daytime pyramids in desert on left with blue box and white text reading the three levels of packaging on the right

The Three Levels of Packaging

Packaging supplies come in all different shapes and sizes. Each material has its own unique purpose that it serves to give your business and your products some kind of advantage, whether that’s primarily protection, marketing, or something entirely separate. In order to classify and organize the wide range of packaging supplies available, there are three distinct categories of the types of materials, which are commonly referred to as the three levels of packaging. The structure of these levels is very simple with the three divisions identified as primary packaging, secondary packaging, and tertiary packaging. Below, we’ve broken down what each level represents and what kinds of packaging supplies are classified into each category.

Level 1: Primary Packagingcosmetics bottles on metal shelf in bathroom

The first of the three levels of packaging is called primary packaging. Primary packaging is easily identifiable as the supplies that touch your actual product itself, meaning it is in direct physical contact with your goods. Because of this, primary packaging is what your customers and end users will see sitting on retail shelves or immediately before they open their new item. For that reason, this first level of packaging is also often referred to as consumer packaging or retail packaging.  There are multiple functional purposes for primary packaging. Like all kinds of packaging, chief among those purposes is protection. Level one is the last line of defense against contaminants or harmful elements that may damage the product within. In addition to this function, primary packaging is also nearly always used as a marketing or informational method. This space is a great place to include brand logos and product usage information, as it is what will draw your customers’ attention from retail shelves and tell them everything they need to know about the item inside.  Common examples of primary packaging include the metal cans and plastic bottles that hold soft drinks, shrink wrap that covers meats and vegetables at the grocery store, blister packs that contain medications, and even the labels affixed to each of the aforementioned packaging materials. 

Level 2: Secondary Packagingshrink wrapped coca-cola bottles sitting on wooden shelf

As the name implies, secondary packaging is the second of the three levels of packaging. These packaging supplies form the second layer of protection around your goods. They may be used to bundle a group of primary packages or unitize many items into one single entity. Bundlingunitizing, and protection are the essential functions of secondary packaging, but they aren’t the only purpose this level serves.  On top of being an essential method for keeping items together, secondary packaging can also function as a marketing tool. Similar to primary packaging, it’s more than likely that your customers or end users will see this level, which means that it needs to be visually appealing in order to draw their attention or offer them an outstanding first impression.  A few examples of secondary packaging are the cartons used to contain 12-packs of carbonated drinks, large poly bags that are used to hold individually wrapped candies or snacks, or a small cardboard box that encloses multiple blister packs of an over-the-counter medicine. 

Level 3: Tertiary Packagingcraft beer cans in open boxes stacked onto a pallet

The final classification of the three levels of packaging is tertiary packaging. The materials that make up this category are myriad and offer a host of advantages. Chances are high that the end user of your products will never actually see any of your tertiary packaging materials, but these supplies are still absolutely necessary to keeping your goods safe from harm and helping them get through the entire supply chain without damage. There are two main purposes for tertiary packaging. First, they facilitate handling by combining a significant amount of products (that are already contained within the other two levels of packaging) into one single, larger unit. Second, this third level of packaging offers protection to your goods and the other two levels during transit and storage. Though customers may never see the third level packaging products, they’ll receive the benefits of an unharmed, high-quality product. Some examples of tertiary packaging include the wood pallets on which products are placed before and during shipment, the stretch wrap used to unitize those same products onto the pallet, or the cornerboard and edge protectors needed to keep the goods upright and in position so they don’t fall during shipping. 

The Three Levels of Packaging for Every Business

No matter what kind of products you manufacture or sell, each of the three levels of packaging is essential to your businessIt is important to note that some packaging materials can fall into more than one level, but all three classifications offer their own unique benefits while maintaining the safety and integrity of your products. IPS Packaging & Automation can help you find the right packaging supplies to get the job done, keep your goods damage free, protect your bottom line, and keep your customers happy. Contact us today!