The Slack Fill Factor Explained

If you’ve ever opened a bag of chips to find that your favorite salt and vinegar indulgences only fill half the bag, or you’ve reached into a bag of cookies and grumbled about not having enough, you’ve experienced the puzzling complexities of packaging slack fill.

Slack Fill Defined

Slack fill is known as the difference between the volume of a product and the volume capacity of the container used for packaging. It is usually employed in packaging for legitimate purposes, but unfortunately there are instances of companies using slack fill to make more money on less product by tricking the consumer. Due to this system exploitation, there are actually slack fill laws designed by the FDA and each state government to protect buyers from purchasing a product that doesn’t meet reasonable expectations of volume based on the packaging displayed.

Using Slack Fill Legally

Since the question of slack fill serves as a constant tug of war between the FDA, product packagers, and consumers, functional and allowable slack fill has been clearly defined for companies; in other words, your half-filled bag of salt and vinegar chips might have been packaged that way purposefully.

If a business needs to utilize extreme slack fill for a product, it is allowable as long as the packaging is transparent so that the customer is aware of the difference between packaging volume and product size. Slack fill is also deemed acceptable if the empty space serves to protect the package’s contents, if unavoidable settling caused the slack fill, and if the packaging machines can only enclose the product with the slack fill present. The FDA also allows slack fill created by food packaged in a reusable container and in cases when the slack fill cannot be eliminated due to labeling size requirements.

It’s a surprisingly complex task for companies to ensure their products do not contain illegal slack fill!

Slack Fill Offenders

If a company is found to use misleading packaging through the use of slack fill, the business is penalized and/or fined. Avoiding improper slack fill is a delicate balance of product safety, communication to the customers, brand protection, transportation realities, and food technology. Many companies charged with slack fill violations never used slack fill for misguided intentions and simply just need some packaging adjustments.

The Benefits of Repackaging

Redesigning packaging to eliminate slack fill can actually improve profits and enhance the production process. As an example, shaving a half inch from a container — and thus eliminating the slack fill space — allows for one pallet of product to hold thousands of additional containers! More units per pallet results in improved pallet utilization, material savings, logistical ease, and warehouse optimization, all of which equal dollar signs for the company and easier access for the consumer!

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