Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Not Enough Product in that Package? Blame It On Slack Fill

By: Rob Kaszubowski, Sr. Packaging Engineer

Food manufacturer, Perfetti Van Melle, was recently handed a hefty $5 Million law suit for a slack fill violation on their Mentos gum (50 count container).  

Essentially, the firm was accused of committing slack fill deception--putting a small product, inside a much larger container to make the product packaging look much bigger and ensure it takes up a bigger spatial/visual footprint on a shelf. 

What Exactly is Slack Fill?

Slack fill is the difference between the actual capacity of a container and the volume of product contained within the enclosed container. While federal laws administered by the FDA regulate slack fill on behalf of consumers, states also weigh in on the issue. 

In California, a slack fill violator is a package that is filled to “substantially less” than its capacity for other than any one or more than the applicable exceptions (California Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 12606(c) (1-15)).

Wherever they originate, slack fill laws are aimed at protecting consumers from being duped into buying a packaged product that is misleading. A container that does not allow the consumer to fully view the fill levels is deemed deceptive and misleading unless it contains “functional” slack fill, there are six exceptions which are outlined here. 

A Closer Look at the Mentos Slack Fill in Action

Oftentimes, articles in the business and trade press mention the offending product packaging and the amount the company was penalized or fined, but fail to show exactly “how bad” the slack fill was or exactly what the ratio of product vs. packaging was in these law-breaking products.

We were curious ourselves, so we bought a few containers of this Mentos gum to take a deeper dive.  

Take a look at what we found. Does this packaging deceive you?
Mentos product fill level

Upon opening the container, it looks to be approximately 2/3 full.

Further analysis shows this container to be 72% full by weight (28% empty or non-functional slack fill). This is gathered from the ratio of product currently in the container compared to the maximum weight it can hold of the same product.

How You Can Measure the Immeasurable

These images above might make the everyday consumer feel deceived upon opening their new purchase and lead them to think “I can’t believe there isn’t more product in this package.” 

The lack of a hard and fast number as to what fill ratio qualifies as “substantially less” than full obviously makes California’s slack fill standard a difficult one to follow. Consumer goods manufacturers must make the judgement call on exactly how much product is enough to meet the minimum requirements—and avoid being penalized. One could argue that the lack of any parameters to define fill levels in a package is similar to driving down the highway with no speed limits posted--only a sign that simply warns “Just Don’t Go Too Fast.”

As a team of packaging engineers, we are focused on optimizing packaging and improving cube efficiencies throughout all supply chain distribution channels—from manufacturing all the way to the retail shelf. We couldn't help ourselves... 

We shortened the Mentos Gum container by 1/2" inch. The original pallet could only hold 3,120 containers. The newly optimized, shortened container allows for a total of 3,744, or 624 more units per pallet - a 20% improvement in pallet utilization! 
Optimized Pallet Packaging Slack Fill MentosBefore Packaging Pallet Slack Fill Mentos

With proper packaging, the amount of air space in these individual canisters could be reduced to allow for greater than 20% improvement in pallet counts simply by adding an extra layer of product to the pallet. An incremental change in a package this small can lead to a cascading effect of material savings, logistics savings, warehousing improvements, less out of stocks at retailers, and so on and so forth.

So after reviewing the Mentos packaging dilemma and how much product is actually in the packaging, would you consider 72% full to be bad? What about 28% empty? 

If you feel your products may be a slack fill risk, it’s often a good approach to perform an internal audit and slack fill review. Aside from taking a preventative step to avoid any slack fill penalties, there may be additional cost savings tied to some of those incremental packaging savings. 

The Chainalytics Packaging Optimization practice is a seasoned team of packaging engineers, dedicated to addressing risks and opportunities end-to-end throughout the supply chain.

Questions? Contact us at or give us a call at +1 612.260.7845.

Rob Kaszubowski is a Manager in Chainalytics Packaging Engineering practice. His track record of success ranges from delivering packaging cost savings and damage reduction projects to optimizing packaging throughout clients’ entire supply chains.

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