Hasbro announced that, in 2020, it will begin phasing out plastics from all new toy and game packaging across its portfolio of brands. The goal of the initiative is to eliminate virtually all plastic components, including polybags, elastic bands, shrink wrap, window sheets and blister packs from packaging for new products by the end of 2022.
Unlike mandates instituted by retailers in the past to reduce the footprint of toy packaging on an industry-wide scale, this bold move by the toy manufacturer is self-initiated. Hasbro’s Chairman and CEO, Brian Goldner stated, ”Removing plastic from our packaging is the latest advancement in our more than decade-long journey to create a more sustainable future for our business and our world. We have an experienced, cross-functional team in place to manage the complexity of this undertaking and will look to actively engage employees, customers and partners as we continue to innovate and drive progress as a leader in sustainability.”
Challenging the feasibility of plastic-free packaging
When I first learned that Hasbro was heading down this path on their own accord, my first thought was how the lack of plastic components – particularly windows and blisters – might impact the company’s brands, both at retail and on their way there. It’s commendable that they’re upping the ante within the toy industry in the fight against plastic pollution. But how will they prevent pilferage at retail and protect their products during shipping? How will the necessary changes in the packaging supply chain affect packaging cost, and ultimately product cost? From a design perspective, how does the elimination of plastic impact the visual presence of the Hasbro brands among their competitors? And what about consumer perception? We know that consumers prefer purchasing products that do not rely on plastics in packaging. But how will they react to the inevitable changes in the shopping experience?
As one of Hasbro’s design resources, we’ve already been engaged on multiple occasions to establish a plastic-free structural design strategy for a few of their evergreen brands since this initiative began. Rather than approaching this challenge as if it were a handicap, we chose to view it as an opportunity to further differentiate these brands among their competitors while creating a more intimate connection between product and consumer. And we want to leverage this notion in a way that benefits the consumer while encouraging purchase decisions.
With this in mind, here are a few thoughts on how we envision a world without plastics in toy packaging …
Open boxes and platform boxes will prevail
Let’s face it: the blister card has been the preeminent packaging format in the toy industry for years. It’s the perfect ”display case” to present toy products to consumers. Action figures and their accessories, for example, can be shown perfectly and prominently in-pack to generate excitement among kids and convey value to parents. As we move away from the use of the blister component, it’s inevitable that other packaging configurations will need to considered. Whenever the product allows, open boxes and platform boxes will be the formats of choice because they expose the product to consumers. Without the barrier of an acetate window or blister component, consumers are presented with a more engaging, interactive and tactile experience with the product. As a result, the ”Try Me!” call-to-action will be taken to a new level and will be incorporated more often.
While typical open and platform boxes work well for self-contained products, they’ll need to be reimagined for those that contain small parts or loose components that would normally be blistered to the backer card or insert. The space beneath a platform or a hidden area of an open box will need to be engineered to securely contain these parts.
Imagery will do the heavy work
In many cases, products that would typically be packaged in window boxes will move to closed boxes or boxes with very small windows to show only a small portion of the product. With more of the product being hidden, photography and Illustration will play a bigger role in both glorifying the product and its play pattern as well as accurately depicting the contents of the package to consumers on the front panel. With the proliferation of more closed box scenarios on-shelf, consumers will need to get comfortable with making purchase decisions based solely on imagery.
With more paperboard components inevitably becoming part of the mix, packaging will be much easier to open and therefore less dangerous and frustrating to consumers. This means we’ll see less visits to emergency rooms with cut fingers and hands due to the need for scissors or other cutting tools to open and remove packaging from the product. With product being held in place with paperboard and tape, unwrapping will no longer be an anger-inducing process.
The toy industry is no stranger to innovative package structure. Toy aisles at mass retailers are filled with beautifully-conceived structural design strategies. Whether to further visually differentiate a brand among competitors within its category, better display a product feature to consumers, or to reinforce a product’s play pattern, dynamic structure design always plays a critical role.
With the challenge of dramatically reducing or eliminating plastics in toy packaging, package engineers will need to dig deep to come up with new solutions that are both functional and visually differentiating. As a result, we’ll likely see the advent of new structural configurations made of paperboard and other recyclable packaging components. It’s also likely that we’ll eventually see changes in footprint and in the way products are displayed by retailers within a particular category.
Other manufacturers taking Hasbro’s lead
The bold move by Hasbro to pioneer such a dramatic change in their approach to packaging will certainly encourage other toy manufacturers to follow suit. In fact, although Hasbro’s initiative is only a few months old, we’re already seeing this happen. One of our other industry-leading toy clients has asked us to do an exploratory that would show iterations of existing package structures with reduced plastic components and with all plastic components being eliminated.
Personally, I’m excited by the example that Hasbro is setting and the impact that it will have not only on the environment, but also on the presence of the toy industry at retail. As other toy manufacturers head down the same path of eliminating plastics in packaging, we’ll be influenced by and learn from each other. And we’ll establish best practices along the way. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t. And we’ll constantly seek to improve upon what we’ve done as we continue to innovate.
I’ve touched upon just a few ways that the retail landscape may change as plastics are eliminated from toy packaging. However, I’m curious to know how you might envision things changing and evolving. What trends in package design and structural design strategies do you see emerging as a result of this initiative?