Chris Small of WellPet adheres to three tenets for successful packaging development: Communicate, offer, and facilitate.


During the research for a recent feature on pet food packaging, I’d connected with Chris Small, a packaging development manager with WellPet, Tewksbury, Mass. (see Packaging that’s fetchingly flexible).

I felt that Chris’s insights that weren’t part of that story were nonetheless invaluable.

What lesson did you learn from the WellPet project as it relates to packaging?

Date code/expiration placement and its importance…don’t assume anything. When deciding where to place product expiration information, the packaging lead walks a fine line between where marketing and creative would like it to go and where production needs it to go. Before approving a dieline that calls out where this information will be placed, make sure that you have buy-in from the packaging line supervisor that the location can be hit. 

What advice do you have for others, even if not involved in pet food packaging?

Once a project is completed I always take some time to sit and document what went right, what went wrong and what should have been done differently. Every project will encounter some speed bumps along the way. Don’t try to avoid them, but rather find a way to navigate your way through so they have as little negative impact as possible.
Over the years I’ve come up with 3 basic tenets that I adhere to: Communicate, offer, facilitate.

Communicate with marketing and creative early-very early. Many times the brand manager involved already has a preconceived notion as to what the new or redesigned package should look like. If you have the chance, take a ride with that person to a local retailer, walk the aisles and ask them what packages appeal to them and why. This short trip could save you days if not weeks in the development cycle by not coming up with a concept that may ultimately be rejected and send you back to the drawing board.

Offer to take on tasks that would not typically be your responsibility. When launching a new or refreshed line of products, the ultimate goal of the packaging professional is to ensure that your bags, boxes, bottles or labels are available to the packaging line on time for startup. This means hitting your milestone dates along the way. If a proof or prototype needs to be delivered the next day to keep things on track, offer to take it to shipping yourself to make sure it gets out on time.

Is the team in a holding pattern because someone critical to the decision making process is not responding? Offer to follow up by calling or visiting that person’s department to gently explain that the project can’t move forward without their input. These things seem inconsequential, to be sure. However, a lost day here and there along the way can add up to missed delivery dates, testing schedule conflicts and major delays in the end.

Facilitate conference calls and include everyone associated with the project. YOU need to make sure that marketing, creative, the packaging buyer, file separator, printer, converter, packaging sales rep and plant personnel responsible for filling your finished package are all on the initial project kick-off call. Everyone needs to listen to the roughed-out schedule, comment on and ultimately agree to it.

This doesn’t mean that it can’t evolve and change as time goes by. However, all parties need to understand what their deliverables are and when they need to be completed by. Although each person on the team wants to see the project succeed and the launch day hit, at the end of the day all they want to understand is what they need to do and how much time they have to do it.

The packaging lead really is the one person who touches every facet of the project, who communicates with all departments and groups and whose performance and interdependence to the project as a whole can make the difference between success and failure.