Weekends are perfect for reconnaissance work. Club stores, high-end foodie stores, major grocery chains, niche retailers, discount supermarkets – I visit them all.  Jeff Sawyers, undercover packaging geek, on the job.

Why do I do this?

One, I make sure the products we package are presented correctly. As head of operations for a contract packager who values relationships, I believe we are a natural extension of our clients’ sales departments and fierce defenders of their brand.

Two, I study thousands of different products on the shelf coming from all over the world. Of course, I examine the champions. But I really love searching for defects like a hound on a scent. (Recently I scored big. A peanut was stuck in a seal bar of a trail mix pouch. Improper crimp. Happens a lot in nonorganic, non-ancient grain products, which further underscores the high quality standards in the natural food space.)

The third reason, of course, is for my family. I might be picking up a wedge of fresh Parmesan or leafy green parsley to make meatballs for Sunday gravy, or grabbing salami from the deli.

Except for the family grocery list, the highlights of my covert weekend work are analyzed and shared with others here at GreenSeed.

Plus, I get a rush as I walk the aisles – whether I’m surrounded by the utilitarian efficiency of a Sam’s Club or the epicurean wonderland of Trader Joe’s. “Where’s Dad?” someone in my family might say. “Oh, look, he’s staring at a package longer than a normal person should.”

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In truth, I’m in a state of nirvana. Keeping up with new packaging trends and technology is exciting. It’s how I imagine astronauts feel exploring space or Googlers discovering digital frontiers. As I grab my trench coat and fedora and walk out the door (OK, it’s just a Chicago Cubs sweatshirt and cheap sunglasses), I get the high that comes from pushing boundaries. Incognito.

There’s a greater purpose, though, a more serious one. All roads lead to our clients’ brand protection. All roads lead to flawless packaging for real people.

GreenSeed has launched five new products this year that are sitting in people’s pantries, or being served on a high chair or kitchen table right this minute. My only explanation for this record is we’re obsessed with learning from our mistakes and searching for our flaws. And isn’t that how we all learn and grow?

Many of the quality attributes we produce for clients are born from knowing every possible bad thing that might happen so we safeguard against it. There’s something cool about saying, “Check, check, check. We did it. We completed our mission. Here are the quality attributes that prove this product – and every single product we package – is exceptional.”

Looking at what could go wrong leads to making important things go right. Our obsession with the negative, then, actually leads to more positive experiences for our clients.

At the end of the day, we are protecting infants and children, teenagers and adults. They trust us to be the best version of ourselves. Our awesome responsibility is to get it right the first time.

Lots of people can put quinoa in a pouch, for instance. Not everybody will verify the inbound receipt, complete a certificate of analysis, release the product for production after passing a plethora of in-house benchmarks, run it through screening HACCP process, a 30-minute metal detection analysis every hour, leak checks every 15 or 30 minutes, and only then fill and seal and pack the product for retail sale.

The thought might be, “We’ll send you the stuff and you pack it,” but it will never be that easy. We never want it to be that easy. We want to be looking at what can go wrong so we are the best defenders of the people who trust us.

And it all starts on the weekend.