Nov 10th, 2022


Wholesale vs. Retail Packaging: What's the Difference?

When it comes to running a successful business, it's important you're the total package - and that includes having the appropriate packaging supplies to get your products shipped in one piece.

So that just means you need a lot of corrugated boxes, right?

Not exactly.

While many oversimplify the art of packaging, it's a bit more complicated than just throwing products in a box and slapping a shipping label on top. There are actually three packaging categories all business owners should know about.

What are the three types of packaging? The three types of packaging are primary packaging, secondary packaging, and tertiary packaging.

These packaging types play distinctly different roles in the distribution process, and it's important to understand when to use each type of packaging. So, let's start at the beginning: what the heck is primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging?!

The Three Types of Packaging

Primary Packaging

Primary packaging is packaging that directly protects a product. It is typically the last piece of packaging a consumer will remove post-purchase, but is not necessarily meant for transport.

Primary packaging is often referred to as retail packaging since it is the packaging layer closest to the product.

Primary packaging examples include:

  • The plastic bag inside a cereal box
  • Aluminum cans containing your favorite soda
  • Chocolate bar wrappers
  • Toothpaste tubes and cap

Secondary Packaging

Secondary packaging protects the primary packaging and is designed for retail display. It's often referred to as display packaging since it's what the consumer will see when they are shopping in a store.

This type of packaging is often highly designed and contains branding with the goal of attracting consumer attention when on-shelf, as well as housing individual projects.

Secondary packaging examples include:

  • Cereal boxes
  • The box containing a 6-pack of your favorite soda
  • Variety pack boxes of chocolate bars
  • The box containing a tube of toothpaste

Tertiary Packaging

Tertiary packaging is used to protect and transport items.

Often called end-of-the-line packaging or wholesale packaging, it is used to group items and their primary and secondary packaging into unit loads for transit.

Since this type of packaging is rarely seen by consumers, tertiary packaging tends to be not as aesthetically appealing as primary or secondary packaging.

Tertiary packaging examples include:

  • The corrugated box housing groups of cereal boxes
  • Pallets and shrink wrap containing dozens of soda boxes
  • Void fill that protects the boxes of chocolate
  • Cardboard boxes housing hundreds of toothpaste packages

Wholesale vs. Retail Basics

Now that you're a pro on the three types of packaging, let's take a high-level look at wholesale packaging (tertiary packaging) and retail packaging (primary and secondary packaging).

At the highest level, wholesale and retail refer to the two main pieces of the distribution process.

Wholesale refers to a type of business that buys goods in large quantities, usually from manufacturers or distributors, then resells these goods to other companies.

On the other hand, retail businesses sell products directly to consumers.

While these two business types play very different roles, they do play together. Typically, wholesale companies will buy mass amounts of products directly from the manufacturer and resell these products to retail businesses. The retail businesses then put them on their shelves and websites for customers to purchase.

Wholesale Packaging vs. Retail Packaging Differences

What's in the box?!?!

Well, that depends! Different types of businesses - including wholesale and retail - require different types of packaging.

So - what's the difference between the two?

What Is Wholesale Packaging?

Wholesale packaging, also referred to as bulk packaging, is tertiary packaging designed to transport large quantities of goods to distributors.

These packages often travel far distances and are subject to not-so-great handling conditions, like careless delivery personnel, rough driving, and inclement weather. Therefore, wholesale packaging supplies must be sturdy and secure the products within them while out for delivery.

Image Credit: RawPixel

Wholesale packaging has a few distinct characteristics that set it apart from other forms of packaging:

1.) It's made to withstand the elements. To ensure products aren't damaged in transit, many packaging supplies are water- and odor-resistant to protect products from moisture, mold, and mildew.

2.) They aren't the prettiest to look at. Wholesale packaging supplies aren't customer-facing - their job is to ensure the retail packages they're transporting are just as pristine as they were when they left the warehouse. Therefore, it isn't necessary to make them visually stunning.

Common types of tertiary packaging supplies that wholesalers need to have in their arsenal include:

What's Retail Packaging?

Simply put, retail packaging is what the customer sees (aka secondary packaging). It's the gorgeously designed, brand-stamped, shelf-ready gift box, bag, canister, etc. displayed on shelves at grocery stores and local retailers.

These packages are often smaller and contain individual products and primary packaging ready to be sold directly to consumers. In fact, boxes for retail packaging require sturdy wholesale packaging to get them to their destination!

Think of it like a Russian nesting doll: individual products are placed in protective primary packaging, which is then placed into prettier, consumer-friendly retail packaging. Then, that secondary packaging is grouped together and placed inside a larger wholesale packaging box for shipment. Once the wholesale package is delivered to its destination, shop owners and retailers remove the retail packages from the box and place them on their shelves.

And that's how your favorite products end up at your local stores, all thanks to packaging!

Image Credit: Indieground

Like bulk packaging, retail packaging has distinct characteristics:

1.) It's visually stunning. All the elements of retail packaging should appeal to customers and entice them to buy the product inside. This type of packaging is typically customized and beautifully branded to help it stand out from other brands.

2.) They're shelf-ready. Retailers should be able to open a wholesale box and transfer these packages to a shelf - no hassle required.

3.) Time is money. Retail packages make it easier to sort and display goods quickly, making it a seamless process that helps increase productivity.

4.) It protects the product. Quality secondary packaging decreases the risk of products becoming damaged during transit.

Although retail packaging needs differ from what wholesalers require, there are still some packaging staples retail stores should have on hand, including:

  • Boxes (but at a smaller size than your wholesale counterparts)
  • Hand tape
  • Kraft paper (great for wrapping fragile items your customers' purchase)
  • Void fill (bubble wrap, air pillows, etc.)

Which Type of Packaging Do I Need?

The easiest way to decide which type of packaging is right for your business all boils down to one fact: who is your desired recipient?

If your goal is to ship a large number of products to a distributor or retailer, you'll want to shop for sturdy, sizable tertiary packaging supplies that are designed to protect products in transit.

However, if your goal is to sell items directly to consumers via a website or shop, you'll want to find attractive customizable packaging supplies that capture consumer attention.

Start Thinking Inside the Box

Now that you've discovered the differences between packaging for wholesale vs. retail, it's time to find the perfect packaging solutions for you!

At Trinity, we offer over 1,600 sizes of packaging boxes and wholesale packaging supplies like stretch film, tape, and more - everything you need to ensure your products get from point A to point B safely.

Give us a call at (850) 520-8332 or send us a message to speak to one of our friendly packaging experts for a free quote!