We asked shoppers to share their feelings about closures on food and beverage packages. Based on their answers, we’ve grouped them into four types: Appreciators, Ping-Pongs, Avoiders and Questioners.
1. Appreciators think that closures, especially zippers, are getting better. They cite packages that work really well and sing the praises of flip caps, kid-friendly tops, sports caps, large pull tabs, easy-open and reclose lids for plastic cups and canisters, take-out clamshells that close tightly and eliminate spills, fun-to-use pour-spouts on coffee creamers and “soup boxes,” twist-off caps on wine bottles, pour spouts on wine boxes, easy-pour and -clean syrups, and easy-close-stack-and-find tubs of everything from cream cheese and dips to hummus and butter.
“We love the quart soup boxes with the resealable spouts. The plastic tabs open with a flick, close with a snap, and the soup stays fresh for quite a while after first use. That means we can open a few flavors at the same time and mix. We’ve been buying at least two of the quart boxes a week, more because of the package than the soups, which do stay fresh but taste kind of boring without doctoring.”
“Zippers are much better than they used to be.”
“The caps that snap on and off plastic milk bottles are great. My three-year old can actually close the milk bottle, and likes hearing it snap on.”
“More and more packages are fun to use, but I’d still like to see packages that close themselves after a minute or so, like computer screens or headlights.”
2. Ping-pongs go back and forth between improvements and problems. They think that some closures are better sometimes, worse others.
“Zippers are getting better, but still do not last as long as the package if you only use a small amount at the time. They work VERY poorly with things like brown sugar that get in the place that the closing should be pressed into.”
“I like the way some products are reclosable. Unfortunately, half the time when I try to open a package that doesn’t have a sliding zipper, I rip a hole in the plastic and it is no longer reclosable. Sliding zipper packages usually have an outer tear-off seal that can take a little time to get used to, but they work way better once I figure them out.”
“Openings on the drinks for kids, like Kool Aid Bursts, are cute but dangerous. My three-year-old loves to put the whole thing in his mouth and suck on it till it breaks off. I think he could swallow it.”
“The cookie packages with the resealable tops are very nice but cracker packaging is poor; they usually rip down the side.”
“When zipper packaging first made its way into the markets, I was very pleased to see it. I was especially pleased to see it used on packages of shredded or grated cheeses. However, I do have a gripe: The packages are too small to get your hand in them (even if your hands are small like mine). Actually, I don’t have trouble getting my hand in; it’s getting my hand back out once I’ve got a fistful of cheese. If they’re improving the design and usefulness of the bag, why don’t they consider making the opening just a tad larger to make it actually useful instead of aggravating?”
3. Avoiders think that closures, especially zippers, are getting worse. They tend to focus on shredded cheese, which is ironic, because this is the category that zippers made possible. Many automatically cut off the zippers and transfer the contents to a bag of their own, usually one with a top-slide closure.
“I hate the shredded cheese packages when they say ‘tear here’ and you can’t tear it and then it is hard to sprinkle the cheese out because of the zip closure.”
“If I had a nickel for every package that says ‘pull here,’ ‘open here,’ ‘tear here’ and it does not, then I would indeed be wealthy. The zipper-type openers are useless, as you can’t get your fingers to grab hold once the top section has been ripped off or scissored off.”
“I don’t even TRY to utilize zippered packages (that is, cheese 'Crumbles' or veggie packs)-the zippers are next to useless. The ONLY zippered bags that WORK are the ones you buy (Glad and Ziploc)-I transfer everything that is sold in a “zippered” bag into a Glad or a Ziploc bag. Saves temper, frustration and time (not to mention spillage when you think it’s securely zipped!).”
“International Delight creamers (which I adore) come in one of the most useless packages on the market. The package has a stylish flip-top lid which is a functional disaster. The container says to shake well before using. If you DO-your kitchen cupboards will be liberally coated with the creamer as it sprays out the flip-top lid (it cannot be made ‘water-tight’). I take the lid from a BBQ sauce bottle, rinse it well and re-cap the creamer container with this-NOW I can shake it up to my heart’s content! If I didn’t like the product so much I would never buy it.”
“The Equal tablet dispenser is a terrible design. The clicker sticks-I use a long letter-opener to pry it open and transfer the contents to a small bottle for carrying in my purse.”
“Zippers are NOT improving, despite the hype and pretty colors and ‘double-seal’ claims. The only packages that work the way they’re supposed to are the old ‘tried-and-true’ packages (like cereal boxes or the Orville Redenbacher popcorn boxes) where you fit the tongue into a groove (provided you didn’t tear the hell out of the package when opening it).”
“Some plastic food packages (I think they are called clamshell) are very hard to open. One can get cut from the stiff plastic.”
4. Questioners are looking at whether more convenient packages mean higher prices, and how they might stretch dollars or save money by taking a few steps back.
“I’m not paying more for better packaging unless it winds up saving me money.”
“Now that stores and consumers are cutting back on plastic grocery bags, we are thinking of cutting back on plastic packaging too. We’ve gotten complacent about making everything convenient, but I find that I can save a lot making soups, and think we could save more by going back to refillables.”
“I’m looking for the least expensive package these days, instead of the most convenient one. Top-slide zippers are great, but I won’t pay extra for them anymore.”
Trading down is especially difficult when it comes to convenience, but shoppers who are trying hard to cut back are doing it. Instead of the “time is money” that has been driving demand for more convenient and time-saving packages, questioners are looking for ways to cope with the fact that their dollars are buying less. Recent surveys show that 26% of households are struggling to make ends meet. Unless the economy rebounds quickly, more consumers will be part of that struggle, seeking more value when it comes to closure enhancements.
Questioning their value means asking whether closures are worth their perceived cost. When they are perceived as resulting in longer freshness and less waste, many consumers see them as paying for themselves many times over. When convenience and/or time are the only perceived benefits, shoppers looking for ways to save have to think twice. The benefits the questioners are willing to pay for are less waste, fewer spills, more freshness and more fun, rather than more convenience and less time. F&BP
Mona Doyle is the CEO of The Consumer Network Inc., a firm that regularly takes the pulse of consumers on packaging issues. She publishes The Shopper Report newsletter. Contact her at 800-291-0100 or Mona@ConsumerNetwork.org.