How do you box up 40 pounds of dog food and make it less likely to rip and spill during shipping? The answer is surprising.

“It seems counterintuitive that taking away packaging would result in a better experience,” said Brent Nelson, principal product manager of the Customer Packaging Experience at Amazon.

Hill's Pet Nutrition was the first major pet food maker to reinvent their packaging based on Amazon's Frustration-Free Packaging program. Products certified as ready to ship under the program's guidelines are delivered without the need for extra packaging, while ensuring they arrive undamaged to customers. Over the past 10 years, our sustainable packaging initiatives have eliminated more than 244,000 tons of packaging materials, avoiding 500 million shipping boxes, and reduced packaging waste by 16%.

Smart packaging for e-commerce

Customers purchasing pet food at a brick-and-mortar store only need to worry about getting the item from the checkout stand to their cars. Ordering the same item online naturally involves additional steps and a more complex supply chain, increasing the need for durable packaging.

“Huge bags of pet food are incredibly hard to handle and susceptible to damage in a fulfillment center or warehouse. When a bag breaks, it interrupts operations because associates need to clean it up to prevent safety issues,” said Nelson. With the redesign, Amazon and Hill's focused on creating packaging that was good for the environment, good for customers, and good for business.”

The redesigned boxes are strong enough to withstand transportation and correctly fit the dog food bags, so there isn't extra room inside for the bag to move around. To help carriers and customers move the boxes, the Hill's team installed easy-to-grip handles on two sides of the box.

“It was a great collaboration,” said the Hill's team. "We defined the work together and explored key areas where damage was happening in fulfillment centers and customers' homes. We improved our customer experience as well as our internal processes. It's helped evolve how we think of packaging overall.”

Hill's also took advantage of this packaging overhaul to bring their brand to life. The sides of the brown cardboard box are enveloped in a dark orange band with silhouettes of playful dogs. When you open the box, there's a friendly warning: “The contents of this box will cause uncontrollable tail wagging and excessive drooling.”

“This was a great opportunity to build connections with our customers, with a visually appealing box and fun messaging,” said the Hill's team. “We use part of the packaging to communicate our mission and recommend that our customers recycle our box. We encourage them to join us in being sustainable.”

Real-world testing

Once Hill's had final samples of the packaging, they worked with Amazon to ensure that products would be protected all the way to a customer's doorstep.

“We reached out to customers and asked them which packaging features they liked and didn't like, and what kind of messaging resonated,” said the Hill's team. "We also conducted different studies to understand if changes to the packaging were seen as improvements."

The research and testing paid off. Customers began receiving the new packaging in early 2018 and appreciated how easy the boxes were to handle and store.

“In addition to the food being great, I love the new packaging!" said Amazon customer Megan L. in a product review. She added that the box is easier to receive, handle, and store thanks to its size, its built-in handles, and its Velcro seal.

These kinds of success stories inspire Nelson to continue reinventing packaging.

“Given the volume of our business and the global scale, changes actually make a huge difference," he said. "Our team has the privilege of working across different products with a focus on reducing waste and our environmental footprint. By collaborating with our suppliers to improve packaging around the globe, we can deliver an optimized experience for our customers.”

Learn more about our sustainable packaging initiatives.

*VELCRO and PRESS-LOK are owned by Velcro BVBA. Used with permission.