Discriminating Packaging

16 March 2016

I read with interest Des King’s article in Packaging News March 2016 about the issues of pharmaceutical packaging and the difficulty consumers have accessing the medicine inside. I’ve recently been fortunate enough to follow the England Cricket Team on tour in South Africa and managed to convince my 80-year old Father to come with me. What became apparent from the moment our drinks and small packet of savoury snacks were given to us on the plane was the packaging’s absolute lack of suitability for people of maturing years. Common food packaging designs simply did not meet the visual acuity and manual dexterity needs of over half the passengers on that plane.

Throughout the 10 days of holiday I was astonished at how my Father, a physically and mentally fit man simply couldn’t easily open virtually all portion packs, snacks and food treats he was presented with, and if it had’t have been for me helping he would have simply given up on most of them.

Now, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. I’ve worked within the packaging industry in design, production, education and marketing for nearly 25 years and worked on some easy opening packaging projects for retailers and brand owners. I’ve also collaborated with researchers in the field such as Dr Alaster Yoxall of Sheffield Hallam University. However the scale of the problem really did shock me as I’d never witnessed fully the effect of simply being excluded from enjoying certain types of products due to your age. The problem isn’t limited to missing out on the odd treat, or not being able to get into a jam jar, although that’s bad enough. I witnessed all kinds of packaging being a challenge including small screw cap bottles, most portion packs, yoghurt pots and clear flow wraps of any description. 

More than 1 million older people (over the age of 65) are malnourished, and 93% live in the community rather than care homes or hospital. The population of people over 75 is at highest risk of malnutrition and is projected to double in the next 30 years. (Malnutrition in Later Life: Prevention and Early intervention. 2013, http://www.malnutritiontaskforce.org.uk/malnutrition-the-facts.html) My great fear is that the growing population of elderly living alone are missing out on vital nutrition and choice through being presented with poorly designed packaging. Ultimately if designers, developers, brand owners and retailers of today don’t do more, the current discrimination of an older generation will only get worse. My suggestion is that there should be a broad study into food packaging and its suitability for the senior consumer. This study should result in a set of clear design standards that agencies, brand owners and retailers can then be lobbied to sign up to.

Please contact me if you have further experiences or ideas on this subject.