Product development is a long series of forks in the road, choosing the right path based on information and intuition. When it comes time to package a product for sales and distribution, brands face a final either/or question: rigid or flexible packaging?
As you might guess, there’s no definitive answer for every product. Brands have many variables to consider, ranging from product type and supply chain demands to consumer trends, retail outlooks, and compliance requirements.
So when deciding between rigid and flexible packaging, where do brands begin their decision-making process? This article explores the pros, cons, and comparisons between these two major packaging formats and how to make the most of each.
What Are the Basics and Benefits of Rigid Packaging?
The most established and familiar forms of packaging can be categorized as rigid. These are the time-tested formats and materials you grew up with, and they remain the primary form of packaging today.
Even as flexible materials surge in popularity, rigid packaging is the front-runner. It’s also worth noting that rigid formats are almost always used to protect flexible packages in bigger shipments, from large cardboard boxes to massive steel containers and wooden pallets.
Still, rigid packaging is a popular way to deliver individual product units directly to consumers.
Let’s look over the basics and benefits of this classic category.
What Types of Rigid Packaging Are There?
A glance around your kitchen, garage, or supply cabinet will reveal the many types of rigid packaging used today. Rigid packaging is any format that features hard, immovable, and unmalleable surfaces, ensuring maximum protection of the contents within.
The most trusted forms of rigid packaging excel in pure durability, particularly against stressors like pressure, drops, jolts, and impact. They also feature strong barrier properties such as protection from oxidation, light, and temperature variations.
Rigid packaging includes everything from standard containers to jars, cans, tins, boxes, cartons, and canisters. When combined with protective packagings such as styrofoam or air pillows, rigid formats can help protect fragile items like electronics or sensitive medical or chemical products.
While rigid packaging may not be a new concept, suppliers still frequently introduce novel and creative formats to meet the demands of complex supply chains and consumer trends.
Rigid Packaging Materials
The most common rigid packaging formats are familiar, but what materials are used to build these trust boxes, tins, and custom containers? Like many aspects of the packaging industry, we see a varied mix of new and old materials combined with modern practices.
For years, the leading types of rigid packaging have been classified as paperboard, cardboard, and fiberboard.
Thanks to their strength, versatility, recyclable features, and relatively low cost, these paper products still lead the way in our robust shipping and consumer goods packaging economies. Everything from cereal boxes to industry-grade fiberboard is included here.
Plastic in high-density polyethylene, heavy-duty polypropylene, or alternative formulations is a close runner-up to paperboard. These account for your standard water bottles, milk cartons, twist containers, and gum packs.
Plastic is universal and has many variants that give it barrier properties like added strength and protection from external hazards.
Following suit are glass and metal packaging materials like foil and aluminum. These hold less market share than they once did but still benefit from strong barrier protections and recyclable incentives for customers.
There’s no doubt that shoppers still love the old-school look and feel of glass containers and are willing to pay a bit extra for quality.
What Are the Best Products for Rigid Packaging?
We can see that rigid packaging is here for the long haul, but what products are best suited for containment in these formats?
In the food sector, paperboard is a standard for everything from milk and juice to beverage mixes and frozen foods. Candy boxes, cereal boxes, and pasta often also come in rigid cardboard packaging.
With plastic, we see everything from household goods and cleaning supplies to cosmetics and certain specialty ingredients. Food without a solid structure benefits from rigid packagings, such as yogurt, salsa, or liquid suspension products like pickles.
Metal containers are widespread in the world of hardware and industrial supplies, as seen with paint cans and chemical treatments for construction and contracting. Many metal containers are also in the home, from canned goods to specialty tins of tea, coffee, and candies.
Finally, glass is an evergreen choice for high-quality beverages like spring water, artisan soda, kombucha, alcohol, and specialty oils. Glass is also more likely to be recycled or repurposed, making it a favorite in the rigid packaging lineup.
What Are the Basics and Benefits of Flexible Packaging?
We’re reminded of how much rigid packaging helps us daily, but it’s hard to ignore the rapid rise of flexible packaging in recent years. Flexible solutions went from a below-the-radar alternative to seizing significant market share, with projections showing even further adoption.
It’s no coincidence that flexibility is the way of the future, offering benefits in cost, customization, customer experience, and considerable barrier properties. Innovation is also on a roll in flexible packaging, meaning the best is yet to come.
Here’s a closer look at what flexible packaging entails and the best products for this format.
What Types of Flexible Packaging Are There?
Flexible packaging is a broad category, including any malleable, bendable containment format for products. These include stand-up pouches, exit bags, and any form of blister packs, clamshell packs, or lightweight thermoplastic that wraps around a product for a custom fit.
With flexible materials, brands can save considerable money on upfront investment when bringing a product to market. These formats use less overall material and are more efficient in mass production.
Furthermore, branding capabilities are far greater and more accessible with flexible packaging supplies, thanks to direct printing and labeling mechanisms that save time and effort on the part of the producer.
Additional benefits include a more sustainable and recyclable end product and ease of use for customers in various home and work settings. Finally, flexible packaging has a novelty factor, and customers worldwide are eager to try products in new and improved formats.
Flexible Packaging Materials
Unlike the broad range of material types found in rigid packaging supplies, flexible packages tend to be made of thermoplastics with the occasional addition of metal for structure and protection.
Low-density polyethylene is a standard in flexible packaging, allowing for precise customization, sizing, and heat-seal functionality to maximize freshness and security. Mylar, a stretched form of polyethylene terephthalate, is gaining recognition as an upgraded form of flexible packaging, with benefits like smell-proof seals and excellent barrier protections.
Tougher forms of polyethylene may be used for heat-formed blister packs, as seen in products like batteries and individual electronic components.
It’s also common to see a mix of paperboard and polyethylene wrapping to display products transparently with a rigid backing and branded printing.
What Are the Best Products for Flexible Packaging?
From household essentials to food staples and specialty items, flexible packaging is surprisingly capable and versatile.
Materials like polyethylene and Mylar allow brands to confidently package perishable and sensitive items in flexible formats, limiting the risk of oxidation, moisture, light penetration, and variable temperatures.
With all the cost and convenience benefits of flexible formats, brands are now using them to package snacks, ingredients, household cleaners, pet medicine, supplements, prescription medications, and even toys.
The emerging cannabis industry is one of the first in which flexible packaging is a dominant force, offering discrete packaging, smell-proof subtlety, child-resistant protections, and plenty of space for high-impact branding and sufficient warning labels.
For small businesses in up-and-coming industries, flexible packaging offers a compelling case. Suppliers like Dymapak are on the front lines delivering custom, cost-effective solutions for the next generation of business giants.
How Do Customers See Rigid and Flexible Packaging?
Customer perception is always a factor in developing packaging solutions, so how do today’s retailers and shoppers see the situation between rigid and flexible options?
Rigid packaging offers familiarity and stability for long-term loyal customers in older generations. However, more than two-thirds of shoppers prioritize sustainability in their product choices, suggesting that eco-friendly, flexible packaging will likely have an edge.
Regarding convenience and everyday use, flexible packaging is perceived as easier to open, reseal, and reuse. As the new generation of shoppers gains buying power, industry forecasts predict the broader adoption of flexible packaging to continue.
How Can You Choose Between Rigid and Flexible Packaging?
The rigid vs. flexible debate will likely persist for years to come. But what’s the best option for brands needing to decide on their products right now? Ask these key questions to find your ideal packaging solution and ship with confidence.
1. What Type of Product Are You Packaging?
Are you selling individually-wrapped candies? Luxury tea or coffee? Delicate cannabis flower or edibles? Hazardous household chemicals? Knowing your product — and all its strengths and weaknesses — is vital to choosing the right package and maximizing protections.
While flexible packaging is more popular than ever, there are still benefits to classic cylindrical containers like the SecuriTin from Dymapak. Analyze your product goals, the challenges of the supply chain, and the user experience you want for your customer.
2. What Barrier Properties Are Required?
Some products are susceptible to oxidation and temperature changes, while others are vulnerable to moisture and condensation. Based on these environmental factors and logistics journeys, understand the potential dangers your product will encounter.
Flexible packaging like Mylar has outstanding barrier properties, but the direct impaction protection of paperboard is hard to beat. List your top barrier priorities and make a choice that balances the best of all worlds.
3. How Do You Want To Customize Your Packaging?
Branding is critical to make your product stand out online and on shelves. Flexible packaging provides more customization options with printing and labeling, while rigid formats don’t offer as much variation.
Explore your choices and see which customization process is more feasible for your product goals. Child-resistant features are more common in flexible packaging nowadays, so make sure your chosen format passes the tests and meets high industry standards.
4. What Is Trending in Your Industry?
Industry trends shouldn’t be ignored, so do some market research and see where the winds of consumer interest are pointed. Perhaps your target audience wants sustainable packaging or prioritizes privacy and smell-proof designs.
If your goal is to be an industry leader, you’ll recognize trends in consumer tastes and anticipate them with packaging that sets a high bar for quality.
The Packaging Supplier That Does It All
The choice between rigid and flexible packaging is challenging, but with this guide, you can make the right call for your next best-selling product.
Connect with Dymapak, the leader in packaging innovation, and let’s put your product in the spotlight with packaging that exceeds expectations.
Flexible Packaging Facts and Figures | Flexible Packaging Association
Consumers Demand Sustainable Packaging | NACS
Testing Procedure for Special Packaging | Cornell Law School