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People, plants and packages: 30 years of "Wow!"

People, plants and packages: 30 years of "Wow!"
Lisa McTigue Pierce

Lisa McTigue PierceBaxter's "reverse" bar code, Dean's Milk Chug, the Kiss & Tell fragrance bottle-in-a-bottle, the Dynac accumulator and the Replenish refill container stand out among the many packaging innovations that took my breath away when I first saw them.

This August I'm celebrating my 30th year in packaging media and I can honestly say I've never been bored. My career started with a jolt. In September 1982, a mere month into the job, seven people were killed in Chicago after ingesting Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. The still-unsolved crime sparked one of the most intense challenges packagers have ever experienced, as companies raced to develop tamper-evident packaging.

The job has been exhilarating ever since. Over the years, I've met hundreds of people, visited dozens of packaging plants and written about too many packages to remember them all. But a few developments stand out in my mind for their ingenuity and different way of thinking:

Baxter Enlightened bar code
• In 2004, Joe Mase, packaging genius (that's what I call him) at Baxter, turned a "negative" thought into a positive solution. Black bar codes printed on transparent IV bags were hard for scanners to read because they didn't have enough contrast with the background. What would happen, he thought, if we printed the white spaces instead of the black bars? Ha! Problem solved, patent issued. The Enlightened HRBC high-resolution bar code is encoded with variable information—the National Drug Code number, lot number and expiration date—and printed online during packaging.

Deans Milk Chug• In late 1997, Dean's Milk Chug revolutionized the dairy industry by making it cool to drink milk. The single-serve, reclosable plastic bottle initially targeted tween/teen males but the convenient package appealed to many consumers: office workers brown-bagging their lunches, college coeds, moms packing a snack for the soccer field and, yes, those skateboarders the designers had in mind at the start. 

• I told nearly everyone I knew about Kiss & Tell when it launched in early 1999. The luxury fragrance is really two products in one, thanks to the bottle-in-bottle design. A hand-crafted glass cylinder holds a light eau de toilette for daytime wear, along with a heavier perfume for romantic evenings housed in a glass bulb that's blown inside the cylinder. Reservoir sprayers that don't need dip tubes dispense the separate scents at either end of the cylinder.


Kiss & Tell


Replenish beauty shot• Despite the current eco craze, Americans still rebuff most refill packs because they're not easy to handle. Replenish, a rigid bottle/pod system, marries a sturdy reusable trigger-spray bottle with a small replaceable container (the pod) as its base that holds a concentrated cleaner. Voila! This functional system, described in detail in Packaging Digest's February 2012 issue, cuts plastic use by 90 percent vs the typical disposable bottle.

• Packages are pretty, but the hypnotic movement of packaging machinery always has mesmerized me. I remember my jaw dropping when I saw the Dynac system from Hartness Intl. run during an invitation-only screening in 2000. The seemingly simple operation of this first-in/first-out, zero-pressure spiral accumulating conveyor belies the engineering prowess behind its development. It's sort of like a rubber band, dynamically stretching and retracting to hold more or fewer packages as needed to buffer a line.

Hartness Dynac• Being a packaging journalist sometimes takes patience...and persistence. In 2006, after I hounded them for about seven years, the folks at Kellogg's finally let me write about their innovation and packaging operations. The resulting article earned me a 2007 National Gold Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

At the core, though, it's the people of packaging who warm my heart. To all of my compadres, thank you for making this one of the most fun and rewarding careers ever. To borrow a phrase from the U.S. Navy: "It's not just a job. It's an adventure."


So what else have you got? Impress me!





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