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What Are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Packaging?


Packaging is an integral part of the product development process and protects your product, keeping it fresh and presentable to consumers. It can even play a role in marketing and branding. However, not all packaging is created equal.


In our previous post Secondary Packaging: A Complete Guide, we have introduced comprehensively about secondary packaging. In this article, we’ll touch on:


  • The differences between primary, secondary and tertiary packaging
  • Examples of these kinds of packaging in use
  • How to improve your logistics using the suitable packaging types


Why Do Packaging Levels Matter?


Why Do Packaging Levels Matter?

Understanding packaging types can be a bit confusing, especially if you’re not in an industry that readily deals with packaging.  It’s clear that each of the packaging types is vastly different, so it’s important to understand the differences.


When you’re working up a packaging strategy, it’s also pretty important to think about each level of your packaging in order to make sure that your products will be protected and that you’re taking the total cost of your packaging into consideration before committing to a course of action.


Obviously, choosing the wrong packaging solution will likely result in all kinds of in-transit damages.  On the other hand, making the right packaging solution choice will not only protect your products but will also optimize your supply chain.


Packaging levels are an essential part of the product packaging process. By understanding the different types of packaging, you can choose the suitable packaging for your products.


For instance, if you’re packaging a food item, you’ll need to use food-safe packaging. If you’re packaging a hazardous material, you’ll need to use special packaging designed for safety.


Primary Packaging


What Are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Packaging?

Primary packaging is the first layer of protection for your product. It’s in direct contact with the product and designed to protect it from damage, tampering, or spillage.


Examples of primary packaging


By way of example, the following are considered primary packaging for goods:


  • Milk cartons
  • Beer cans
  • Plastic bottles for detergent
  • Sacks for packaging concrete
  • Cardboard boxes for furniture


Functions of Primary Packaging




Products need protection from the elements, tampering, and damage. Primary packaging keeps your product safe from when it leaves the factory until it reaches the customer.




The way your product looks is important to customers. Primary packaging should be eye-catching and make your product look its best. Well-packaged products are more likely to sell than poorly-packaged ones.




Products like food and pharmaceuticals need specific information on the packaging, such as nutrition facts or expiration dates. It’s important that this information is legible and easy to find.


Most countries have regulations for primary packaging requirements as these regulations ensure the information gets to the consumer.


Secondary Packaging


What Are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Packaging?

Secondary packaging is the layer of protection around your product’s primary packaging. Its design protects multiple products during shipping and storage, and can also be used for branding and marketing purposes.


Examples of Secondary Packaging


Secondary packaging encompasses quite an array of different products, including:


  • Display products
  • Boxes to contain products
  • Retail-ready packaging
  • Shelf-ready packaging
  • Counter-top display units
  • Gift packaging


Functions of Secondary Packaging




Secondary packaging protects your products from damage during shipping and storage. It’s often made from sturdy materials like cardboard or plastic that can withstand impact.


Most secondary packaging contains multiple layers of protection to further protect your products. These layers of protection are most commonly created with foam or bubble wrap.




Secondary packaging is often designed to stack on top of each other to improve efficiency during shipping and storage. The stacking feature is especially important for fragile products that need protection from the elements.




Secondary packaging can be used for branding and marketing purposes as it’s an opportunity to make a good impression and build brand awareness. Your packaging should be consistent with your branding across all channels. It can feature unique shapes or patterns to entice customers, though the primary purpose of secondary packaging is to hold mass quantities.


Most countries have regulations that dictate secondary packaging requirements. These regulations ensure the information gets to the consumer.


Tertiary Packaging


What Are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Packaging?

Types of Tertiary PackagingTertiary packaging is the third layer of protection around your product. This packaging is designed to protect large groups of products during shipping and storage, and can also be used for branding and marketing purposes.


Examples of Tertiary Packaging




Pallets are a type of packaging that uses materials like wood or plastic to support a product or group of products. Pallets are for products that need protection from impact, such as electronics or glassware.


Gaylord Boxes


Gaylord boxes are a type of packaging that uses materials like cardboard or paperboard to support a product or group of products. They can be used for products that need protection from the elements, like food items or personal care products.




Crates are a type of packaging that uses materials like wood or metal to enclose a product or group of products. Crates range in size from small to large, and are used for products that need protection from the elements or tampering, like pharmaceuticals or cosmetics.


Functions of Tertiary Packaging




Tertiary packaging protects your products from damage during shipping and storage. It’s often made from sturdy materials like wood or plastic that can withstand impact. This type of packaging is typically used for large groups of products, so it often contains multiple layers of protection created from foam or bubble wrap.




Tertiary packaging is often designed to stack on top of each other. Its design makes it more efficient for shipping and storage. For instance, pallets can be stacked on top of each other to ensure efficient use of space.


Bulk Shipping


Tertiary packaging is often found in bulk shipping. The design and build of tertiary packaging are crucial to ensure the safety of your products during transit. For example, pallets are designed with specialized nooks for the forks of a forklift, so they can be lifted and transported without tipping over.


Differences Between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Packaging


Differences Between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Packaging

Recognizing the unique characteristics of each packaging level is crucial for an efficient packaging strategy. Below are the main differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging:




Primary packaging is in direct contact with the product. For example, the plastic wrap around a sandwich; secondary packaging houses the primary packaging but does not usually touch the product directly; and tertiary packaging holds several secondary packaging units together for transportation and storage, without directly interacting with the product.


Principal Function


The purpose of primary packaging is to protect and preserve the product, ensuring it reaches the consumer in perfect condition; secondary packaging is primarily aimed at protecting the primary package and facilitating the handling, transportation, and display of the product. It often plays a significant role in marketing the product to consumers and providing additional product information; the key function of tertiary packaging is to enable the safe, efficient handling, storage, and transport of large quantities of the product, typically from the manufacturer to a distribution center or retail outlet.


Visibility to Consumers


Primary packaging is usually the most aesthetically designed and carries most of the branding and product information; secondary packaging is often visible to consumers in a retail setting but usually discarded after purchase and provides an additional layer of branding and can contain supplementary product details; while tertiary packaging is rarely seen by consumers as it is mainly used for bulk transport and handling.


Design and Material Selection


Primary packaging is designed to be user-friendly, appealing, and safe for direct product contact. The materials used depend on the product's needs and can range from glass and metal to various types of plastic or paper; and secondary packaging is aimed to improve durability, ease of handling, and visibility on store shelves. The materials chosen vary widely, including cardboard, plastic, and paperboard; tertiary packaging is designed for strength, durability, and ease of handling during shipping and storage. Materials used include corrugated cardboard, shrink wrap, and pallets.


How the 3 Levels of Packaging Interplay in Logistics


What Are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Packaging?

The collaboration between these three levels is vital. The primary packaging secures the product and provides the interface for consumers. This harmonious collaboration is fundamental to product protection, logistical efficiency, and effective marketing.


The journey begins with primary packaging, which is the consumer's first point of contact with the product. It serves as the frontline defense for the product, protecting it from contamination and damage while ensuring it remains fresh and usable.


The next player is secondary packaging, which consolidates and protects the primary packages. This layer provides the crucial link between individual product units and the bulk transportation system. It serves to gather the individually packaged units into a larger, more manageable form, offering additional protection and making it easier for wholesalers and retailers to handle, store, and distribute the products.


Finally, tertiary packaging steps in to facilitate the logistics of large-scale transportation and warehousing. This packaging layer ensures that large quantities of secondary-packaged products can be moved efficiently and safely, from the factory to various retail outlets.


Each level of packaging plays a distinct role, it's their harmonious interplay that guarantees the product's safe and successful journey from the manufacturer to the consumer's hands. Understanding this intricate dance between the three levels is key to a successful packaging strategy.


Factors that Determine Packaging Choice


What Are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Packaging?

Storage, processes and handling are elements where suitable packaging can indirectly save you money, whereas lower prices result in direct savings for your brand. Your products may not need to implement primary, secondary and tertiary packaging. But managers can only make this decision by analysing the specifics of their business.


Many of these aspects are specific to your individual business and not consistent from business to business, let alone industry to industry. Here are several things to take into account:


Point of sale


Consider whether your product's ultimate destination is a department store shelf or if it will be delivered directly to customers by a courier. Depending on the scenario, different factors come into play when designing primary and secondary packaging.


For retail brands, primary and secondary packaging must make a visual impact on store shelves. It needs to captivate customers' attention and stand out amidst competitors. The packaging should effectively convey essential information about your brand, its unique selling points (USPs), and important legal details such as disposal instructions, product usage guidelines, and nutritional information.


In physical stores, while visual appeal remains crucial, the security of secondary packaging takes a secondary role. The packaging should allow easy access for store personnel and customers while maintaining its visual appeal and providing necessary product protection.


Product characteristics


Understanding your product's characteristics is vital in determining suitable primary and secondary packaging. Consider the following questions:


  • Is your product a solid, liquid, or gas?
  • What is its overall weight?
  • How hazardous is it if damaged?
  • If damaged, how expensive is it to replace?
  • Is it perishable?


The answers to these questions form the foundation for determining the appropriate primary and secondary packaging requirements. For example, a liquid product may require a leak-proof container, while a fragile item would necessitate protective cushioning to prevent damage during transit.




In today's world, sustainable packaging is no longer a choice, but a necessity for brands of all sizes. Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of single-use plastics and have become sensitive to their disposal.


Given the recent bans on single-use plastic packaging in EU states and the UK, it is now more important than ever to prioritize reduced, reusable, and recyclable packaging solutions. While plastic boxes and other plastic materials may offer cost advantages and improve packaging security, exploring alternative materials and eco-friendly options can enhance your brand's reputation and resonate with environmentally conscious consumers.


Storage and fulfilment processes


Consider storage and fulfillment processes when designing secondary and tertiary packaging. Important aspects to consider include: How high can your boxes be stacked without damaging the lowest ones? Are there any height or weight restrictions?


Packaging used for long-term storage on warehouse shelves should be designed to withstand the rigors of extended periods. Additionally, the packaging should be optimized for easy transportation, whether it is handled by machinery or manually, during the fulfillment process.


Secondary and tertiary packaging should be optimized from the moment primary packaging is completed until it reaches its final destination. By considering the point of sale, product characteristics, sustainability, and storage/fulfillment processes, you can create packaging solutions that meet the needs of retailers and end consumers while minimizing environmental impact.


Meet Your Packaging Needs With YCTD Today


What Are Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Packaging?

Understanding the various types of packaging is crucial when it comes to selecting the most suitable option for your products. Considerations such as product type, quantity, cost, and sustainability play vital roles in making an informed decision. Choosing the right packaging can significantly enhance your business and propel it to new heights.


At YCTD, we are committed to assisting you the secondary packaging process. We manufacture packaging machines that enable liquid food companies to efficiently and automatically carry out secondary packaging:


  • Shrink Packing Machine: Our shrink packing machines provide a reliable and efficient solution for securely wrapping products in shrink film. These machines use heat to shrink the film tightly around the product, offering protection and enhancing the overall presentation.


  • Carton Packing Machine: Our carton packing machines are designed to automate the process of packaging products into cartons. These machines handle the folding, filling, and sealing of cartons, optimizing efficiency and reducing manual labor.


  • Palletizers: Our palletizers are state-of-the-art machines that automate the process of stacking products or cartons onto pallets. These machines ensure precise and stable stacking, reducing the risk of product damage during transportation and storage.


  • Conveying System: Our conveying systems provide seamless transportation of products within your production facility. These systems efficiently move products between different stages of the packaging process, ensuring a smooth workflow and minimizing manual handling.


Feel free to get in touch with us today to learn more about our comprehensive packaging services and how we can meet your unique needs!


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