Child-Resistant Secondary Packaging: You Have Options

Derrick Lin


Packaging should look great while conveying the essence of the product being sold. That’s challenging enough as is. But sometimes it needs to do even more.

Many industries like pharmaceuticals, nutraceutical and recently, recreational cannabis, are heavily-regulated. In these cases, packaging must also protect children from accidentally ingesting the products while still giving adults the ability to use them responsibly. Enter child-resistant (or “CR”) packaging.

Chances are, you have seen cartons on the market with CR functionality. They tend to be unattractive, utilitarian and cumbersome. Some of them can actually work too well and keep adults from accessing the product.

But must they always be this way?

Primary vs. Secondary Packaging: CR Applications
CR packaging can be achieved in a few different ways. First, it’s crucial to distinguish between primary and secondary packaging.

Primary packaging is the packaging that makes direct contact with the product itself. It can be a bottle, jar, pump, shrink wrap, foil wrap that contains the product itself. Secondary packaging, on the other hand, is the paperboard or plastic packaging (aka. Folding cartons) that the primary packaging sits in.

When it comes to CR functionality, most of us are very familiar with the primary packaging solution of an aspirin/pill bottle. Most of us have had plenty experience struggling with those CR lids, which require simultaneous pushing and counterclockwise twisting motions to open. However, it’s just as possible for secondary packaging to be CR certified and have distinct functionality as well, especially if the primary packaging does not have it.

Why Nailing Your CR Packaging Is Such a Challenge
While primary packaging tends to be more functional in nature, secondary packaging gives brands the opportunity to stand out on crowded store shelves and catch a customer’s eye. In short, the secondary packaging is the ideal location to convey the essence of a brand in a compelling presentation.

Adding CR requirements to the equation makes this more difficult. As you’re probably well aware (think back to those pill bottle lids), CR functionality often comes with a cost: poor aesthetics, brand degradation, bad design, not user friendly.

It’s difficult to wow consumers when your package is covered in clumsy tabs, has plastic tabs sticking off the edge, or all of the above. Some of the current ways to make CR secondary packaging include:

  • Buttons or tabs that protrude beyond the perimeter of the carton, creating an awkward and unbalanced appearance
  • Buttons or tabs on the front panel, which disrupts branding and wastes prime real estate for product messaging
  • Plastic trays that may not conform to the product properly, isn’t a green solution, and adds cost of another material

Although these solutions meet regulatory burdens, they force companies to compromise. They’re often unwieldy and result in a less attractive package.

Loss of aesthetics isn’t the only issue either. Some CR systems are too effective. Unable to open them properly, adults resort to muscling the package or damaging it in some other way. This is frustrating, and it eliminates the ability to re-close the package.

The Solution: Making Function and Design Converge
A lot of companies that sell products governed by CR regulations end up making sacrifices. They feel that there isn’t any other way. The aesthetics of their packaging falls by the wayside in their attempts to satisfy legal requirements.

While there is no shortage generic CR packaging out there, there is an increasing number of alternatives that don’t force customers to compromise. The answer: focusing on CR packaging where function and design converge. With some innovation, there’s no reason why the packaging can’t protect our children while also remaining attractive to adults who are the buyers.

Innovative new mechanisms give products the functionality they need – without being clunky, abnormally complicated, or excessively packaged.

Another big step forward has been re-closeability. Because many CR products sold are multiple-use, state laws require the package is re-closable. This also gives the customers the ability to close potentially harmful products just as easily as they open them.

Day by day, strategic packagers are helping companies leave “CR packaging” behind and step into a new world of “gorgeous product packaging that are CR certified.” The difference, as far as the ability to connect with customers is concerned, is staggering.

A Better Way Forward
CR regulations make potentially-dangerous substances safer and reassure responsible consumers that children won’t accidentally ingest them.

It can be a challenge to keep pace with the regulations – especially if you’re selling a product across multiple states with different requirements.

But there’s no need to compromise design for safety anymore. Striking the perfect balance between safe and visually compelling packaging can be achieved through secondary packaging as well as primary packaging.

About the author
Michael DiFranco serves as the VP of Marketing at JohnsByrne. JohnsByrne Company, a custom packaging and print solutions provider, has been a leader in the print and packaging industry since 1959 and partners with major brands in health & beauty, food and beverage, and consumer products. With a culture built around innovation, quality, design and speed, their offerings span value added folding cartons, specialty packaging and high impact direct mail. To learn more about these and other services, visit