After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, ProAmpac examined major trends in healthcare and their potential impacts on pharmaceutical and medical device packaging.
The company spotted four main trends: direct-to-consumer services (DTC), especially virtual healthcare and telemedicine; e-commerce, which surged in support of telemedicine; rising home-based care; and sustainability practices that optimize product packaging.
In a question-and-answer format, Ron Fasano, ProAmpac’s vice president of sales, healthcare, discusses these trends.
FlexPack VOICE®: How is ProAmpac helping pharma companies, medical device companies, and others adapt their packaging to the DTC trend?
Ron Fasano: Traditionally, sensitive prescription products move from the manufacturer to a distributor to the pharmacy retailer, which serves the consumer. Now with the still-evolving DTC trend, we have a new distribution chain, with an increased number of points of entry that are vulnerable to people with nefarious intentions. We can help with e-commerce security by drawing on our experience with special inks, tamper evident packaging, and child resistant/easy open flexible packaging. There is also a related issue of distribution channel durability. Traditionally, prescription drugs are packed in large pouches or rigid containers that are shipped to the pharmacist. Now, healthcare products must survive a longer distribution chain in smaller quantities. Packaging can help here on two fronts: making the container robust and durable enough to survive the longer DTC logistics chain and helping secure the chain of custody using both covert and overt security measures. The goal is to ensure that medications delivered to the home are precisely what the doctor ordered.
FPV: Are there packaging solutions with consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies that can address some of the brand loyalty challenges in healthcare?
RF: We think there is a huge opportunity to build loyalty as healthcare crosses into the DTC consumer space. As healthcare products increasingly are delivered directly to the consumer’s home, we can radically improve the packaging structure, using gussets, spouts, closures, and other user conveniences. Such changes can completely alter how the package performs and improves the consumer experience. We can also bring in the same high-quality printing that brightens retail aisles to spice up the e-commerce package, vitalize branding, and help to make the messaging stick while providing clear instructions, easy-to-read product ingredients, and any other information needed to comply with regulations.
FPV: Are these techniques unique?
RF: These attributes are unique to flexible packaging versus rigid packaging. ProAmpac has broad and deep experience helping customers drive brand differentiation and consumer convenience through collaboration. We have given cross-team product development a home base at the new ProAmpac Collaboration and Innovation Center in Rochester, New York. At this location, we bring together our own experts with experience in multiple markets and our customers’ development people. There they engage in collaborative ideation, design, rapid prototyping, and testing.
FPV: What are pharmaceutical or medical device suppliers doing to increase sustainability in packaging?
RF: Many of our customers recognize the importance of collaborating across their supply chain to reduce the environmental footprint of product packaging throughout its life cycle.
In general, moving from rigid to flexible packaging is an effective way to reduce materials, transportation costs, and all the environmental impacts that go with both. When it comes to developing the replacement flexible package itself, many of the sustainable materials ProAmpac employs are already used and pass stringent fitness testing, meaning that the shift to sustainable materials will not be so difficult. Within flexible packaging, the healthcare supplier can choose recyclable or compostable materials and can consider the use of post-consumer resins (PCR) as well as renewables, such as plastics made from plants or even paper substrates. ProActive CHART, ProAmpac’s Life Cycle Analysis tool, is available to help customers understand the sustainability benefits of various packaging types. It can provide directional indications on a variety of metrics including circularity as well as carbon footprint.
FPV: What do you see as the innovative and sustainable packaging developments in the future?
RF: The package of tomorrow will likely be active—designed to be traceable and serve as a barrier to bacteria and viruses. The active package of the future will be able to alert the user if it has been exposed to an adverse environment, such as environments with extreme temperatures or high moisture. It may also alert the customer to a breach in the seal or other tampering. We have materials research being conducted in these areas of active packaging.
FPV: Are there any other future opportunities for packaging to benefit this DTC shift in healthcare distribution?
RF: A couple of other possible futuristic approaches come to mind. Some years ago, then-new Radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems enabled hospitals to scan products and identify if they had been tampered with and by whom. We are seeing an increasing interest how RFID technology could help strengthen today’s emerging chain-of-custody e-commerce challenges. We are working with customers that are involved with direct dosing. Equipment they have installed in hospitals and nursing homes is metering dosages specific to patients. In the future, this capability could be tied into healthcare e-commerce. Such possibilities are most feasible when the healthcare supplier and the packaging company collaborate.