The consumer research charity Research Institute for Consumer Affairs (Rica) is taking a lead in applying a European technical specification for ease-of-opening to packaging, using its consumer research panels.
The 20-strong panels consist of consumers in the 65-to-80 age range (70% female), and may include individuals with arthritis, impaired eyesight and general loss of dexterity.
At M&S, packaging technologist Simon Oxley said: “Average life expectancy is increasing. Given that dexterity typically starts to decrease when people are in their sixties, it is becoming more important to make sure that packaging is accessible.”
Rica insisted that, unlike less structured consumer panels or ‘focus groups’, this CEN specification provided measurable, repeatable results. “We’ve already been invited to conduct comparative tests between similar products to see how they rated against each other,” said senior researcher Eric Harris.
The three-stage process starts with an ‘effectiveness’ test, where panellists see the pack for the first time and have up to five minutes to access the contents. The second ‘efficiency’ stage assesses speed of opening once the individual is familiar with the pack (though no instructions or help are given). The third measure of 'satisfaction' gauges individual reactions to the pack.
“In conjunction with Rica we tested four products against the standard for openability, two that were established and two that we were planning to launch,” said Oxley. The products tested included dry goods and drinks.
“In the case of the existing products, we wanted to check that they complied with the standard and in the case of the new products, we wanted to ascertain whether we needed to modify the design of the packaging in order to improve the opening feature further,” he said.
See things differently
Oxley added: “The testing process is important, because it not only gives you an objective measure but also a subjective one and it helps you to understand that others see things differently.”
The CEN technical specification was issued in 2011 and is almost completely mirrored in an International Organisation Standard, currently at the approval stage. But Rica would probably use the specification in future, even if it was not an official standard.
There is increasing speculation that, in some cases, brand-owners or retailers may opt to benchmark all their packaging against the specification in future. But Rica predicted that, retailers would most probably want to push responsibility for openability testing back on their suppliers.