We’ve all been frustrated after getting a seemingly giant box, then wading through layers of tape, bubble wrap and tissue paper, only to find a tiny item no bigger than a credit card.
On the other end of the spectrum, good packaging design can catch our eye and make us as giddy as Lisa Simpson, who once remarked that the perfect packaging on “Mapple” products totally “got her.”
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Sometimes there’s tension between consumers and manufacturers. The eco-minded want packaging that is as minimal as possible. And fully recyclable, compostable and made with 100 percent post-consumer content.
The industry often fires back that they don’t want their products to start decomposing in the store, and they have to make things harder to shoplift (hence those bulky containers around miniscule memory cards, or elaborate security systems).
Yes, packaging can make things more convenient to take on the go. But have these single-item packages gone too far?
1. Individually Wrapped Prunes (aka Dried Plums)
Packed with antioxidants and, um, fiber, prunes are a healthy and tasty, if acquired, snack. Boosters say individual wrapping makes prunes easy to take on the go. That’s an interesting idea, but are you really going to want to stick one in your pocket?
If you are going to throw a few in your gym bag, why not use a sealable bag, which you can rinse out and reuse day after day?
2. Plastic-Wrapped Bananas
Del Monte recently tested plastic-wrapped bananas, which the company claims keeps the produce fresher longer, and thereby result in less food waste and less shipping. The product is marketed as a “Natural Energy Snack on the Go.” Dole bagged bananas have also been spotted in vending machines.
Bloggers pounced on the concept, pointing out that bananas already come in a tough – and biodegradable! – natural packaging. Some wondered if the plastic was really about being able to charge more for the same fruit.
True, Adam Werbach makes the provocative point that we should probably worry more about eating in season and less about how our fruit is packaged, but for many, putting a wrapper on something our moms used to hand us every day was just too much to swallow.
3. Pre-Wrapped Corn
At least with potatoes or cukes, the farmer harvests the food, rinses it off, and ships it to market, where it may or may not get covered with additional packaging. But with corn, someone has to shuck it, aka remove its hearty natural packaging, rinse it off, then cover it back up with non-natural packaging. That seems like a lot of labor, to save the shopper a few seconds (and rob them of more connection to what they’re eating).
To take a step back, a la Adam Werbach, we might ask why so much of the corn we grow is actually fed to livestock, or processed into sugar and other additives for junk food and hundreds of other products. Those are important issues, though they may not be as obvious as an ear covered in cellophane.
4. Individually Wrapped Jelly Beans
Ronald Reagan’s favorite treat, Jelly Bellies come in countless flavors, from caramel corn to canned dog food, and from peach to pencil shavings. But did you know the pint-sized candies are also sold individually wrapped?
5. Shrink-Wrapped Potatoes and Cucumbers
Michael Pollan and Alice Waters have told us to shop the perimeter of the supermarket, and to avoid the heavily processed foods in the middle, which tend to be loaded with sugars and fats, and which tend to be over-packaged. However, plastic wrap seems to be spreading outward.
For a long time, conscientious consumers have been bringing their own bags to market, so they don’t have to rely on those rolls of plastic bags to haul home a few onions or sugar snap peas. But when the produce is already covered in plastic, what’s one to do?