Packaging, disrupted – profiting from the latest trends in packaging design


Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the packaging industry was facing unprecedented disruption – and the events of 2020 will only accelerate this process. As with any period of turbulence, there are both challenges and opportunities. Brands and packaging converters that are able to seize the moment by being more agile and innovative will be well-placed to thrive.

Key trends that had emerged pre-corona include the growth of ecommerce, changing consumer preferences, digitisation and increasing concerns about sustainability. Of course, these are interlinked, and the coronavirus pandemic is also now feeding into this dynamic.

Ecommerce growth and packaging

Previously driven largely by consumers’ desire for convenience, ecommerce growth has received a further boost from safety concerns. Even as lockdown restrictions are being lifted, consumers are showing a marked reluctance to return to bricks & mortar retail spaces: footfall in malls and stores is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. Even before this crisis, ecommerce was already predicted to double in value and volume by 2022.

Ecommerce creates demands for certain types of packaging, including delivery boxes and flexible packaging (for both deliveries and returns). Consumers expect ecommerce packaging to be secure and robust enough to protect their purchases, but also easy to open. They are also starting to order a wider range of products online – especially food, following the collapse of demand for eating out.

Grocery deliveries and ready-to-eat meals require new kinds of packaging – this trend is aligned to the demand for convenience, and just-in-time delivery of individual portions rather than bulk-buying ambient goods (panic buying excepted, of course).

Ecommerce companies – motivated by their margins – are always looking to save weight and costs. Strong, lightweight materials can help – but so too will the convergence of primary and secondary packaging. That is, rather than getting your item inside a box inside a shipping carton (like a Russian doll), the original product box will need to be robust enough to be the only packaging. This will present design challenges in terms of maintaining the integrity of branding, and allowing space for shipping and scanning information.

We want it all – and we want it now

There are have been unprecedented changes to consumer behaviour in 2020 – not all of them voluntary. Some changes, of course, simply mark an intensification of shifts that were already happening.

Convenience is a constant purchase motivator, but there is also a growing focus on personalisation and localisation. Consumers have always identified themselves – and expressed their beliefs – through brand and product choices. Now, they want to be involved in shaping those brands and products. We want things just the way we like them, and we want to be different.

This creates major challenges for both brands and packaging converters as it will lead to a proliferation of SKUs and complication of the supply chain network.

Technology to the rescue

Innovative technology can play a part here. Digital printing allows mass customisation of packaging, while newer communication technologies can help streamline the supply process – up to and including last-mile delivery to consumers. As ecommerce becomes the norm, consumers will feel more comfortable returning items, and ordering big-ticket items online.

This will make track and trace technology more important, which will in turn place demands on packaging designers and converters. There will be a need to incorporated technology such as NFC and RFID to facilitate services such as delivery anywhere, and authorising access for delivery staff into certain parts of consumers’ properties.

Brands will be able to draw on better data feeds to help them plan demand, and will be able to offer consumers the opportunity to collaborate in product and packaging design – the ultimate personalisation service.

As the Internet of Things becomes more established, it won’t just be people placing orders: when fridges start ordering groceries, further integration will be required.

Don’t forget the planet

The suffocating media coverage of the coronavirus has pushed other issues (such as ocean plastics and global warming) out of the headlines. However, these are still of great concern to consumers – especially with a new focus on health and wellness, and a growing understanding of the dire consequences of our exploitation of Nature.

There may be a tension with convenience, but recyclable or biodegradable packaging materials will be in greater demand, as well as clever packaging solutions that can be upcycled after their first use.

Design for the future

Packaging design has never been more important. To help you choose the right materials and incorporate the technology needed to succeed in this changing landscape, talk to Sainsbury Design today. Our agile, innovative approach will position your brand to thrive in these changing times by aligning your packaging with the latest consumer and ecommerce industry demands.

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