How many times have you opened a bag of chips only to realize that it’s literally half full? While many times necessary in consumer product packaging (CPG) to protect the inner contents (especially with food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals), all this extra, under-utilized space, a.k.a. “slack fill,” has tremendous implications from several perspectives. Marketers want a big package so they can broadcast their brand on the shelf. Operations seeks an extra large repository to allow them to run equipment at high speeds and to minimize spillage and changeovers. In contrast, the legal department wants to reduce this generally “wasted space” to reduce the risk of being sued under the so-called “Slack Fill Law”…which amounts to consumer misrepresentation.
Several class action suits have been brought in the slack fill space (pun intended). And while there are several areas where legitimate slack fill must be created, there are some major transgressions as well. On the sketchy side there are things like false side walls inside a package (making the contents look larger than they are), or simply putting less contents into the same size package (as you see above in the top-of-article picture). To be sure, consumers are paying ever more attention.
The poignancy of the picture above really colors the slack fill issues that food packagers face these days. There is a real balance to be struck…and therein lies the opportunity, especially when sustainability is brought into the mix. With consumers far more savvy these days, getting turned off by wasteful packaging, companies looking to minimize slack fill, reduce legal risk and to save big on packaging costs can optically leverage this as a sustainability play. The fast-growing trend of flat and stand-up pouches is a great example of CPG moving in this direction. Of course, this is all ear (and eye) candy to the sustainably-minded consumer, so the resulting increase in sales could serve to mitigate, even transcend the pluses of unnecessarily larger packaging.
Read on in greater detail here in this wonderful article from Rob Kaszubowski, the Engineering Manager at Chainalytics, where he is focused on improving sustainability metrics and implementing packaging cost savings. Kudos to Rob for exploring this important topic!
One additional resource to review is this great PDF covering emerging legal trends in packaging from Conkle Law. Pan down to about page 12 to the section on “Slack Law.” There are many do’s and don’ts shared here that have been learned the hard way.