"If you like the packaging, you want it more," said Libby DeLana, who has designed packaging for firms like Veryfine and L.L.Bean.
That implicit standard, I was told, combined with a growing demand for convenience and security, means many consumers even card-carrying granola crunchers are less likely to balk at a few extra inches of plastic.
After work, I headed to my supermarket, a trendy whole-foods retailer. On my way in, I passed a young man carrying a plastic bag as flaccid as an empty pillow case. Did it cradle a solitary banana? A bagel? Either could have fitted easily in his backpack.
Emboldened by my observation, I took on the produce section and found sheared corn in styrofoam and cellophane, pre-bagged onions and potatoes. The salad bar was no better, offering one-size fits all (extra-large) containers, and knives and forks in plastic sleeves. I found individually wrapped snacks wrapped together, frozen single servings of cuisine from every corner of the globe, and row upon row of bags of organic tortilla chips: one part chip, two parts air.
I left empty-handed, wondering why I hadn't noticed before that my grocery store was a den of unbridled packaging.
It's this "huge, invisible industry," Don Ariev, chair of Packaging Design at Pratt Institute in New York, told me. "The vast majority of my students as well as the public in general, continue to be unaware of the significance of packaging."
I did some research: Guys on Wall Street use the packaging industry to forecast ups and downs in the economy. Manufacturers can increase product sales simply by adding a little sticker here, an ergonomic ribbed handle there. Package designs are updated, on average, every two to three years. And I had no idea that it was possible to get a bachelor of science in packaging (course requirements typically include engineering and economics).