Are package designers smarter than fifth and sixth graders?

The tetra pack is a handy invention that can be branded beautifully while still being functional, too. Just look at this great looking pesto package that was featured at the SIAL grocery industry trade show that Sabrina Falone visited in Montreal two weeks ago. It’s darn pretty but is the size and shape an efficient use of materials? I’m not sure but I bet my son Oliver, a grade six student, could tell us.

You see, last week over dinner, Oliver told me that the standard juice box style tetra pack is unnecessarily over filling our garbage dumps. It took Oliver and his grade five/six class only one math period to calculate that the same volume of juice could be contained in a cube shaped package, reducing the surface area of the package substantially.

“Less surface area means they need to use less material. That means less garbage and less money for packaging,” pointed out Oliver.

He and his classmates wrote a letter to the private label juice brand who sold the juice box they measured to point out their findings and to ask the retailer to consider changing their packages from rectangles to cubes. I hope they get a response.

I expect that even if they don’t hear from the company that retailers will be pressuring manufacturers and designers to create more packages that have a minimal impact on the environment; a widely publicized 2007 study by Information Resources Inc. surveyed 22,000 Americans and discovered that about half of respondents consider at least one sustainability factor when selecting purchases. I think this is great news and hope that smart young people and older consumers with money to spend continue to press for change.

Have you made purchase decisions influenced by sustainability concerns? If so, tell us about it.


8 Responses to Are package designers smarter than fifth and sixth graders?

  1. danamccauley says:

    PS: Here’s a neat product line I just found that are made from used, colorful and non biodegradable juice containers that would otherwise clutter landfills:

  2. jj says:

    It does seem that slowly more and more manufacturers are taking note of the need to be more environmentally friendly. Interesting post, and I hope your 6th grader hears back from the company!

  3. Beth says:

    Bravo for kids! I would never even think of measuring the volume of a container and comparing it to it’s surface area.

    It’s wonderful to see teachers applying math to real problems.

  4. I attended SIAL, saw that product, and wondered the same thing.

    As tasty as it was, its packaging would stop me from purchasing it.

  5. Interesting to hear you’d skip that product based on the package. I would love to see research poll a few thousand regular consumers and see how many would agree with you. Hopefully more today than might have 2 years ago.

  6. Cheryl says:

    Great post today, Dana. Funny, I’m usually a sucker for packaging. My husband still makes fun of me because I used to buy Clearly Canadian (this was in the U.S. — I have no idea if it was a Canadian product!) because the bottle was shaped so appealingly.

    On another note, I was in a Trader Joe’s in California today and bought some raw chicken breasts. They usually have a roll of plastic bags next to the poultry so customers can put the container (which is already sealed) into a separate plastic bag just in case anything leaks. I noticed they didn’t have the excess bags today and asked why.

    “We discontinued them” came the reply.

    “Oh, due to environmental concerns?” I asked, impressed.

    “Nope,” he said. “They were just too expensive.”

    Regardless of the reason, companies are finally realizing that excess packaging just isn’t good for the earth, or for the bottom line.

  7. danamccauley says:

    Ha! Clearly that butcher wasn’t trained in marketing or PR. I suspect that a lot of the so called ‘green’ initiatives we are seeing these days are as good for the bottom line as the earth. I don’t have a problem with that being the case but I do wish there was more truthfulness of this kind.

    As for Clearly Canadian, it is from here. I believe the are located in Vancouver.

  8. brad says:


    I am currently involved with a large multinational that is honestlyy committed to addressing the envorimental footprint that it is leaving, and packaging is a huge issue. It will take time but some large corporations are truly trying to impove our earth, but it will take time.

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