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7 ways to reduce spend through cost effective packaging design

Ian Heskins: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Guides and Advice | Reduce Costs xx 31628

Focus on Cost Effective Packaging

Reasons you should be thinking about working with closely with a packaging designer

It’s just a cardboard box.

That’s how many people view packaging. Something that couldn’t be more simple (or boring – try starting a conversation in the pub about the challenges you are facing with your packaging!).

However, when you start looking at in detail, it is a surprisingly complex subject.

And of course, if your job involves creating, specifying or buying packaging, most likely you are aware of all the variables involved, and the impacts that it can have on your company’s effectiveness.

The pricing can vary based on board grades used, the construction, weights, strengths etc. But this has an impact on how well it performs in transit, how quickly it can be assembled, how much of it you can store and so on.

And this is even before considering the environmental impact.

There is one element of your packaging that this all feeds back into – and is ultimately defined by – the design of your packaging.

Quick Reference / Contents


More than just packaging design

Another preconception that many have is that packaging design concerns itself with branding, logos, colours, graphics and general marketing and appearance considerations.

While this is critical in many industries and markets (and should always be considered), the structural design of your packaging can be what makes or breaks its’ success.

It can be the difference between your product making it to your customer in one piece.

It can aid the productivity of your packing staff.

It can even help to drive profitability at your business.

But how?

Well, there are a number of ways in which you can reduce your overall costs by taking advantage of thorough corrugated packaging design service, as well as improving other areas of your business too.

01: Seven Strategies

The 7 ways to reduce costs through packaging design

In fact, there are at least seven ways in which leveraging cost effective packaging design can have a significant impact on your costs.

And whilst they will not necessarily be reflected in the unit cost you pay for your packaging, the cost savings can potentially be seen throughout various aspects of your packaging supply chain and wider business.

The key areas that you can (and should) look at when attempting to drive cost savings through packaging design are as follows:

  • Optimise material usage
  • FEFCO styles
  • Minimised transit costs
  • Minimised void fill
  • Easier / quicker assembly
  • Rationalisation
  • Transit Damage

Please continue reading for further information on how working closely with an experienced design team can realise these savings for you.

Packaging design
Working alongside an experienced, specialist packaging designer can result in significant cost savings

02: Material

Optimise material usage

One the major component costs of your packaging is that of the materials that makes it.

The problem is, paper prices are seeing significant increases due to lack of supply, increased demand and the weak pound affecting import costs.

This is the reason that you may have received packaging price increase letters from your supplier.

Whilst this is unfortunately inevitable, working with a packaging designer can mitigate this and even reveal additional cost efficiencies.

The first thing to consider is whether you need to be using the specific material grade that you do currently. Whilst this is a topic of discussion all of its own (you can read more by clicking here), any experienced packaging designer should be able to advise on this.

If yours can’t, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Optimise packaging material usage
A good packaging designer will be able to make efficient use of material, minimising costs without sacrificing performance

Secondly, if you cannot reduce the cost or type of corrugated material you are using, it may be possible to reduce the overall amount that you use (and hence, using less, spend less).

This where custom designed packaging comes in.

A carton sized specifically to your product, for example, is almost certainly going to be smaller than selecting the nearest “stock” equivalent, which will, as a result, useless material.

This is thinking in the most simplistic terms, however. An experience packaging technologist or engineer should be able to improve yield through the parametric layout (i.e. the design when flat) of your box.

This usually involves maximising the use of material and adjusting the layout so that the “blank” size (the footprint of your pack) is reduced.

Again, less material equates to less cost, and ultimately, more cost effective packaging.


Utilising FEFCO styles

If the above sounds complicated, then that’s because it is. It takes an experienced, intelligent (and sometimes innovative) designer to take any carton and reduce the material usage.

There is a somewhat easier alternative however.

Whilst it is not suitable for every application, there is an internationally recognised catalogue of box and packaging layouts.

Called FEFCO (the abbreviation for Fédération Européenne des Fabricants de Carton Ondule – or European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers in English), the catalogue of designs has been coded and widely accepted by the packaging industry as a whole.

Whilst the benefits of having a standardised catalogue are obvious, each of the designs has been tried, tested and refined over many years. This means each of the layouts are exceptionally material efficient.

So why do you need a packaging designer for using a standard template?

Well, the vast range of styles means it is essential to have experience of what layout will work best for a specific application. It is also still crucial to have the main dimensions of the box scaled to match your product, otherwise any material savings are instantly lost.

Virtually every packaging supplier will know the most commonly used FEFCO codes, but only an experienced designer will be able to use this to drive material and cost efficiencies for your business.

04: Transit

Minimised transit costs

So you can see the benefits of reducing material usage in terms of the impact it can have on the unit cost of your transit packaging.

But did you know that a custom designed box can reduce your costs in other ways?

Perhaps the most obvious of these ought to be that of transit costs.

Put simply, if you are sending oversized boxes, and paying volumetrically for shipping, you are effectively paying to ship fresh air.

If you send your goods out on pallets, then you will get fewer boxes per pallet, be forced to send more pallets and again incur increased delivery charges.

Minimise transit costs
Minimising your transit costs can be achieved simply by using custom sized packaging

And this is before considering the environmental impact, both of the additional material used in your packaging, but the extra journeys your couriers or freight provider will need to make as well.

Working alongside a packaging designer focusing on producing a cost-effective, size optimised carton will indirectly be helping you reduce your transit costs too.

05: Void Fill

Minimise the use of void fill / secondary packaging

It doesn’t stop there though.

If you are using stock boxes which are slightly too large, then it is quite likely that you will be using void fill to prevent your items moving about in transit.

Whilst arguably essential, this is a terrible idea in most cases. It certainly isn’t the most cost-effective packaging solution.

Void fill is another cost you have bear. It is another process for your team of packers (reducing their productivity). You have to pay to ship the additional weight of it. The end customer / user has to dispose of it (at best this is just annoying – at worst difficult).

Minimise packing times
Custom size packaging can also reduce the costs and time associated with void fill, which also has environmental benefits

It is also (usually) terrible from an environmental point of view.

However, custom designed boxes will at least minimise the void fill required, and at best completely eliminate it.

An intelligent designer will be able to produce designs that include integrated cradles or locators that hold you product in place during transit, ensuring it is well protected but also that you can forget about needing to source void fill products for good.

06: Transit Damage

Reducing costly damage caused during transit

Whilst really a separate topic to reducing costs, a value-added service that most competent packaging designers should be able to offer is that of reducing transit damage.

It should be possible to analyse your packaging material, structural design, the product to be packaged and the supply chain processes, and identify ways to eliminate damage and returns.

Damage prevention
It doesn't matter how cheap or expensive your packaging is - if it doesn't protect your items in transit, you will always suffer high costs / return rates

Whilst this may add cost to your packaging initially, the savings made through reducing or eliminating damaged products will usually far outweigh the small increase in your unit cost.

The added benefit is that you will also see an increase in customer satisfaction, which can help with brand perception, repeat sales and lifetime value.

Who thought packaging design could do that?

07: Assembly Times

Easier / quicker assembly

Another indirect cost saving is to improve the efficiency of your packing line.

Whilst this is – on the face of it – as simple as changing box styles, it takes an experienced designer to be able to produce an easy assemble (e.g. crash lock) design that will also be tailored to specific requirements of your product and transit methods.

Once this has been achieved, however, you will begin to see increased productivity through more boxes being assembled, packed and shipped in the same amount of time.

This then sees a drop in labour costs (or allows you to give loyal staff a pay increase) which can benefit your overall operations.

08: Rationalisation

Streamlining your inventory

The final added value service that a packaging designer could offer you is that of “rationalisation”.

Also referred to as consolidation, this involves looking at your entire packaging inventory, analyses the sizes used, and attempts to combine as many cartons as possible to give a more streamlined inventory.

So what are the benefits of this you ask?

Well, the main benefit is that it allows you to order higher volumes of fewer lines.

This basically means you are taking advantage of economies of scale, and allowing for much more efficient manufacture. It minimises machine setup time and costs, the amount of tools required and, also allows for the material to be purchased in higher volumes (again impacting cost)

Packaging rationalisation
Put simply, rationalising your packaging can help you to take advantage of economies of scale, whilst also improving staff efficiency

Secondary benefits include having an easier inventory to manage, reducing the amount of POs that are required (and the general admin surrounding ordering), easier stock management and even reduced numbers of deliveries and delivery charges.

Effectively, it can reduce your costs whilst improving your efficiency. A win win.

However, whilst this sounds simple in theory, the job of rationalising a packaging inventory can only really be achieved working hand in hand with an experienced packaging designer.

In Summary

Why cost effective packaging design is important

If you truly want to achieve the maximum value from your packaging (whether that be to reduce your average cost of packaging or solve a specific problem), then you have no choice but to work with a dedicated designer.

Virtually all of the ways you can improve the effectiveness, efficiency and cost of your packaging tie with utilising packaging design expertise, which is why selecting an experienced, knowledgeable individual or team to work with is absolutely critical.

It can be the difference between packaging that does the job, and packaging that drives your business forwards.

Further Reading...

About the Author

Ian Heskins

Ian Heskins

Business Development Director | GWP Group

Ian is one of the founding Directors of GWP, using his broad knowledge acquired over more than 30 years to oversee new business strategy [Read full bio…]

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