It’s the season for Packaging Trends!

Towards the end of any year we have an avalanche of Packaging Trends and annual summaries coming in through the mailbox. Then at the end of a decade the number of summaries is doubled as we get both the Greatest Hits from 2019 and Top of the Pops from the last 10 years.

Please misunderstand me correctly, I like lists like everybody else, it’s just that the structure doesn’t necessary bring more clarity. The industry is wide and diverse and it’s hard to find the distinct trends, without obvious and significant contradictions.

First of all it’s not easy to define trends that are so general that they cover the industry, but yet specific enough to be interesting. The packaging industry is a complex one with many examples of conflicting developments and where few lines point in one and the same direction. Some are for example moving from plastics for sustainability reasons, at the same time others are moving into plastics to minimise greenhouse gasses. All depending on perspective.

The below are examples of real trends that are happening right now and are both general and specific enough but even so containing contradictions.

Plastics We can conclude that the main trend is towards using less plastics. There is clearly an increased demand for no-plastic, less-plastic, some-plastic and bio-plastic solutions. The reasons vary and are unfortunately not always fact based. The trend has got quite some media coverage and the SUP directive was recently voted through in the European Parliament to be implemented already in 2021. This is leading to intense activity to find viable alternatives to single use plastic items.

At the same time Amazon makes a shift from fibre-based shippers to plastic bags. A decision that could inspire and set a trend for the rest of the industry. Amazon refers to environmental benefits to back the decision, reduced consumption of energy and natural resources during production, reduced CO2 emissions, and fewer vehicles required during transportation.

Less Packaging The general trend is in one way towards using thinner material and less material, to save both the environment and cost. Some consumers are loudly demanding less packaging, but consumers are also increasingly shopping online.

E-commerce is fast growing on a global scale and is bringing on change for all involved in FMCG trading. One of these changes is that products are often distributed as single units or in combination with random other products. As opposed to traditional retailing when products are safely sent around in a tray or case sitting on a pallet. The result is that products in general needs more and protective packaging to arrive safely to destination.

Recyclable Or reusable or refillable or returnable, or even compostable…? We are certain that we want more recyclable packaging to be used. But first of all, we need the infrastructure to collect, handle and recycle the used packaging. Then it is really up to the individual consumer to use the system.

An alternative to throw away packaging waste is to return and refill the emptied packaging. Just like in the old days and Loop is a new concept on this path. Here a few of the leading global food and beverage manufacturers are joining forces with global recycling organization TerraCycle to create a circular shopping platform. 

Consumers order products that get delivered in a shipping tote instead of a box. Goods arrive in durable, reusable or fully recyclable packaging made from materials such as alloys, glass, and engineered plastics. Once the products are used, customers place empties back into the tote, schedule a free pick-up, and the system makes sure the products get automatically replenished. Brilliant.

Packaging is a traditional industry, that needs fresh ideas. In contradicting times, in particular, you need a steady stream of fresh ideas. Standing still is probably the worst option.

So, I wish you all a very happy and fast moving 2020.

Drivers III – Expedient, lenient and Convenient

The constantly increasing consumer demand for more convenient solutions to everything is clearly visible also in the world of packaging. The perceived time scarcity from longer working hours and the ambition to fill up our lives with even more activities creates a demand for convenient every-day solutions, where packaging have a significant role to play.

Consumers want a packaging solution that is handy to open, use and then close again. This is underlined by increased consumption while on-the-go. We seem to want to save more and more time by eating, drinking, grooming, etc while we are away from home.

The packaging opportunity is to supply the industry with portion sized packaging, preferably made to operate with one hand. It also has got be a light weight one, easy to grip and that stands by itself and does not tip easily. It has got to be easy to carry around and to dose from and it should be thought through how to dispose the empty packaging.

Or simply more convenient packaging, because we want to consume more in our cars, in our offices, while commuting, outdoors or simply on-the-go.

Drivers II – The ageing population

There is getting more of us on this planet and we are getting older. There is no doubt that the world’s population is getting older. The hard facts for the world as a whole are a steep rise in median age from 24 in 1950, 27 in 2000, up to 38 in 2050. In the developed countries, according to the UN, the overall median age was 29 in 1950 and is forecast to rise to 46 by 2050. This is a global trend even if it is more stressed in the developed countries.

According to surveys the “over 50s” are now the most fitness conscious age-group. But on the other hand around 50% of this group have a condition that makes handling of packaging difficult and often painful!

The news here is that this ageing population will have the critical mass to create a significant demand for a range of improvements to meet their new needs. From a packaging point of view they will call for containers that are easier to handle, with better ergonomics. This is much about how to use a container, focus is on how to open and close it but also pouring and gripping etc. Older people with limited eye sight will need packaging with labels that are readable, or somehow conveys a clear and readable message.

This requires innovative new packaging but is a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities for the industry.

Drivers I – Consumer purchasing power

One of the strongest drivers for consumer packaging demand is the actual purchasing power in a market. It is a fact that for consumption of consumer goods to take off in a market, a certain GDP/capita hurdle needs to be cleared, normally around $1.000. There is also a clear link between consumer purchasing power and the number of packs used per capita. The number of packaging units used and the amount of money spent on consumer products increase steadily with the average GDP/capita for a given country or market. The graph below shows how packaging used per capita increases with an increasing level of GDP/capita.

Not only more but also better packaging with better functions and a thought through design are demanded in the developed markets. Consumers are prepared to pay for packaging features that adds convenience and for a more sophisticated design. The bottle of washing up liquid will sit there on the kitchen counter for a while and to have a nice looking one can make a difference and add value to the consumer.

The purchase power is increasing steadily in most markets of the world and is expected to continue to do so again after the effects of the recession.