. Other examples of primary packaging include bottles, cans, wrappers, air-tight bags, etc.

Tertiary packaging is the third level of packaging, rarely seen by the customer. It relates to the shrink wrapped pallets used to transport products in bulk from manufacturers to the retailer, usually via distribution centers.

To visualize how all three levels of packaging work together, let’s take a look at canned corn. Corn is placed into cans (primary packaging). Then, those multiple cans are loaded into a carton (secondary packaging). The sealed cartons are positioned onto a pallet and shrink wrapped for distribution (tertiary packaging).

Enhance Your Product Visibility

Secondary packaging is an excellent way to reinforce your brand and enhance product visibility in a crowded marketplace. Whether you’re creating a rainbow pack or using printed shrink wrap, you increase your opportunities for marketing your product and appealing to consumers. Retail ready packaging can offer you the visibility you envisioned for your product. Open displays put you in control of how your product is able to reach your customers. Your brand is positioned front and center, directly in the line of sight of your customers, and drawing their attention. With a saturated and competitive market, you’ll need your products to draw your customer’s attention away from competitor’s products and onto your own.

Choosing the Right Type of Packaging

As a manufacturer, there are countless pieces of the packaging puzzle to manage, ranging from labor costs to raw material availability. As a distributor/reseller of products, the focus is often on packing or repacking the product as cost efficiently as possible so it arrives to the customer safely. In either case, typically little thought is given to the packaging materials used to pack and ship the order to the customer.

The box, tape or void fill material used on an order may not seem very important, but in many e-commerce situations, it is the very first, and perhaps only, tangible contact your company has with your customer. Your package and packaging has taken the place of a handshake, smile or even the friendly voice that we once received whenever we made a purchase. That is why many companies are now seizing this terrific opportunity to reinforce their message and brand to their customers, making sure the arrival of an eagerly awaited package is a positive and memorable experience.

It is even more critical if you are selling a green product to a green consumer. What we have learned from experience is that the green consumer scrutinizes everything coming into their home, including your packaging. Rarely does a week go by without a seller or shipper receiving a customer complaint such as “love the product, hate the packaging.”


In today’s world, very few companies offer an exclusive product that customers cannot find somewhere else on the internet. Even when companies offer competitive pricing, there is always someone out there selling the same product for less. In that competitive environment, everything becomes important and “good enough” often times is not. The best part of branding secondary packaging is that in most cases, it adds little or no cost.

We all try to make a good impression on our customers so they’ll remember us and want to come back to buy more of our products. An excellent first impression can lead to valuable repeat business. Whether you promote your company to be green, fast, or professional, your packaging can easily, and in most cases, inexpensively reinforce that positive message. If you are contemplating private branding for your packaging, do not hesitate to ask about a supplier’s capabilities and experience. And don’t forget to ask for samples too. A qualified potential supplier will be happy to show you the branding options available as well as examples of work they have done for others.

Secondary packaging is commonly created in the same facility where the primary packaging is created. Having it produced under one roof allows for a streamlined production and packaging process. This streamlining can significantly reduce labor time and costs. It can also help adapt your products for the shipping process in a more cost-effective and efficient way. From initial product packaging to warehousing and re-palletizing at distribution center(s), it must withstand varying degrees of handling in order to arrive at the end user location in perfect condition.

Equipment from Douglas Machine Inc.

Packaging equipment can be designed to operate in a variety of environments including clean rooms, dusty environments, wash down applications and refrigerated areas. Many factors are considered in determining the correct materials and packaging methods including primary packaging needs, material costs, environmental impact, distribution center processes and end user best practices.

Learn more about the secondary packaging machines that we manufacture for our customers here at Douglas. Let us know if you have additional questions that we can answer.

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