In our September-October issue, PKN examines how incorporating accessible packaging opened new markets for Eatwell. 

“After success with redesigning its biscuit packaging, a family-owned Victorian company is now creating new markets with its easy-to-open cereal packaging – and successfully competing against multinationals and low-cost imports,” the story begins. This week, the story of accessible packaging became larger, when NSW Minister for Health Jillian Skinner formally recognised the importance of the work that HealthShare NSW and Arthritis Australia are doing as champions of easy access food packaging.

Skinner outlined the hub of the issue, “Hard-to-open food packaging is not just a source of frustration for patients but a barrier to nutrition. It is vital that the elderly and those with conditions affecting fine motor skills, such as arthritis, can open or easily access food.” 

HealthShare NSW, an agency of NSW Health, provides 22 million meals to hospital patients every year. NSW Health is the first health system in the world to make easier to open food packaging part of the tender process for suppliers. 

The Food Packaging Improvement Project team collaborated with Arthritis Australia, Georgia Tech Research Institute in the United States and Nestlé to test products and recommend improvements. 

Design features that have been adopted on food packaging in NSW hospitals include:

• serrated edges to reduce the force required to tear open a bag.

• large “tear here” label supported by a line of arrows.

• a 4-5 mm tear is already present at the “tear here” label to reduce the force required to open the bag. 

“While difficulty opening food packaging can be a barrier to the consumption of meals by inpatients, it is not a problem restricted to hospitals. Many older people and those with limited dexterity present to our hospitals with compromised nutrition,” Skinner added.

“Many of the items we serve are developed for the wider market, including hotels and airlines. The only way to ‘fix’ packaging for NSW public hospitals has been to improve it for the whole community. 

Fergal Barry, manager of the Accessibility Design Division of Arthritis Australia, highlighted that these changes benefit suppliers too. “The changes to packaging design offer an escape from price-only competition and provide a single national, independent measure for food packaging, offering new opportunities for Australian businesses. They have proven to be a driver for innovation by rewarding suppliers who improve their packaging by making it easier to open. But most importantly, the improvements to packaging support nutrition outcomes and help people maintain their independence and dignity.” 

The Food Packaging Improvement Project team has championed change with retailers like Woolworths, manufacturers, industry bodies and health departments in other states and territories.

Public hospitals in Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland, private hospitals and aged care facilities around the country are switching to products that were re-designed for ease of opening. The Food Packaging Improvement Project team has also worked for change with retailers like Woolworths, manufacturers, industry bodies and health departments in other states and territories. 

The Packaging Council of Australia chief executive officer, Gavin Williams, added his organisation’s endorsement, “The Packaging Council of Australia and its members recognise the importance of the most vulnerable members of the community being able to open packaging. We applaud NSW Health and Arthritis Australia’s efforts to work with industry to address this issue. Easy to open packaging is a major issue for companies and those that don’t address it in a serious way are likely to suffer commercial consequences.” 

And now, The Institute of Hospitality in HealthCare (IHHC) has come on board.

IHHC, a not for profit organisation devoted to professionalism and excellence in hospitality within healthcare, is sharing the HealthShare NSW Food Packaging Accessibility Database of ISR reports for nearly 150 products with IHHC members through the IHHC password protected website. 

This helps hospitals and aged care facilities to select easier to open items for the benefit of their patients and encourages manufacturers to make the changes needed to meet ease of opening requirements. 

“Nearly two thirds of all food packaging have been redesigned or are in the process of being redesigned using the ISR reports,” said HealthShare NSW’s acting chief operating officer, Carmen Rechbauer. 

The Food Packaging Accessibility Database provides multiple ISR reports for each type of food item and an extensive register of organisations, brand names and products, each rated depending on packaging accessibility. There will also be an information pack for IHHC members with support documents explaining how to use the ISR reports, ways to integrate the accessibility reports into the tender process and how to provide information to suppliers.



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