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Four trends driving healthcare product packaging

Oct 25, 2021

After nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, ProAmpac has taken a closer look at major trends in healthcare and their potential impacts on pharmaceutical and medical-device packaging.

We spotted four major trends that will affect packaging: (1) direct-to-consumer services (DTC), especially virtual healthcare and telemedicine; (2) e-commerce, which surged in support of telemedicine; (3) rising home-based care; and (4) sustainability practices that optimize product packaging.

Below is an interview with Ron Fasano, vice president of sales healthcare at ProAmpac.

Question: How is ProAmpac helping pharma companies, medical-device and intermediary products suppliers adapt their packaging to the direct-to-consumer trend?

Ron: Traditionally, sensitive prescription products move from the manufacturer to a distributor to the pharmacy retailer, which serves the consumer. Now with the still-evolving DTC trend we have a new distribution chain, with an increased number of points-of-entry that are vulnerable to people with nefarious intentions.

We can help with e-commerce security by drawing on our experience with special inks, tamper-evident packaging, and child-resistant/easy-open flexible packaging.

There is also a related issue of distribution-channel durability. Traditionally, prescription drugs are packed in large pouches or rigid containers that are shipped to the pharmacist. Now healthcare products must survive a longer distribution chain in smaller quantities.

Packaging can help here on two fronts: (1) making the container robust and durable enough to survive the longer DTC logistics chain, and (2) helping secure the chain of custody using both covert and overt security measures. The goal is to ensure that medications delivered to the home are precisely what the doctor ordered.

Q: Slippage in brand loyalty appears to be a growing trend in healthcare. Are there packaging solutions from your experience with consumer product goods (CPG) customers that can address some of the brand-loyalty challenges in healthcare?

Ron: We think there is a huge opportunity to build loyalty as healthcare crosses into the DTC consumer space.

As healthcare products increasingly are delivered directly to the consumer’s home, we can radically improve the packaging structure, using gussets, spouts, closures and other user conveniences. Such changes can completely alter how the package performs and improves the consumer experience.

We can also bring in the same high-quality printing that brightens retail aisles to spice up the e-commerce package, vitalize branding, and helping to make the messaging sticky, while providing clear instructions, easy-to-read product ingredients and any other information needed to comply with regulations.

Q: So, these attention-getting differentiation techniques are unique to ProAmpac?

Ron: These attributes are unique to flexible packaging versus rigid packaging. ProAmpac has broad and deep experience helping customers drive brand differentiation and consumer convenience through collaboration.

We have given cross-team product development a home base at the new ProAmpac Collaboration and Innovation Center in Rochester, N.Y. At this location we bring together our own experts with experience in multiple markets and our customers’ development people. There they engage in collaborative ideation, design, rapid prototyping and testing.

The new ProAmpac CIC, which is also home base for MAKR, our exciting online pouch development capability, has workspace for collaborating in person with our customers.

Q: Another emerging trend in the healthcare sector is sustainability. The importance of sustainability was emphasized by multiple sources in our research, including a McKinsey report, a FactMR market analysis, and Senior Editor Kim Overstreet in Healthcare Packaging magazine.  What are  pharmaceutical or medical-device suppliers doing to increase sustainblilty in packaging?

Ron:  Many of our customers are recognizing the importance of collaborating across their supply chain to reduce the environmental footprint of product packaging throughout its lifecycle. 

In general, moving from rigid to flexible packaging is an effective way to reduce materials, transportation costs and all the environmental impacts that goes with both. When it comes to developing the replacement flexible package itself, many of the sustainable materials ProAmpac employs are already used and pass stringent fitness testing, meaning that the shift to sustainable materials will not be so difficult. 

Within flexible packaging, the healthcare supplier can choose recyclable or compostable materials, and can consider the use of post-consumer resins (PCR) as well as renewables such as plastics made from plants or even paper substrates.

ProActive CHART, ProAmpac’s Life Cycle Analysis tool, is available to help customers understand the suistainability benefits of various packaging types.  It can provide directional indications on a variety of metrics including circularity as well as carbon footprint.

Q: What innovative and sustainable packaging developments lie in the future that may advise pharma and medical-device brand packaging?

Ron: The package of tomorrow will likely be active — designed to be traceable and serve as a barrier to bacteria and viruses.

The active package of the future will be able to alert the user if it has been exposed to an adverse environment such as environments with extreme temperatures or high moisture. It may also alert the customer to a breach in the seal or other tampering. We have materials research being conducted in these areas of active packaging.

Q: Are there any other future opportunities for packaging to benefit this DTC shift in healthcare distribution?

Ron: A couple of other possible futuristic approaches come to mind. 

Some years ago, then-new RFID systems enabled hospitals to scan products and identify if they had been tampered with and by whom. We are seeing an increasing interest how RFID technology could help strengthen today’s emerging chain-of-custody e-commerce challenges.

We are working with customers that are involved with direct dosing. Equipment they have installed in hospitals and nursing homes is metering dosages specific to patients. In the future, this capability could be tied into healthcare e-commerce.

Such possibilities are most feasible when the healthcare supplier and the packaging company collaborate.  

Maybe it’s a boast. But we like to think that as healthcare suppliers pursue packaging innovations, ProAmpac will be among the first to bring them to the industry.

 

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