P+F Trend Report: The market share of wallets in pharmaceutical packaging is set to increase

Gaining Ground

07.12.2006 Wallets have been on the market for several years; their share in the pharmaceutical packaging sector continues to rise. They are unbeatable with respect to compliance, convenience, and marketing. The Editor of Pharma+Food had a look round at the Achema trade show and reports here on the latest developments in this sector.


Overall the elderly lady looks hale and hearty, even though she sometimes has the impression that her daily round is dictated by regular consumption of tablets: Every morning, midday, and evening she has to take various medicines and also observe certain dosage regimes in the process. Yet she manages this with perfect ease because the pharmaceutical manufacturer has selected the wallet as packaging form for her medicines.

High Cost of MachineryCurbs the Wallet

Just a few years ago the wallet was regarded as a somewhat exotic form of pharmaceutical packaging. The main reason was the horrendous costs faced by a pharmaceutical company contemplating investment in a wallet machine. In addition, such plant only permits the production of wallets. In Europe wallet lines have been used in the past for just a few blockbuster drugs; one will search in vain for a contract packager with a wallet machine. The packaging machine manufacturer again profits from its competence in the construction of special purpose machines in the case of wallet lines, i.e. from a strictly modular construction of the packaging line. The overall process is subdivided into individual modules. Modular machine construction may require more space, but only individual modules have to be modified, added, or exchanged if the product changes. The pharmacist remains flexible with a view to future product and packaging changes.

Meanwhile a certain reorientation has taken place in the USA – with regard to the packaging of pharmaceuticals. The Americans still cling to the bottle, yet when a change does take place it is more likely to be to a wallet than to blister and folding carton. This applies above all to drugs that are new on the market. “The much-discussed topic of compliance is of crucial importance to Americans”, according to Jürgen Nowak, Head of Innovation and Customer Integration at folding carton manufacturer Faller. This is where the wallet has unbeatable advantages. “This is the reason why demand has meanwhile significantly increased in Germany too”, he stresses. Helmut Deichert, Product Management, Product Division Pharma of Bosch Packaging Technology, adds: “As soon as certain dosage regimes have to be observed when taking a drug or if taking the drug should on no account be forgotten, then there is no alternative to the wallet. Moreover, the wallet stands for convenience and added marketing value.”
Tests have shown that what patients, and especially senior citizens, want from a pharmaceutical packaging is ease of handling, understandable package inserts, and smaller package size. The wallet comes into its own here because it meets all these demands. The proper way to take the medicine is accurately described and can be readily checked, the possibly confusing but necessary package insert is generally replaced by a readily comprehensible booklet, and individual blister cards facilitate portability of the medicine. Some pharmaceutical companies even present the information otherwise printed on the package insert in two separate booklets: one with the legally required information and the other with so-called patient information, i.e. the information of importance for the patient regarding dosage. “The information of importance for the patient should be easily legible and clearly presented, possibly even illustrated. This is possible when it is presented in book form”, explains Carsten Peters, of Pharma Sales at Schubert Packaging machines. Nowadays, booklets cost only slightly more to produce than package inserts.

The Wallet as Marketing Instrument

The decision in favour of the wallet or the blister in a conventional folding carton is often driven by the marketing department, which often establishes initial contacts with the packaging machine manufacturer before production starts. Particularly in the OTC sector it is important for a medicine to stand out against the competition because the goal is to steal a march on comparable products from other companies. Yet marketing is also becoming ever more important in the area of ethical drugs. Offering a larger promotional space, the wallet has considerable potential in this connection. Peters comments: “A wallet provides an excellent means of distinguishing one’s product from that of the competition – those are advantages that an everyday folding carton cannot offer.” This view is shared by Markus Höfliger, Managing Director at Harro Höfliger: “The marketing aspect is becoming more and more important for pharmaceutical products. Thanks to it variability, a wallet provides very good scope for product differentiation.” Some pharmaceutical companies switch over from a conventional folding carton to a wallet in the interests of customer retention immediately upon expiration of a drug patent when generic products flood onto the market. Once patients have become accustomed to the comfort of the wallet they are reluctant to “revert” to a folding carton.

Another important criterion in favour of the wallet is enhanced counterfeit and tamper security, for it is a basic truth that the more sophisticated the packaging, the more difficult it is to fake. This provides at least a certain degree of protection against reimports. Blister and card are glued together. While this does not constitute an inseparable bond, glue residues on the blister would certainly be indicative of irregularities.
Schreiner Prosecure has developed a solution for the secure closure of wallet packages: The reclosable seal assures a high level of tamper and counterfeiting security through a combination of void effect and broken filament. The key lies in the customer-specific design of the void effect and matching of the adhesive to function and substrates. The pronounced promotional effectiveness of attractive packaging is supported by the transparent look of the wallet seal.
The wallet also readily accommodates the trend to childproof packaging: Höflinger offers not only hot-melt glue solutions for the production of childproof wallet packaging but also heat sealing technology. In the latter, the surfaces of the wallet blanks which are precoated with sealing lacquer are brought together and heated in a sealing unit. The sealing pressure leads to a strong bond which cannot be broken without destroying the package. Another possible solution is to pack the wallet card in a lockable sleeve.

Straightforward Pathway to theWallet

Yet the crucial question remains: Does the wallet make sense for every drug in any quantity? While this may well be the case for large production runs, the question become more acute for very small lots such as clinical trial packs. Faller unveiled its QuikPac folding card press for clinical trial packs at the Achema show. Thanks to the blinded blisters and the large area available for marking, wallets are particularly suitable for clinical trial packs.
A folding carton is generally unnecessary, which is an advantage for use in clinical studies for which production runs from less than 100 up to 3 000 have to packed in the various phases. Using the press, blisters are glued within seconds. The pressure can be finely adjusted on a scale. Format changes can be accomplished within a few minutes. The main advantage is that the pharmaceuticals are not subjected to thermal stress.

Yet what are the prospects for cost-effective production in the case of medium-sized lots or seasonal products? To cater for this segment, Bosch and Faller have jointly developed the SmartWallet, a new easy-to-manufacture wallet-style package for solid pharmaceuticals.
It can be produced on slightly modified horizontal cartoning machines. The key to the product’s efficiency lies in the pre-glued outer sleeve of the wallet which can be erected and loaded with the blister on a conventional cartoning machine. The blister, optionally with an additional paperboard card, is glued into the outer sleeve by means of lateral holding flaps. The patient information leaflet can be pre-configured in the outer sleeve, introduced into the wallet during packing, or integrated into the outer packaging. The SmartWallet is produced on horizontal cartoning machines with intermittent or continuous motion at a rate of 300 wallets/min. The cartoning machine can be equipped to produce both wallets and conventional folding cartons. This could be exploited in a dual production strategy ensuring better plant utilisation, particularly when wallets account for a small proportion of the production volume.

Cost/Benefit Effect Justifie Additional Costs

The term “SmartWallet” stands for the “Straightforward pathway to the wallet” according to Bosch’s Deichert, which facilitates the user’s entry into this technology. After all, the cost of a modified cartoning machine amounts to just a third or at most one half of a wallet machine, and this technology offers flexible production and smaller space requirements. “Switching from wallets to folding cartons takes about 1 h”, he stresses.

Production of wallets is still more costly than that of blisters with folding cartons, yet this becomes less and less significant as the price of pharmaceuticals increases. Also in the case of ethical drugs – according to expert opinion – the cost/benefit effect could justify the relatively modest additional cost vis-à-vis health insurance providers. Greater patient compliance could at least help to reduce the costs of non-compliance, which are estimated to be 10 billion Euros per annum in Germany.

Nevertheless: The wallet will remain a niche segment and not replace the folding carton. Its current share of pharmaceutical packaging is currently estimated to lie below 1 %, but given more cost-effective packaging technologies this should increase considerably in the coming years: “I can envisage wallets having a 10 % share in ten years’ time”, says Deichert.

The wallet is also a very good marketing instrument when it comes to distinguishing a product from its competitors
“We envisage an accelerated breakthrough of the wallet as a result of simplified production”
Helmut Deichert, Product Management, Product Division Pharma of Bosch Packaging Technology
“We expect an increased demand for wallets in Germany too, not just for blockbusters but also for small and medium lots”
Jürgen Nowak, Head of Innovation and Customer Integration, Faller
“Thanks to modular machineconstruction, the pharmaceutical company remains flexible in the face of future changes in product and packaging”
Markus Höfliger, Managing Director, Harro Höfliger
“Projects in the area of wallets are largely marketing driven”
Carsten Peters, Pharma Sales, Schubert Verpackungsmaschinen

Heftausgabe: Compendium Customer Manufacturing 2006

About the author

Birgit Lind , Editor