Wooden package balances sustainability, esthetics and functionality

Joseph Ogando

January 30, 2014

6 Min Read
Wooden package balances sustainability, esthetics and functionality



Suki Wooden Travel Kit 1

When toiletries go on the road nowadays, they usually travel in tiny tubes and clear plastic bags. Suki Inc., a maker of organic personal care products, recently took a far more stylish route with a new travel kit that features an award-winning packaging design.

Instead of plastic bags, the company chose to packaged its Suki To Go Executive Travel Kit, a collection of travel-sized personal care products, in a wooden tube. Measuring 10 x 2.5 in., the tube is formed from a veneer-like sheet of wood, wrapped around circular wooden end-caps and secured with adhesives. A flapped opening, created from cutouts and a living hinge in the thin wood body material, provide access to the tube. A decorative button-and-string closure secures the flap.

Wood is a less-than-common choice when it comes to personal care packaging. And the Suki To Go package, which was designed and manufactured by Creative Packaging Solutions, is the first wooden design to win the Package of the Year Award from the New Jersey Packaging Executives Club (NJPEC). “I can't think of any time a wood package has even come close to winning, with the possible exception of displays,” says Peter Gould, a former executive director of the NJPEC and current chairperson of its awards program (see sidebar for a list of other NJPEC winners).

Yet there are good reasons why wood rose to the top of the pile in this case. “Suki wanted something made from an eco-friendly material, in keeping with its brand and philosophy,” says Coni Lefferts, Creative Packaging's president and the chief designer of the travel kit packaging. Wood fit the bill on the sustainability score. The tube is also designed with re-use in mind, which contributes to its sustainability from a life-cycle standpoint.

The package isn't all about sustainability, however. Its use of natural materials also imparts a high-end look and feel, which is something that impressed the NJPEC judges. “To call this package a 'wood tube' doesn't do it justice,” says Gould, who said the judges gave the design high marks for its “elegant, hand-crafted looks.”

Wood also did a good job when it came to balancing the sustainability and aesthetics with a host of functional requirements—such as surviving drop tests that simulate shipping, getting through airport security, fitting comfortably in a women's hand, and accommodating a product mix that may change over time.

Lefferts explains that she rejected a number of “obvious choices” as she set out to design a package that met all the design requirements. For example, clear vinyl bags, while certainly an airport-friendly solution, were deemed too ugly. Metal containers, while a possibility from an esthetic standpoint, were ruled out because they were perceived to be less amenable to transportation-safety screening and did not have the warm feel of wood.

For all its benefits, wood did create a number of challenging design and manufacturing issues that Creative Packaging had to contend with during the year it took to develop this package. Lefferts first had to find the right color of wood, knot free and not highly figured. She also had to carefully select for thickness—too thin and the package wouldn't hold up, too thick and the flapped opening wouldn't work. She ended up with something—she won't name the species—that's roughly 0.45 mm thick.


Suki Wooden Travel Kit 2

Once the wood was selected, Lefferts had an even tougher design challenge to overcome in the design of the protective cushioning inside the tube. “Initially I thought we would use a biopolymer vacuum form inside the tube,” Lefferts recalls. She even went so far as to prototype a formed carrier that would fit inside the tube. From the prototype work, she discovered that the form factor of the tube and processing characteristics of biopolymers created insurmountable forming difficulties. “It just wasn't working,” she admits. What's more, a formed cushion would have made it difficult to adjust to changes in the product mix. “We didn't know what the product mix would be, and we needed to be able to accommodate different combinations of tubes, glass bottles and even bars of soap,” Lefferts says.

Upping the ante

“After a lot of thought, we decided to use an embroidered, organic cotton washcloth to protect the product inside the tube,” she continues. That seemingly simple decision added some value to the travel kit, because the cloth can be used. At the same time, though, the cloth made the procurement process more complex. For example, Lefferts notes that her firm had to take out a license to import textiles—something it didn't have before this project. And the cloth also upped the ante on the fit and finish of the tubes. “We couldn't have any splinters or other defects that would snag on the loops of the washcloth,” she says.

As for manufacturing issues, Lefferts says she encountered problems, primarily with the printing of Suki's logo onto the tubes. Excess humidity in the Chinese factory where the tubes are manufactured reduced print quality to the point that manufacturing yields suffered.

“We had our QA guy visit the factory every three days,” she says.

In all, Creative Packaging produced 30,000 of the tubes for Suki. Lefferts acknowledges that these relatively low volumes contributed to the economic viability of the package that's largely assembled by hand in China. “Cost wasn't as much of a concern here as the image of the product,” she explains. But she believes that natural materials will increasingly be used as a way to “make a statement.”

More information is available:

New Jersey Packaging Executives Club, 973/429-2177. www.njpec.com

Berry Plastics Corp., 812/306-2000. www.berryplastics.com

Brad-Pak Enterprises, 908/233-1234. www.brad-pak.com

Creative Packaging Solutions, 732/335-3500. www.packaging-usa.com

Emsar Inc., 203/377-8100. www.emsargroup.com

FiberMark, 800/327-8374. www.fibermark.com

Hampden Papers, 201/463-8514. www.hampdenpapers.com

Package Development Co., Inc., 973/983-8500. www.pkgdev.com

Piramal Glass D USA Inc., 856/728-9300. http://glass.piramal.com

Pro-Motion Industries, 856/809-0040. www.pro-motion.ws

Rexam Personal Care, 812/867-6671. www.rexam.com

SGD North America, 212/753-4200. http://sgdgroup.com

Smith Design, 973/429-2177. www.smithdesign.com

Sunbelt Graphics Inc., 201/956-1301. www.sunbeltgraphics.net

Tri-Plex Packaging Corp., 212/481-6070. www.tri-plexpkg.com

Sign up for the Packaging Digest News & Insights newsletter.

You May Also Like