Packaging Palaver

Isolde Johnson and Sarah O’Connor on picking the perfect packaging for up The Cool Bean Company

The Cool Bean Company packaging journey has been “quite the palaver”.

The Cool Bean Company packaging journey has been “quite the palaver”.


Packaging is the first interaction a product has with the consumer. For FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) products you have roughly three to five seconds to grab the attention of the consumer so that they pick up your product and ultimately buy it. While a lot of it has to do with the packaging design (and that’s a whole other article!) the pack format is also vital to consider.

The Cool Bean Company packaging journey has been quite the palaver. Even though our signature product is a gourmet cannellini bean meal it’s far from any sort of tinned bean product. Our product focuses on health, taste and freshness and as such places us as a premium product for the chilled section of the supermarket and the pack format needed to reflect this. We initially toyed with the idea of glass jars – Killner style with resealable lids – the fancy ones. Having discussed this with a few people in the know we quickly realised it wouldn’t work. Firstly glass breaks especially if being thrown into the back of a distributors van. Secondly, we wanted people to be able to heat and eat directly from the pack, not an option with a fancy glass jar. Finally a lot of food manufacturers aren’t certified to deal with glass – that was the nail in the coffin for the beautiful glass jars and so we started looking at other formats.

Walking down the convenience meal and soup aisle in supermarkets the obvious formats are tubs or trays – both come with advantages and disadvantages. Cost, consumer experience, functionality and finally manufacturer capability all must be taken into account in varying degrees.

Trays conjure negative connotations of the highly processed ready meal. The potato, meat and veg with a suspiciously long shelf life or a dodgy looking sweet and sour Chinese meal with a salt content that would give you heart pain just looking at it. From the start we had a bit of a love hate relationship with the tray & sleeve option but they have the distinct advantage of being cheaper. So what if we weren’t mad about the tray as long as it had our great product in it and got us on shelf- right?

To innovate on the tray format we looked at doing a number of things; choosing a different colour tray; replacing the standard sleeve with a box sleeve – half box, half sleeve; and our Cool Beans logo on the film that covered the tray – super innovative!! The more ideas we came up with to change the tray format the more we liked it, and the more costly it became so much so that it was working out only slightly cheaper than the tub format and so the journey continued.

Thanks to Cully & Sully, tubs have now become synonymous with multiple convenience meal products. The bigger companies or those with a lot of money (not us) can afford in-mould labelling, where the label is printed directly onto the tub – this is the crème de la crème of tubs and labelling – where we all aim to get to. The less flush companies will opt for a clear tub with a sleeve but the cheapest option of all is the tub with a label applied directly. Tubs also come in lots of shapes and sizes which in theory is great because it means you can stay away from the standard tubs lots of the own brand products use.

Whatever shape and size of a tub the majority of them are re-sealable – a must for a product like ours which contains a 400g portion which can be eaten all in one go or some of it saved for another day.

The final piece of the puzzle to consider is shelf life. For fresh chilled products you want to get the maximum shelf life possible while keeping the product taste and quality – we had been thinking we could get 21 days with a tray format. However with a tub format we could get a few extra days which would give us a major advantage and reduce wastage for us while not compromising on freshness and quality.

The toughest part for any aspiring foodie is that to make the final decision on packaging you must first evaluate if you have the proper tooling to fill your chosen packaging format and trust us, that tooling isn’t cheap....and could determine the entire format. Our best bit of advice is to do your research – become a packaging guru. Stalk websites, get samples and evaluate all your options. Look at the cost of the packaging itself but also look at the filling cost and if your chosen format brings with it hidden costs, such as tooling or additional hand finishing costs. Capture all this data in a matrix so you can evaluate like for like and any new options or formats you come across can be easily assessed for your major requirements – price, functionality and design.

Once you have chosen your preferred format there are certain important things to watch out for with regards packaging – two of the most vital being– lead times and holding stock but that’s a story for another day. Watch out for our next article in which the palava continues.

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