Protective Packaging

The complete guide to tertiary packaging: What it is and how to optimise it

Nowadays, product packaging goes far beyond the use of cardboard boxes and bubble wrap. It involves the process of evaluation, design, and optimisation to not only maximise product protection, but to ensure eco-friendliness and effective marketing too.

Within this process, there are typically three main levels of packaging that affect how products are packed. These are known as primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging.

But whilst each layer serves its own purpose, it’s tertiary packaging that holds the most responsibility – and here’s why.

Read on as we explore all you need to know about tertiary packaging.

What is tertiary packaging?

As we’ve explained, packaging solutions usually consist of three layers: primary, secondary, and tertiary. But what exactly are these layers and what does tertiary packaging mean? 

Let’s start at the first level, primary.

In many cases, primary packaging is used to preserve and contain the contents of the package, which is extremely important in the food industry. For example, this would be the wrapper to your Galaxy chocolate that separates it from the rest of the Celebrations box at Christmas.

A secondary layer is then often used to add another layer of protection, as well as advertise the product on the supermarket shelves. Sticking with the chocolate analogy, this would be the red Celebrations box that we all know of. 

But it’s the third and final layer of packaging (tertiary packaging) that ensures both the primary and secondary layers, as well as the product itself, arrives in perfect condition – and that’s why tertiary packaging holds the most responsibility. Think about it, without a strong tertiary packaging solution, everything beneath it, including the product, becomes more vulnerable. Examples of tertiary packaging could be cardboard boxes, stretch wrap or pallets.

ecommerce packaging example

How to optimise tertiary packaging


When it comes to optimising tertiary packaging, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It should be unique to your product, your packing process, and distribution cycle to really get the most from your tertiary solution.

You first need to begin with evaluating the product in question. Factors like weight, size, shape, and potential weak points/vulnerabilities need to be considered. You must also think about materials and how the design of the tertiary packaging will protect the contents beneath, as well as the sustainability of your package.

To help optimise your tertiary packaging, use the below reference points as a guide:

  • Use sustainable packaging materials – Is your tertiary packaging eco-friendly? Can it be recycled, composted, or is it biodegradable? Is it made from recyclable materials? Can it be re-used multiple times? Is it the right size for your items or are you shipping unnecessary air? And are there clear disposal instructions? Ask yourself these questions to help determine whether your tertiary packaging is sustainable or not.
  • Use innovative packaging materials – Bioplastics and other packaging products made from plants can be used to support your sustainability goals. Innovative packaging can also mean lighter weights and easier storage, helping you reduce shipping costs and create more storage space in the warehouse. 
  • Test your tertiary packaging – By using transport simulation testing equipment, you may find that a re-design of your package is needed. This may involve resizing the package to optimise for available delivery space, as well as increase protection if vulnerabilities are detected.


Tertiary packaging solutions from the experts

Looking to optimise your tertiary packaging? Want to cut costs, increase efficiencies, and improve customer satisfaction? Then speaking with a packaging expert should be your next step.

With over 40 years’ experience and a passion to deliver superior packaging solutions, our expert team at Swiftpak can help your business thrive. Why not get in touch using our online form or chat today, and we’ll be in contact to answer any question you may have.