The last few decades have seen the packaging industry go from strength to strength. Packaging is now an essential marketing tool for growth, not just a means of keeping products secure in transit.
Essential factors such as consumer demand, environmental and economical factors are becoming more and more significant to the performance of the packaging industry. McKinsey reports that sustainability and digital (particularly E-commerce) not only create challenges for the industry, but also extensive opportunity.
A sustainable future for packaging:
Between 2009-2020, waste mass generated from packaging rose by 20% in the EU. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive stipulates measures to prevent the production of packaging waste, and to promote reuse of packaging and recycling and other forms of recovering packaging waste. It also sets out the requirements that all packaging placed on the EU market must meet. Designed to cut down the disposal of packaging waste and ensuring all packaging is reusable or recyclable in an economically feasible way by 2030. It has also been designed to tackle over packaging and reduction of waste in packaging.
Alternatives to packing:
Because of the above, many alternatives to packaging without the use of fossil fuel have started to gain momentum. For instance the rise of non food crops like cellulose (an insoluble substance which is the main constituent of plant cell walls and of vegetable fibres such as cotton, it is a polysaccharide consisting of chains of glucose monomers) and seaweed in order to address the problem of plants for bioplastics conflicting with food production.
Packing from Paper:
Although we anticipate an industry move to fiber based products from plastics, we don’t expect it to happen any time soon. Instead we see are currently witnessing companies such as Nestle, Mars and Heinz moving to their own paper based lines, such as the paper bottle, which is moving closer to full commercialisation. Other companies who are at the forefront of change, switching from plastic to paperboard bottles and packaging are Diageo, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Heineken UK. In fact Heineken will abolish more than 517 tons of plastic per year by replacing the plastic rings connecting their cans with a cardboard topper which holds packs together.
Transforming the Industry:
The EU Packaging Regulation aims to reduce packaging waste, boost recycling practices, and promote the use of recycled materials in packaging to align with their goal of creating a low carbon circular economy. The newly proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) is expected to change the landscape significantly.
The key conditions are as follows:
- Achieving recyclability and increased recycling: All packaging should be recyclable by 2030, with “at scale” recycling expected by 2035.
- Encouraging the use of recycled materials: By 2030 and 2040, new plastic packaging must incorporate recycled material to contribute to a circular economy.
- Promoting reuse and refill: Certain types of packaging must be reusable or enable refill options by 2030 and 2040.
- Banning specific packaging: Some forms of packaging will face bans to reduce waste.
- Reducing packaging waste: A 15% reduction per capita in packaging waste is targeted by 2040, compared to a 2018 baseline.
Ecommerce shaping the future of packaging:
E-commerce is playing a transformative role in shaping the future of packaging, driven by changing consumer behaviors, technological advancements, and sustainability concerns. E-com has created a surge in the amount of individual shipments. In 2021 online sales rose by over 17% and 7.1% in 2022, and are expected to continue to rise quickly. This means packaging suppliers, such as UPAC, must continue to work increasingly hard to provide online retailers with both the quantity and quality of (potentially) recycled or sustainable packaging.
With that in mind, businesses like ours are making significant changes to our offering, in particular our growing second hand box business, recyclable and biodegradable packaging options. We are developing designs that maximise space utilisation for our customers products, reduce package weight, and offer easy handling for logistics and distribution centers.
Furthermore, e-commerce allows businesses to collect data on consumer preferences and behaviors, enabling personalised packaging experiences. Customised packaging with personalised messages or designs has helped create deeper connections with customers, enhancing brand loyalty. Customisation also allows for businesses to optimize the size of their packaging, reducing material waste and shipping costs. Right sized packaging also contributes to sustainability efforts, aligning with increasing consumer demands for eco-friendly practices.
Businesses in the UK are increasingly investing in custom packaging solutions to harness the benefits of personaliSation in e-commerce. Customisation is driving innovation in the packaging industry, encouraging companies to explore new design possibilities, sustainable practices, and technology integration to create unique and impactful packaging experiences for their customers.
The Future of Packaging:
The packaging industry is undergoing a transformation. Today, packaging isn’t just about containing and protecting products; it plays a vital role in sustainability, convenience, and branding. As we look ahead, several key trends are poised to shape the future of packaging, revolutionising the way we package and consume products.
- Sustainable Packaging
One of the most significant trends driving the future of packaging is sustainability. Consumers are demanding eco-friendly solutions, and businesses are responding by adopting sustainable packaging practices. This includes reducing single-use plastics, using recyclable or compostable materials, and minimising packaging waste. Innovations like plant-based plastics, edible packaging, and reusable containers are becoming more mainstream, helping reduce the environmental impact of packaging.
- Smart Packaging
With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), packaging is becoming smarter than ever. Smart packaging integrates technology to provide consumers with real-time information about products. This includes QR codes for detailed product information, freshness indicators to prevent food waste, and even interactive packaging that engages customers through augmented reality. These innovations enhance the consumer experience and create new marketing opportunities.
- Minimalist Design
Minimalism is not just a design trend; it’s also becoming a packaging trend. Brands are simplifying their packaging designs to convey a sense of transparency, authenticity, and sustainability. Minimalist packaging uses fewer materials and focuses on essential information, creating a cleaner and more visually appealing look. This trend aligns with the desire for less waste and more straightforward, honest product presentation.
Consumers are increasingly seeking personalised experiences, and packaging is no exception. Brands are using data-driven insights to create customised packaging, tailored to individual preferences and needs. This personal touch not only enhances brand loyalty but also reduces waste by providing consumers with precisely what they want.
- E-commerce-Friendly Packaging
The growth of e-commerce has changed the way products are packaged and shipped. Packaging needs to be designed to withstand the rigors of online shipping while also providing a positive unboxing experience for customers. E-commerce-friendly packaging includes features like tamper-evident seals, easy opening, and eco-friendly materials that reduce shipping costs and environmental impact.
- Anti-Counterfeiting Measures
Counterfeit products pose a significant threat to brand integrity and consumer safety. To combat this, packaging is evolving to incorporate advanced anti-counterfeiting technologies, such as holograms, RFID tags, and tamper-proof seals. These measures not only protect brands but also provide consumers with confidence in the authenticity of the products they purchase.
- Convenience and Portability
Consumers are leading increasingly busy lives, and packaging needs to cater to their on-the-go lifestyles. Single-serve packaging, resealable pouches, and portion-controlled packaging are gaining popularity, providing convenience and reducing food waste. Easy-to-open and resealable packaging also enhances product freshness and longevity.
The future of packaging is being shaped by a combination of consumer preferences, technological advancements, and sustainability imperatives. Sustainable packaging practices, smart packaging solutions, minimalist design, personalisation, e-commerce optimisation, anti-counterfeiting measures, and convenience-oriented designs are all driving forces in the packaging industry.
To stay competitive and meet the evolving needs of consumers, businesses must adapt to these key trends. As the packaging landscape continues to evolve, it will be fascinating to see how innovation and sustainability intersect to create a more efficient, environmentally friendly, and consumer-centric packaging industry. Packaging is no longer just about containing products; it’s a crucial part of the overall consumer experience and an integral element of brand identity in the 21st century.