Our perception of what may or may not constitute a calamity has changed from a tragic act of God to something that we believe should be within our powers to prevent. Today tamper evidence is playing a significant role in this cultural shift. Steve Thomas-Emberson reports

In 1952 floods in Devon killed 36 people and in 1953 the same act of God killed over 280 people on the East Coast. In addition, a horrific rail crash killed over 100.

At that time the public plainly accepted such horrific events as nothing other than accidents that were somehow out of the public’s hands. The truth is that security, whether sea defences or transport safety, have progressed as technology and investment has allowed.

Fast forward to 2002 and, 50 years after, we now have one of the most abundant products in the world, water bottled for sale complete with a tamper evident top that unless one is at a peak of fitness is extremely difficult to remove.

What does water packed in a tamper evident container say of today’s society. I never thought I would live to see water out of a tap deemed to be unfit for internal consumption, particularly when pure water in a bottle could easily be poisoned. This perception of life is not born out of scaremongering but real life sagas.

Add to this the scenario for potential consumer litigation and everybody is scared – from the water producer, the bottling company to the consumer – and this is just water!

With this backdrop, it is no wonder that tamper evidence has seen such growth. The consumer is first and foremost concerned with safety of content, ranging from baby foods through convenience meals and drinks to anything that is for internal consumption and this appears to be the overriding criterion.

For the product maker it can also mean securing the contents against theft. The Duracell K pack was one of the first tamper evident packs that secured the product in carton board. Today, board has become a popular tamper evident material.

Other products remain to be secured. Take nail varnish for example. It is a high price item and obviously prone to consumer interference? Perhaps, it is more a question of consumer behaviour, rather than one of security.

“For women there is a ritual in taking the stopper out of, say, a nail varnish bottle and testing the actual colour,” says Glen Tutssel of Tutssel Enterprise IG.

“It is almost a tactile thing. The product should be tamper evident but the accessibility of the content that is key so the brand producers tolerate such consumer behaviour. From a practical point of view a simple clip or cellophane wrapper would seal the bottle but testing and purchase are necessarily linked. A tamper evident product would not be sold.”

On the other hand tamper evidence for other products is just as essential. Indeed, they would not be sold without it but does it really add value to the product from both the brand and consumer’s viewpoint?

Sean Fortune of Siebert Head Structures has some strong views. “It’s an afterthought! Tamper evidence has nothing to do with the brand essence and I believe it is of dysfunctional benefit to the consumer.

“In an ideal world, tamper evidence would be within the total design of the pack so it communicates that it is part of the product offer. There are actually some horrors on the shop shelves.

“Toothpaste is tamper evident. The consumer presses the tube and nothing comes out so off comes the spout to reveal a foil cap that was not evident to the user.

“My grandmother cannot get into the pack that contains her arthritis pills and that is inexcusable. They are secure but far from user friendly. The pack is not fit for the product.”

If, as Mr. Fortune says, tamper evidence is an afterthought, what then of the technology itself? Does the fact that most of it is, to a certain extent, ‘off the peg’ mean that it is expensive to develop a brand’s own system?

Once again it depends on the marketplace behaviour and the value of the product but there have been some iconic tamper evidence packs in the past, such as the Duracell K pack, as Andrew Piper of Pineapple Design in Brussels explained.

“We were asked by Duracell to develop packaging that was environmentally acceptable. This meant avoiding plastics materials and composite packaging, as was the norm at the time.

“The packaging that Pineapple Design developed, known as the ‘K’ pack, was created uniquely in carton board and held the batteries securely in place while allowing the consumer to see the product and know if it had been tampered with.

“The package is tamper proof as the only method of access to the batteries without destroying the pack is through the back which features a tear strip.”

This pack, in its various battery sizes, also had the benefit of being filled at very high speeds. It was part of a wider packaging answer to transit packag-ing, using ergonomically designed cartons that used the minimum of shipping space – a total solution if ever there was one!

Another tamper evident solution was for the Physio Sport range. Nick Verebelyi of Design Bridge Structures explains his company’s work.

“The tamper evident feature was absolutely integral to the aerosol top. In the design development work we found that it needed a locking activator that not only secured the spray head but also provided an easy view to build in a little tag that was evident to the user as well as on shelf display. It really is just proof that the pack is virgin and consumers demand this type of feature.”

When thought and innovation combine, as in the previous two examples, great packs are produced. Another company – Brandhouse WTS – took tamper evidence a step further by incorporating it as part of the on-shelf merchandising of the pack itself.

“We designed a range of products for Virgin Vie that actually had to perform three key roles – transit packaging, product merchandising and be tamper evident,” says Mark Gandy. The solution we came up with was totally different from anything that had been done in the toiletries and cosmetic markets before.

“The product was encapsulated in ice! Ice in this case meant a PVC shroud and base. PVC was used both for its locking potential and durability. There were locking arrows designed into the structure of the pack platform.

“So, in this case, the tamper evidence was at the bottom rather than the top – an unusual feature necessary for the product to appear as it if was floating off the shelf surface which in turn was illuminated.

“One essential element of the pack design was that, as it was fundamentally secondary packaging as well as display, it could be used on a range of products from jars, bottles and tubes. This gave the range of 120 items an over all branding and, for items such as shaving foam, it took the product perception up a few notches.”

These are all excellent examples and where the consumer would expect to see tamper evidence and security. What then of potential new markets and, if the whole prognosis is based on fear that is the scenario post-September 11, what about airline food or loaves of bread?

Glen Tutssel questions the source of airline food? “When passengers get their trays of food, only some items, including cheese, butter, orange juice and milk, have been encapsulated. There is certainly no guarantee that the other items have not been tampered with. Passengers would now expect total meals to be made tamper evident.”

Sean Fortune agreed but expanded on the topic. “Airline food is an interesting one and I agree with the sentiment but extend it further to fast food which also needs to be tamper evident, not just to the consumer but in transit.

“How does the consumer and the fast food outlet manager know that what is being delivered has met the level of protocols needed?

It is here that a second layer of intelligence could be built into tamper evidence. This really is the next step… an expensive one but, if our world is to become even more clinical, it is inevitable.”

The news is that the inevitable is already here and companies such as Flying Null have been fast developing magnetic tagging technology into systems that, not only show where the tamper occurred, but also where along the completed supply chain.

The company’s tags can be introduced into packs either by a banknote security thread in the pack production process, through lamin-ation and through hot-foil stamping on to the face of the package.

There are many technologies applied to the process but the key elements are that the pack can be read and authenticated as original and that a scanner would be able to detect tamper.

Tamper evidence is part of everybody’s lives from milk to medicines.

It is, however, endemic. Public perception is one of the great drivers and the more unsure and nervous people are, the more it will be needed.

However the question within today’s packaging environment is, just how fast can technology deliver the answers at a practical cost?