Is Tradition Delaying the Evolution of Performance Packaging?

Updated: Nov 13, 2018

Are traditional buying strategies delaying the evolution of the packaging industry? We spoke with Dr. Jay Singh of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo to find out more.

What performance metrics are you studying with respect to the latest lightweight, high-strength linerboard papers?

At Cal Poly, we primarily engage with the industry through sponsored research projects. These include projects undertaken through our Consortium for Packaging Research (fresh produce agenda) and numerous proprietary grants/fee-for-service projects. The majority of performance metrics that we analyze focus on the performance of the product-package systems during their distribution in various supply chains.

An example would be right-weighting. We have undertaken the redesign of several commonly used styles of corrugated fiberboard shippers used for fresh produce with the aim of reducing the material used in their design while maintaining or exceeding their physical performance. For the telescoping HSC style boxes used for bananas, we have developed alternates with up to 55% reduction in board and up to 23% increase in the compression strength. For hand-folded, display-ready containers commonly deployed in club stores for romaine lettuce, we have developed alternates with up to 34% reduction in board and up to 7% increase in the compression strength. It is important to note that redesigned containers require automated/semi-automated forming equipment. For both examples provided, Cal Poly also developed an electrical pneumatic/mechanical folding and gluing machines that could perform at a higher throughput than the current capabilities.

Any particularly intriguing findings that you can share with category managers?

We have proven that the alternates developed for some of the most heavily used packaging designs will vastly increase the throughputs of the supply channels. My personal experience with developing alternate (right-weighted) solutions has been that the decision makers typically adhere to legacy solutions and are slow to respond to the adoption for alternates. We undertake numerous performance validation projects from brand owners where the “right-weighted” solutions touted by the vendors seem to have not been thought through and the solutions tend to perform at unacceptable levels. I feel that the users do not have exposure to the fundamental understanding of corrugated fiberboard and are overly dependent on the providers for guidance.

What industries are most likely to see the benefits of right-weighting?

Right-weighting can benefit almost any application, whether it is consumer or industrial goods, with regards to supply chain efficiencies and environmental goals. Waxed corrugated solutions are estimated to make up more than 5% of all manufactured corrugated board specifically targeted towards the distribution of produce and meat. With feasible right-weighted alternative solutions towards this category, the global fruit and vegetable market (currently estimated to be worth $246 billion) can reap the benefits of improving their profit margins as well as meeting their sustainability goals.

Prominent right-weighting challenges due to the related supply chain strategies are causing ecommerce/omni-channel businesses to consider all sorts of options. With ecommerce being responsible for $2.3 trillion in sales in 2017 (and projected to hit $4.5 trillion in 2021), the related distribution of physical goods requires an astounding number of corrugated shippers (Amazon alone is estimated to ship 1.6 million packages/day). According to a recent study, the corrugated packaging market is forecast to increase from $315 billion to $380 billion by 2023. With these numbers in mind, one can easily foresee the benefits of right-weighting in the ecommerce industry.

Why have more companies not seized the opportunity of sustainability improvement that can be realized through right-weighting?

Legacy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in the United States, the 65-and-over population will nearly double over the next three decades to 88 million from 48 million. While the packaging industry seeks innovative solutions almost daily, the predominant myopic perspective overlooks the indirect benefits related to right-weighting. While some right-weighted corrugated packaging solutions currently are not as cost-effective due to the associated technologies and/or production related transitions, the direct cost should not be the primary criteria in decision making. Rather, a holistic approach that considers handling, warehousing, labor, freight, and sustainability-related impacts needs to be considered.  

Dr. Jay Singh is the Professor and Packaging Program Director at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. Dr. Singh can be reached via email at or

(805) 756-2129.