Packaging Specifications: Everything You Need to Know

Packaging specifications are the foundation of product packaging. They include packaging materials, dimensions, closures, labeling, and much more, making up the core of product development. Without them, products would be left inadequately protected and displayed, leading to harmful consequences.

Posted on 
September 1, 2023
Matthew Wright
Founder & CEO, Specright
Learn about Packaging Management software

What Are Packaging Specifications?

Every great product deserves equally outstanding packaging. But how do you ensure consistency and quality? The answer is with packaging specifications. As stated before, packaging specs lay the groundwork for everything related to your product’s packaging system. They develop consistency about how packaging components are defined and ensure that packaging is user-friendly, designed correctly, protective, and up to regulatory standards such as ISO.

Regardless of the industry, if you are making products, packaging is going to exist in one way or another. Packaging material specifications may include corrugated fiberboard, paperboard, polyethylene, or other polymers - to name a few material types. Additional packaging specifications might define pallet numbers, bar codes and serial numbers, coatings, hazardous materials, and more.

When transporting products on trucks and securing them on pallets, it's crucial to use appropriate packaging materials that ensure stability and protection. Strapping on flatbeds is essential for securing loads tightly and preventing movement during transit. Stretch film plays a key role in unitizing pallet loads, offering additional stability and protection from dust and moisture. Similarly, liners are used to protect goods from dirt, dust, and moisture- ensuring that products arrive at their destination in top condition. Together, these materials are fundamental in maintaining the integrity of products during the shipping process.

As product SKUs increase, packaging will need to adapt. The product that used to be held in a carton may need pouches instead - but these changes can’t be made if the specifications about this packaging don’t exist in the first place. Packaging specification documents keep cross-functional teams aligned and improve supply chain efficiency.

Benefits of Well-Defined Packaging Specifications

Having well-defined packaging specifications is coupled with many benefits for businesses and their consumers. One of the most valuable benefits of well-defined packaging specifications is consistency.

With one source of truth housing all the information related to product packaging, companies will find that reducing production errors and waste is much simpler. Using templates to house this data, companies are empowered to create products and packaging that meet the same quality standards, regardless of their home of production.

The same consistency and standardization can also improve the customer experience by ensuring that they have a satisfactory experience while interacting with a product’s packaging

And above all, one of the packaging's main roles is the protection of the product. Well-defined specifications ensure that products are protected during transit, storage, and on the shelf where products are at risk of spoilage, contamination, and corrosion that all test the durability and protection of the packaging.

When products hit the shelf, packaging also plays a huge role in brand representation and product differentiation. With clear specs to define this information, little room is left for ambiguity, making it easier for both suppliers and manufacturers to understand what is expected of them and the packaging at hand.

The implementation of well-defined packaging specifications has far-reaching benefits from enabling efficient operations to protecting the product and satisfying the end consumer.

How to Create Effective Specifications for Products and Packaging

To experience all the advantages that are described above, packaging specifications should be laid out in detailed packaging workflows. This creates visibility into production that is both organized and sequential.

After companies understand what the product and packaging needs are, it is important to review regulatory standards to ensure that all matters are met. The necessary information should be documented in a master data sheet with a table of contents where detailed specifications are visible to all teams.

1. Understand Your Product and Packaging Goals

The first step is to determine the upfront requirements for the finished product and product packaging. After all, how can you write specifications if you don’t know what the goal is? The following questions can be used to gauge key product and packaging requirements:

  • Who is the target audience or target market?
  • What channels will it travel through?
  • Does it need to be sustainable?
  • What is the target pricing for the final product?  
  • Do we have a similar product today?
  • Are there any specific requirements for retailers?
  • Are there any labeling requirements by regulatory bodies like the FDA?

Oftentimes, this input will come from the marketing or product development teams. Taking the time to understand upfront requirements streamlines product development, packaging design, and production down the line. For many companies, this aspect of product development can be a fuzzy front end of innovation and hard to track. In Specright, you can easily manage new ideas through a new project request.

Even if you’re creating a new product, you can find inspiration by easily searching your existing product portfolio. In Specright, it’s easy to search through all of your existing products and packaging for ideas during the design process. More often than not, similar products already exist that can be easily cloned to speed up development.

2. Select the Right Specification Templates

Once you understand your product and packaging goals, the next step is to identify what specification data you need to collect.

In Specright, we have hundreds of specification templates based on different types of data: packaging, raw materials, ingredients, formulas – even machinery spec templates. Our specification templates were created based on industry best practices and removed the guesswork on what data to capture in a specification. Templates also standardize naming conventions so you can make sure everyone is talking about the same thing.

You should also look back at your goals to make sure you’re capturing the right data. For example, if sustainability is important, you need to capture additional data such as percent recycled content in your packaging materials specification. If the product is designed for a specific retailer, noting any retailer requirements related to pallet builds or package design (hello, shelf height restrictions) is also key.

Making sure you capture enough information and the right information ensures your finished product meets the needs of your target audience. Here’s a glimpse of what that looks like in Specright.

3. Identify Which Stakeholders Need to Be Involved in the Development Process

Effective specifications keep everyone on the same page – both internally with your company and externally with your suppliers and even retail partners. In fact, we recently conducted the first-ever study on specification management and found that cross-department approvals are extremely common.

As a best practice, most companies include packaging engineering, product development, quality assurance, and suppliers as approvers. Once you identify who needs to be involved, you can create approval processes and workflows to make sure the right stakeholders are involved. One quick note: specifications can sometimes house sensitive information. With Specright, you can easily set up role-based permissions so the right people see the data they need – and don’t have access to data outside of their purview.

4. Gather Specification Data Across Departments and Supply Chain Partners

The next step is to gather the data you need to create your specifications from all departments and suppliers. This step is typically challenging because, for many companies, it involves hundreds or thousands of emails and spreadsheets to gather the required data.

In today’s world, integrating specification data with purchase orders reduces the bottleneck and security risks associated with data exchange via email. With Specright, you can instantly request information from each stakeholder to build a complete specification. Additionally, this means you can combine specification data with new purchase orders, streamlining the supply chain process. After all, much of this information will come from suppliers or other departments. You can also set up approvals to ensure data is accurate and up-to-date and never have to worry about searching through your inbox for the latest version.

5. Link Your Specifications to Create Traceability

Specifications are more than just requirements – they create a digital thread that connects your products through the supply chain. In Specright, you can easily link specifications together to create an interconnected bill of materials (BOM) and finished products. By linking specifications, you can also easily roll up pricing from the component to the finished good level. Here’s an example. For this frozen chicken sandwich food product, we’ve linked packaging, quality, and formula specifications to the finished product specification. Because these specifications are linked together, you can easily navigate through each product or packaging component and see where else it’s used in your product portfolio, who supplies it, or where it’s made.

We recommend linking specifications between stakeholders, enabling automatic approvals, alterations, or updates. Implementing these practices also provides complete supply chain visibility.

Collaborative Packaging Specification Management

To truly reap the benefits of packaging specifications it is critical that adequate Specification Data Management (SDM) systems are in place. With an updated and accessible management system to manage this data, cross-functional collaboration is promoted. From packaging engineering and manufacturing to production and suppliers, the use of this packaging data is of high value.

With defined standards and packaging expectations, the need for team members to fill in the missing data pieces is eliminated, enabling more efficient decision-making. Relationships and collaboration are improved across the board when less time is wasted searching for information from other teams that they might not even have.

Packaging Specifications and Sustainability Efforts

Companies will also find that with well-defined packaging specifications come improved sustainability efforts. By specifying sustainable materials or processes, such as using returnable packaging components, companies can verify that the environmental footprints of packaging can be reduced where possible.

Visibility into packaging data allows companies to prioritize more eco-friendly alternatives to typical packaging materials, assist in increasing recyclability, or enable lightweighting of current materials.

For some companies, meeting sustainability standards may be a part of their brand's corporate social responsibility, but for many others, environmental efforts are required by various regulatory standards such as ERP regulations.

As many brands work to redefine their image to align with sustainability goals, accessibility to packaging specifications will give insights into where these changes can be made - both efficiently and effectively.

Read more about Specification Data Management for sustainability here.

Challenges in Defining and Managing Packaging Specifications

Of course, if being in touch with packaging specifications was easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it? The reality is that in today’s dynamic market, a brand's products and packaging are constantly changing - this means specifications are also changing. For packaging specifications to be of value, they must reflect these constant changes across the board.

The delicate balance between functional and aesthetic roles that packaging must embody, coupled with sustainability efforts, product safety, and brand essence, is like an elaborate juggling act.

When packaging specifications are defined incorrectly, it can lead to inaccurate production, incorrect prints or colors, sizing issues, the wrong seals, and so much more.

To say the least, management of packaging specifications is no small fleet, although taking steps to create alignment of specifications across global supply chains will be met with benefits that outweigh the challenges.

The Future of Packaging Specifications

Across industries, the world of packaging is embracing innovation and new packaging solutions. Some examples we are seeing pop up today are digital innovations and smart packaging. This may include advancements in digital bringing or interactive packaging that take the user experience to the next level.

Constant improvement of packaging elements might enable longer shelf life or maintain product quality, a win for all stakeholders. Artificial intelligence (AI) related tools such as forecasting consumer trends, supply chain optimization, and tracking reusable packaging are being implemented to empower the highest quality packaging.

No matter what the future of packaging holds, packaging specifications are not going anywhere. They are the basis of packaging innovation and companies that want to stay ahead must ensure that are keeping Specification Data Management top of mind.

Specright’s Specification Data Management™ platform is helping companies in every industry lead this charge in packaging innovation and sustainability. Whether you are a packaging engineer or material supplier, proper management of specifications will make your job a lot easier.

To learn more about Specright and the role it plays in packaging specification management, visit our packaging management software page or reach out to a member of our team.


Matthew Wright

Matthew Wright is the founder & CEO of Specright, the first cloud-based platform for Specification Management. Specright has been recognized by Fast Company’s prestigious Most Innovative Companies list, named a Gartner Cool Vendor, and as one of the Top Places to Work by the OC Register and Built in LA. Wright is also a published author and his book, “The Evolution of Products and Packaging,”was named to the Amazon Hot New Release List for Industrial Relations Business and has a five star rating. 

Prior to founding Specright, Wright spent more than 25 years in the packaging industry, holding leadership positions at International Paper, Temple Inland, and rightPAQ — a packaging company he co-founded. He has also been involved in leading multiple M&A deals in the packaging industry, currently sits on the MSU School of Packaging and Industry Advisory Board and previously served on the Packaging Advisory Board at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo.

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