woman packaging packages
14 Jan

What Are the Levels of Packaging?

In the packaging industry, specific levels of packaging determine how products are packed and shipped. If you attend a packaging expo, individuals will ask if a certain packaging product is primary, secondary, or tertiary, and it can be helpful to know the differences between these levels of packaging. So what are the levels of packaging?

Let’s start with an unboxing experience to showcase the levels of packaging from how most consumers interact with a product delivered to their home!

Unboxing the Levels of Packaging

Pretend that you’ve ordered your favorite bottled product, and it’s due to arrive today. When the item arrives on your front porch, it is within a cardboard box. As you cut open the cardboard box, you are interacting with what is called the tertiary level of packaging.

Your bottled product is likely cushioned with packing peanuts, paper, or some other filler material. This time, your bottled product is also encased in a glossy, branded box with information about the product. This branded box is considered the secondary packaging level.

When you open this glossy box, you’ll lift out the bottle filled with your desired product, and you’re likely to set this bottle in your kitchen or bathroom, depending on the contents. In this situation, the bottle is the primary packaging because it most closely touches the final product.

Three Levels of Packaging: Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary

To quickly summarize some parameters of each of these levels of packaging, check out the lists below to help determine what level of packaging you’re dealing with when discussing a package and its contents. It is worth noting that there is some overlap between primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging.

Primary Packaging

  • Sometimes called “retail packaging”
  • This packaging closely touches the product
  • Main goals include attracting customers and protecting the product

Examples of Primary Packaging

  • Soup Can - the can is the primary packaging because it holds the soup
  • Corrugated Boxed Television - the corrugated box is the primary packaging because it’s holding the television unit
  • Perfume Bottle - the bottle is the primary packaging as it holds the perfume

Secondary Packaging

  • Packaging used to ship products already in primary packaging
  • Often provides protection and sometimes branding during shipping
  • Sometimes used in stores as display packaging

Examples of Secondary Packaging

  • 12-pack of Soda Cans - the cardboard box is considered secondary packaging
  • Blu-Ray DVD Display Stand - the display stand is secondary packaging
  • Shipping Box for Camera Box - cardboard shipping box is secondary packaging

Tertiary Packaging

  • Packaging used by warehouses for shipping large quantities of items
  • Main goal is to protect products while in transit
  • Consumers don’t see tertiary packaging most of the time

Examples of Tertiary Packaging

  • Bulk Pallet Shipments - the wooden pallet, corrugated pads between boxes, and shrink wrap to secure the stacks of boxes are the tertiary packaging
  • A Shipment of Beauty Supplies - the boxed products arrive in a cardboard box and that cardboard shipping box is tertiary packaging

Primary and Secondary Overlap

In some cases, the primary packaging also may be the secondary packaging. For example, a bottle of wine can easily be transported without any extra packaging, and so when a consumer purchases a bottle of wine from a store, the wine is in a bottle that fulfills the purpose of both the primary and secondary levels of packaging. For primary, the bottle touches the wine (the main product), and for secondary, the bottle protects the wine in transit.

Secondary and Tertiary Overlap

For secondary and tertiary packaging overlap, some companies will ship a packaged product without any extra packaging. If you receive a product in the mail with a mailing label on the product’s branded box, that box fulfills the requirements of secondary and tertiary packaging. The branded box contains the bottled product, which makes it a secondary level, but it was shipped through the mail, protecting the tertiary level of packaging.

The packaging industry requires strategic thinking on every level of packaging to protect the product, present gorgeous branding, and offer an unforgettable unboxing experience.

At Golden Arrow, we understand luxury packaging with a high standard of sustainability, and we’re ready to talk to you about how to create stunning and iconic packaging that fits your company’s vision and product. Talk to us today!