Packaging protects and stores a product, displays and advertises it, and dispenses it for the consumer. Packaging must keep some people out and let others in, while conveying a load of information: instructions, advertising, legal information, etc., sometimes in multiple languages. And there’s the growing demand to keep it small and reusable or recyclable. Innovators in product packaging are tackling all these needs in some surprising ways. 

The Need for Accessible Packaging

The World Bank and the World Health Organization estimate that 1 billion people, or about 15% of the world population, live with challenges to their vision, hearing, mobility, or cognition. These people have specific challenges when it comes to identifying, choosing, and using packaged products, and their needs are often not considered in packaging design. 

Discretionary income for disabled people is estimated at £1 trillion worldwide, so marketers have ample reason to reach this category of customer. It is also inevitable that many lifelong users of a product will experience more challenges with traditional packaging as they age, or even have temporary disability as a result of illness or injury. 

But it’s not just about the size of the market: by appealing to considerations of equity and equality, companies can broaden their appeal to all consumers, building positive brand perceptions and consumer loyalty. Accessibility works for everyone.

Innovators in Accessible Packaging

Here are some of the latest advancements in accessible packaging: 

  • Procter & Gamble, Herbal Essences. P&G began embossing Herbal Essence products with raised symbols in 2018. These symbols allow sight impaired consumers to differentiate between shampoo and conditioner easily, both in the store and at home. This is helpful for other consumers as well, since the bottles look quite similar and, in the shower, users may not have their contact lenses or glasses handy. Embossing is a small change that makes a big difference for some users. 
  • Mimica Touch. Mimica Touch is a food and beverage label that provides freshness information by touch. The small tag is temperature-sensitive, and is smooth when food is first purchased or opened. Over time, the label develops small bumps that indicate when foods are no longer fresh, with far more accuracy than traditional expiration dates. Mimica Touch was originally designed for sight-impaired consumers, who may not often purchase fresh foods, because they can’t read “best by” or “use by” dates. With a touch, a shopper knows that if the label is smooth, the product inside is fresh. In addition to making fresh foods more available to consumers with limited vision, Mimica Touch could potentially reduce food waste, saving tons of food that now ends up in landfills. 
  • Kellog’s and NaviLens. Kellogg’s began incorporating NaviLens tags on cereal boxes in Europe in 2022. The tags can be read by smartphones from up to 3 meters away, providing product information to people while shopping in the store, and also later in the home. Using the compatible app, people with low sight can have product information like ingredients, allergens, and recycling information read aloud. Kellogg’s claims to be the first company in the world to incorporate this technology into their retail product packaging, and NaviLens aims to transform other sectors like public transit and location-contextual information.
  • Victorialand. Victorialand Beauty Products have been packaged for ease of use by consumers with vision challenges since the company’s beginning in 2017. Victorialand uses braille labels and high contrast colors on their containers. They’ve also designed and trademarked a set of tactile symbols to let consumers identify their products by touch. In addition, their packages feature an embossed QR code which is easy to find by touch. Consumers can scan the code with their phone for auditory information. Additionally, Victorialand’s website offers Userway, an AI powered accessibility tool to assist shoppers online.  
  • GSK Voltaren. GSK manufactures Voltaren, a topical analgesic cream for joint pain. They noted that customers with pain or reduced strength in their hands found the tube hard to open, so they re-designed the cap. The new cap, released in 2021, flips open easily with just a finger, a palm, or the edge of a tabletop. The tube is stored standing on the cap, so the cream requires little pressure to dispense
  • Open source pill dispenser. In a recent TikTok, athlete Jimmy Choi described a problem he shares with other people who have Parkinson’s disease: how difficult it is to access his necessary medications. The pills are small and difficult to pick up, and they are dispensed in typical hard-to-open containers. For Choi, this was a major obstacle and a daily frustration. After watching Choi’s post, videographer Brian Alldridge designed a bottle that would contain the pills and dispense them individually. He posted the design online, and another TikToker, engineer David Exler, printed the container and sent it to Choi. The design has been kept open-source, and both Alldridge and Exler have continued to refine it. People can download and print the design themselves, or purchase a pill dispenser from Exler’s Etsy shop, where proceeds benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. 

Despite all these incredible innovations, we still have a long way to go to make products equally accessible for people of all needs and ability levels. It’s important for companies and packaging designers to partner with consumers and advocacy groups to consider alternate needs and perspectives, and create inclusive designs. Grapefrute helps companies stay on the cutting edge of FMCG innovations by partnering with them to recruit the best talent in the world. Contact us to start building a more inclusive future today.