/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Is this new packaging taking the biscuit?

McVitie's biscuits

Packaging can be a key ingredient in influencing what we buy. But as our guest author and community member Roger Pittock explains, some packaging redesigns can really take the biscuit.

Have you noticed a detrimental change to how McVitie’s Biscuits are wrapped of late?

It was only after two packs fell from my cupboard within a few weeks of one another (whereas none had in the previous 20 years) that I realised the packaging had changed. And from a consumer perspective I think it’s for the worse.

Poor packaging

Cheddar biscuits

Old heat-staked packaging

Historically McVitie’s Digestives (and countless other biscuits by several manufacturers) have been sold in cylindrical packaging, with the ends neatly and tautly dressed and glued (or heat-staked) down.

This time-honoured approach provides for easy storage on end without fear of an accidental topple. It also allows for an easy opening with a knife cut laterally between biscuits, either half way down or a couple from one end.

About six months ago, McVitie’s biscuits appeared on the shelves with slack packaging and ends squeezed together in a crimp. They call it Flow Wrap Packaging.

That’s a bad wrap

Flow wrap biscuits

New Flow Wrap packaging

Ignoring the cost of new machinery, this new method probably saves money or time. However, I wonder how much additional breakage this style of packaging creates in the home due to toppling, and how much additional frustration is incurred in opening the biscuits?

I’ve found that it’s no longer safe to stand these on end as the crimp has a habit of springing to life even after flattening, precipitating a topple.

Furthermore, using a knife to open the biscuits no longer readily produces a clean cut. This new style wrap is no longer taut and the plastic cylindrical sleeve indents, caressing the blade and making it substantially more difficult to produce a clean cut.

After a brief check on shelves I spotted that some own brands (Tesco is one) have also adopted this clumsy packaging method too. Whereas others (Sainsbury’s) and other major brands (Jacobs) maintain the traditional packaging, which I find far more accessible.

So, I would like to know if anyone else experienced these issues; have you spotted any packaging changes, or difficult to open packages?

This is a guest contribution by Roger Pittock. All opinions are Roger’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


Those little round or square plastic pots of dips and salad accompaniments.

Some come with a lid, some come with a plastic film with info printed on a sticky strip, others come with a plastic film and cardboard outer wrapper.

If you don’t use the product all in one go, the only way to reseal the pot is to use cling film. It is impossible to cut a small square out of cling film so most of the strip ends up in the bin – such a waste.

So not only does the plastic film lid go to waste, the cling film also goes to waste.

Manufacturers should be looking at reducing waste so can they all come with a resealable lid please? At least they can be recycled.

The old packaging of McVitie’s biscuits offered very little protection to the biscuits and I had assumed that the new packaging was to provide some cushioning against impact when the packets of biscuits are put in boxes for transporting to supermarkets etc. It is not ideal for protection because the edges of the end biscuit in the back are still very vulnerable.

My approach is to store unopened cylindrical packs of biscuits on their sides, oriented in a way that they cannot roll out of the cupboard.

We don’t buy many biscuits, but they do get stored on their sides or in a tin.

It is also a good idea to open them with scissors not a knife. Apart from being safer, you get a much cleaner edge so the packet can be resealed with a clip.

I agree, Alfa. I had not thought about it but the new packet design is easier to open with scissors.

I recently had some Mc’Vs chocolate (milk & plain) for the first time in a long while: is it my imagination that the chocolate depth?

nasp12, try M&S – cheaper, and in my view nicer, and in standard packaging.

Shrink wrapped bacon, fish and poultry sometimes take a brutal stab to get through the wrapping, especially when the corner of the pack refuses to budge, and, of course, there are no opening instructions anyway. Away from food, some sealed electrical and computer products are well nigh impossible to penetrate without scissors and the risk of injury on sharp edges as one mangles the plastic.
Some cellophane food packages, round nuts for example, sometimes pull apart and sometimes don’t, and those that are supposed to tear vertically often wont and need scissors. There is always a need for a dust pan and brush when opening rice by hand. Ring pull cans are good for me, but not for anyone with weak fingers or wrists and if the juice is at the top, care has to be taken when opening. Some plastic fruit bottles and coffee jars have seals that refuse to pull off and the manufacturers don’t provide tabs to help, so one ends up using finger nails or another stab with a knife. Flour bags and sugar bags are guaranteed to leak when opening. All part of life’s rich pageant. Let’s praise those that get it right, too. Those who have sat down and thought it through. Butter tubs, yogurt tops and milk bottles have sufficient protection to keep their contents safe and yet they open in moments. It’s not all bad out there.

Wow,,,,,,,,Vynor you musta had a bad day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Give it some

I can very much identify with the examples given by Vynor. It’s almost as if some packaging is designed to create hassle. I buy UHT milk with a screw cap rather than than the cheaper cartons that are full to the top and spill as soon as the tab is removed. It’s bad enough running out of fresh milk without having to deal with spillage.

I am very wary of knives for attacking packaging, so I use a miniature knife with an extendable blade, with no more than one or two millimetres of blade protruding. It’s effective and reasonably safe, and can be more convenient than scissors. Of course we need some of this tough packaging to prevent people stealing small high value items or inquisitive shoppers opening packages and losing some vital part.

My favorite hate is the fruit juice with the little foil thingy that breaks
About every half dozen has one
Then the knife or the spoon handle comes into play but the dang thing always has a flap like a little valve that near always checks the flow…………..Bad temper is hard to hold back
Surely we are better at making things than this
I’ve been involved in engineering and design,,,,,,,,,,,A foil strip that wont do its job
Maybe I need a post in a certain carton factory?????????

I also identify with Vynor.

There are also all those drinks cartons with the round plastic pull that breaks off.
If it doesn’t come off easily, I poke a skewer at the edge of the plastic disc to break the seal then hey presto!

Biscuits brought into this house rarely get time to be stored, either on their side or the end… Opening procedure of the new packs usually means a swift downward chop with a meat cleaver. Job done! 🙂

If biscuits with the new packaging will not stand on end, one solution would be to store them in mugs of a suitable internal diameter. Crumbs, there must be a wide variety of other simple and effective solutions that don’t involve taking on the mighty United Biscuits, owners of McVitie’s.

Bring back the biscuit tin. No problem storing biscuits in those. If they might last long enough to start to soften, use a sealed plastic food box.

Food packaging may be tricky to get into but it gives us much better storage times than we used to have.

Screw tops – those thin plastic ones on milk bottles, metal ones on jars – can (understandably) be very tight and almost impossible to undo, particularly so if you are a frail elderly person. You need one of those “plier” type devices with three sizes of serrated round jaws.

Another pack I find exploits my stupidity is the clear moulded plastic pre-pack for screws and other bits of hardware. The number of times I have cut round the edge to gain access – and then found they are not actually sealed together; a back moulding simply snaps into the front and opens easily – if you find the right bit.

We have discussed packaging problems before and once again I will commend Duerr’s for a clever design of lid for jam jars, which are very easy to open.

For years I did use a biscuit tin but found it rather too inviting. I do not know why biscuits are often sold in large flat tins because the biscuits would soon become soft after opening. I do buy biscuits in tins because the tins are so useful for storage. The oldest and largest biscuit tin I own once held McVitie and Price Granley biscuits. It’s a tall rectangular tin about 24cm tall and the faded label proclaims ‘This tin is charged 8d’, so no doubt could have been returned for reuse. When I see this tin on a shelf in the garage I wonder what Granley biscuits tasted like.

As Malcolm says, good packaging can make food last much longer. I continued with doorstep milk deliveries for longer than most but milk lasts much longer in unopened plastic bottles. Perhaps if the reusable glass bottles had been fitted with a proper seal rather than a foil top we could have had both a decent life and a more environmentally acceptable solution.

re Granley biscuit

I thought I might be able to tell you what it tasted like however checking through my 1950 list of 160 plus biscuits made by McVitie & Price does not reveal it at all. That firm and Macfarlane ,Lang & Co actually merged in 1948 to form United Biscuits so possibly it was a type deleted.

Just glancing at the Lang list I note they have dainties such as:
Texas Crackers [56] slightly sweet, oval,
Thin Social [74] Th, slightly sweet,, round
Tit Bit [Sweet] [56] Short-eating and crisp, squares …. short-eating?
Togo [90] slightly sweet, finger shape
Tyrol Wafer [130] finger shaped cream-filled wafer

plus 150 others

Thanks for looking. I suppose Granley is not a distinctive name. Searching the vintage biscuit tins on the web I have seen larger McVitie and Price tins with the same distinctive yellow label featuring a startled stag, one having contained Small Rich Tea and the other Melange Ecossais biscuits.

I endorse Vynor’s comments. I find a lot of packaging difficult to open, especially things that are sealed or tightened under industrial pressure. I would like the caps on plastic milk bottles to have some sort of knurling on them to give a grip and for the caps of fruit juice cartons to be made with projections that will give some purchase on the inner seal that the cap has to break. As well as conventional can and bottle openers my arsenal of weapons includes the short craft knife described by Wavechange, a rubber ridged leveraged binder that will go round a bottle top and enable it to be rotated, a pair of pliers for opening ring-pull cans as my fingers won’t go through the rings [or if they will it hurts], heavy duty shears for opening the blister pack that some light bulbs are sold in, a spare key for the occasional sardine tin, and an assortment of rubber bands of different lengths and thicknesses for winding round obstinate jar lids and bottle caps. By comparison, opening biscuit packets is relatively easy – many of them have a tab that leads to a strong strip of material that cuts through the wrapping as you turn the packet round. It’s not always easy to find this magic strip or to engage it with a finger or thumbnail but it usually helps. Perhaps biscuit packets could have a transparent window section that would allow us to see where to ply the knife between a pair of biscuits rather than slicing through the cream filling.

While discussing biscuits, is it alright to comment on the continually varying quantity in biscuit packets [which is probably the chief justification for the flow-wrapping technology]? There seems to be no requirement to state the number of biscuits in a packet and the looser wrapping makes pack comparisons more difficult both in length and diameter, but it also provides the grocery trade with ample opportunity to bamboozle the customer with dubious offers or price-points. The flow-wrapping system enables the manufacturers to produce a wide range of content levels in similar looking packaging so that the major retailers can specify the number of units per pack to meet their price promotion requirements [and comparisons with – or differentiation from – their own-label versions] and the discounters and pound shops can have packets that conform to their price maxima.

Certainly storage life and the protection of packaged goods have improved and some of the measures are there to prevent tampering. My continuing bugbear, however, is the CD in shrink-wrapped cellophane where the tear-strip is either invisible or fails at the first attempt and a thin sharp knife has to be used.

Oh good, a slight excuse to “stray” with John. I read recently that Magnum Ice creams are to be reduced in size. ( I thought they had done that already.) The reason being that the makers want to reduce our calorie intake, per lolly, to 250 to protect consumers from over indulgence. Perhaps they should be called Minimums and the smaller variety Mini-Minimums. I wonder if they will have the nerve to put five in a pack and increase the price? Einstein would know if this was a price hike, but he isn’t around to tell us.
Back on topic, the packaging on these is sometimes insufficient to prevent damage to the chocolate coating, something only discovered upon opening the wrapper.

Cornettos are also going to be smaller.

I reported here last year that I was surprised how much they had shrunk not having bought them for a while.

So they are going to be tiny now !!!

Cornettos seem generally to cost around 54p/100 ml. M&S Belgian chocolate ice cream bars cost £3 for 8, or 47p/100 ml. I know which I’d rather have 🙂

“Just two Cornettos,
give them to me …”

If a Magnum is halved in size, will it be renamed a Bottle?

At one time I had a small pair of pliers in the drawer with nutcrackers, garlic press, apple corer and other miscellaneous items. After being ridiculed by a visitor, I replaced the pliers with a pair of artery forceps, which are very useful for tackling certain problems with packaging, and being stainless steel they cannot go rusty. Most of my friends don’t know what they are, and those that do probably have a pair in their own kitchen drawer.

Well I hope you scrub up and put on a mask before carrying out a packet-opening procedure. Do you enjoy the clank as the bits you extricate drop into the kidney bowl?

Nothing more than wash my hands. I don’t possess any kidney bowls but they might be ideal for baking steak & kidney pies with an interesting shape. 🙂

You lot do realise this is why we now have the Lobby? 🙂

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Okay – I know I’m a year behind, Duncan, but it takes a while to catch up, y’know 🙂

it should be a requirement that all packaging is made out of recycled material and can be easily recycled. It would help the environment, the recycling industry and might stop all this superfluous, unnecessary packaging

Harbour Lights says:
24 January 2016

“it should be a requirement that all packaging is made out of recycled material and can be easily recycled.”

Just as important, it should carry a deposit.

Jars jam jars are always very difficult to get all of the jam out. The small meat paste jars are worse still How much food is thrown away in them?

Yes, I think you might be in the minority here. What would you suggest as an appropriate alternative which doesn’t create hygiene issues or potentially more waste?

Harbour Lights says:
25 January 2016

Not too difficult.
1. Put some milk in the jam jar.
2. Put on the lid.
3. Shake.
4. Drink.

I thought it was just me who had this problem lately, until I accidentally saw this article!
YES!!! I store the biccies on a high shelf – to try to avoid temptation every time the cupboard door is opened. Recently however, they have been jumping out of the cupboard to either a). assault me or b). commit crumbly suicide by smashing themselves to pieces on the work surface and/or floor!!!! I’ve never had aggressive biscuits before!

At least Chocolate Agressives and Plain Agressives fit the mug when broken, but on the whole I prefer my biscuits to be Nice.

You could always brunch with the rich teatotallers or hobnob with the penguins having their elevenses at the ritz. Mind you garibaldi was always a bit of a jammie dodger with his fingers in the penguins tit bits.

Carry on posting Estelle. We enjoy a little humour with the complaints.

Hello Estelle, welcome to the Conversation. Thank you for your great comment, I think it’s struck a chord with a few of us so I’ve posted it on the homepage as a site feature.

I think many of us have enjoyed Roger’s convo, I can certainly sympathise with dodgy packaging. I had ‘ricemare’ at the weekend, a resealable label decided to give up the ghost on my half full (ever the optimist) bag of rice. When I opened my cupboard door the rice packet sprung to action, toppled forward and took the instant coffee with it – cue me with the dustpan and brush and another trip to the shop for more rice and coffee. I’ve returned to the trusty peg for sealing the bag from now on 🙂

If you are eating all those carbs, you have an awful lot more to worry about than the packaging. #LCHF

I was issued with two McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes earlier today and in view of this Conversation I took more than usual interest in the product and its presentation. I noticed that the Jaffa Cakes came in a box inside of which was a flow-wrapped packet. On three sides of the box there was a little symbol saying “12 Cakes”. Being perfectly rectangular and with perpendicular end facings the box had no trouble remaining in an upright position when stood on end. So why can’t McVitie’s present their other biscuits to the same high standards? Perhaps the cardboard box might be regarded as superfluous but if it protects the product and looks appealing it is justified. The box can be reused as a container for pencils, spills, tapers, paint brushes, knitting needles, nail files, combs, and various other items that roll about or litter our cupboards and drawers, or simply be recycled.

Going back to Roger’s problem of biscuit packets that may topple when stored vertically thanks to new packaging, perhaps the answer is to store the packet in a tall cylindrical metal tin of suitable dimensions. Cardboard tubes are available but I’m uncertain about the durability.

Having quickly scanned comments – I may have missed the explanation – I do not follow why biscuits are not simply stored on their sides if the packaging is not suitable for vertical storage. Why do we need kitchen accessories to deal with this?

I could store a cucumber vertically in my fridge, if it was straight to EC standards and the supplier cut off that irritating tapered end; but as it is the natural one lies down quite happily on a shelf.

As biscuits – particularly chocolate ones – contain a lot of sugar and contribute substantially towards obesity, perhaps we should be campaigning for a European law (maybe just UK law after this year) that all biscuits should be individually wrapped to avoid the temptation once the packet is opened of – oh well, just one or two more…… 🙁

I suggested horizontal storage but it was rejected as inefficient use of space. Inspecting my kitchen cupboard, I see that I have an unopened pack lying on the top of eight packets of ground coffee/coffee beans. We seem to be overstocked.

I make the tea but here the lady of the house is responsible for the biscuit ration to avoid opportunistic dipping. There is some flexibility in the allocations, apparently, according to good or bad behaviour.

If vertical storage is required in the interests of space economy, one could save the Jaffa Cake boxes and insert the flow-wrapped packets inside and then stand upright [it improves the posture] – subject to diametrical gauging and trimming the end flaps from the box. I am surprised that Lakeland or Scotts of Stow haven’t come up with a convenient solution for the flow-wrapped biscuit packet instability problem and related anxieties.

Roger, we don’t have many packets of biscuit. Some come in flat boxes (like cheese biscuits) or square tubular ones, others in round packs. The flat boxes sit on the shelf, the others lay down. That way they make use of the depth of the shelf. If we stand them up then we end up with some packets behind others – so they aren’t seen when looking at the biscuit menu for the late night drink. It really is not difficult to slide one pack from the arrangement and, as they are held tightly by the wrapping, they rarely spill.
Incidentally I find the best dunking biscuits are ginger nuts.

Going back to milk chocolate digestive biscuits. Being disabled I do my shopping online. In the last month or so I have been disappointed with McVites Chocolate Digestives because of the packaging. Since they no longer come in the cardboard package, many biscuits are broken and crumbling. Long gone are the days when we used to be able to buy broken biscuits cheaply. Who wants them broken anyways.
Not sure if I should be posting on this website as I live in Australia.

Feel free to post here any time you like, Margy. One thing we lack is contributions from people actually living in other countries who can tell us their real experiences. We have to rely so much on second-hand material relayed from unknown sources. Please keep an eye out for other Conversations and join in if you can contribute some relevant knowledge of how things are done in Australia.

Hi Margy – Everyone is welcome here, though many of the comments relate to the UK. It may be worth mentioning that you live in Australia if you refer to hot sunny weather or something else we cannot relate to here.

As John says, there are plenty of Conversations to join in with. I suggest you register or you might not be able to find if anyone has responded to your posts.

I store my ‘ dig biscs’ in a McVities tin. I used to cut the first one or two biscuits off the top of the packet, place the cylindrical tin over the packet and then invert the tin with the packet inside. I could then pinch the packet end and pull the packet out of the tin leaving the biscuits neatly stacked in it.
New packet – the floppy packet barely fits in the tin, the packet is difficult to remove from the tin, when it comes out the biscuits are all higgledy piggledy in the tin – thumbs down to the new packet!!😠
I have found some nice Italian biscuits called Giocciole that fit in my cake tin, so perhaps I should take my McVities tin to the charity shop.