The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the packaging industry.
The industry, which has demonstrated get resilience during the current climate is worth around $900 billion-a-year according to McKinsey. As the world emerges from the debilitating public-health and economic crisis, we anticipate that there will be necessary long-lasting alterations to packaging design approaches.
As we discussed back in August, the pandemic has caused a major shift in consumer buying habits. This change in consumer preferences has made it necessary for brands to rethink their approaches, including their packaging design solutions. It is now more important than ever to not only consider packaging essentials like suitability, functionality and cost, but for packaging meet the criteria three pivotal points.
These new considerations have evolved from an increased focus on consumer-safety, a refocused approach to bettering the world and the enormous surge in online sales channels. The three principles are also very much intertwined:
Point 1: A strong sustainability narrative
Point 2: Ensuring your proposition is e-commerce-appropriate
Point 3: Designing with health& hygiene in mind
With this reorientated approach, it is possible for brands to repurpose their packaging portfolios with creative ideas that provide an improved design solution orientated to today’s consumer.
In order to help companies navigate the future, we have delved into these three key areas that many brands will need to consider improving upon.
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POINT 1: A strong sustainability narrative
Sadly, it is true that there has been less of a focus on packaging substantiality in recent months. This is primarily due to the fact that retailers and brands have had to scramble to ensure they meet consumer demand. However, it still remains a significant industry-shaping trend. Awareness of the plight of our planet has been further raised by David Attenborough’s most recent documentary ‘Extinction:the Facts’, dubbed “compulsory viewing” after it provided harrowing and heart-wrenching wake-up call to many.
Packaging-sustainability goals have not been abandoned by conscientious brands and retailers; many remain committed to achieving goals such as 100% recyclability across their own-brand packaging portfolios, despite COVID-19.
In fact, environmentally-friendly packaging remains “Very important” to 30% of consumers and “Quite important” to 47%, according to a recent survey by HarrisInteractive & The Grocer.
It also highlights that, regarding ‘packaging’, for 39% of consumers, their biggest worry is excessive packaging whilst for 41% it’s un-recyclable packaging.
The EPDA has sited that one outcome of the pandemic is that “single-use” packaging has increased, particularly in the hospitality arena. As restaurants and cafes have reorientated their businesses to cater to virus-aware consumers, single-use plastics (such as sauce sachets)have increased.
Also, consumers within a grocery-store contest are gravitating towards fresh produce packaged in plastic rather than sold loose, as they perceive it to be more hygienic (29% say they’re less comfortable purchasing loose groceries since the pandemic started).
Given that there is now a stronger focus on hygiene than ever before (see point 3) one key element of “new normal” packaging will a sustainability-focused rethink of material usage and physical packaging design requirements.
The easier-to-action route from many includes a move that has minimal impact on operating and capital expenses. This may include eradicating unnecessary packaging, increasing the of recycled content in the packaging substrate and helping communicate a sustainability narrative more efficiently via packaging graphics (i.e.: demonstrating to consumers how best to recycle the packaging).
The second approach is for brands to make more comprehensive improvements, taking into account the full circular economy and environmental impacts of producing packaging materials. This could involve utilising innovative alternatives such as substrates that improve the shelf-life of the food contained or are eco-friendly (i.e.: compostable, biodegradable). It could also involve introducing new structures that are easier to recycle. With the more complicated improvements, partnering with upstream suppliers will likely be required.
It is worth noting that as the majority of consumers undertaking traditional ‘bricks-and-mortar’ retail trips are focused on getting their shops done as quickly as possible, it means that many are gravitating towards brands they know and trust rather than browsing for alternatives.
This means a radical reconsideration of applied packaging graphics for secondary and tertiary brands. may be in order, particularly for challenger brands. A rethink needs to include providing a prominent and memorable identity (that performs both tangibly and onscreen) with prominent messaging regarding the brand’s sustainability efforts.
POINT 2: Ensuring your proposition is e-commerce-appropriate
As a result of the surge in home-delivery orders, consumers have dramatically increased their digital engagement, resulting in a spike in e-commerce traffic.
According to Statista, e-commerce was already booming before COVID-19, with sales hitting more than $3.5trillion. Projections show that this is expected to reach a mind-boggling $6.5trillion by 2022.
Worldwide, there’s been a 20% increase in e-commerce sales since the pandemic hit. In the UK, pre-COVID-19, online grocery purchases had a marketshare on around 7-8%. This has now increased to around 11.5% of all grocery sales. And a similar pattern has been replicated all across the world.
This reorientation of consumer shopping habits will have huge implications for packaging design as most of today’s packaging has been augmented for traditional brick and mortar requirements, not online shopping and shipping.
This means it is more important than ever for packaging to accommodate the rigours of transportation and the inevitable consumer un-boxing. Many brands will need to undertake an update of their packaging to ensure it is optimised for e-commerce.
Among other points, brands should be strongly considering: damage-prevention, designing convenient packaging that allows for easy returns and making sure the consumer un-packing experience is enjoyable and meets expectations.
POINT 3: Design with health & hygiene in mind
Consumer awareness of hygiene and safety has increased radically and this focus will likely persist for long after the effects of the pandemic have subsided.
It is frightening to many that it is possible to contract COVID-19 from food packaging. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) comments on its website: "It may be possible that a person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it”. If people are particularly concerned advice from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is to store products for 72 hours before using them or “spray and wipe plastic or glass containers with bleach [that is carefully diluted as directed on the bottle]”
To protect their consumers, retailers have been applying, and continue to enforce new safety and hygiene measures to protect their consumers such as ensuring face masks are worn by consumers and staff, limiting shoppers within stores and more. Given this heightened concern about hygiene, we predict that it will have a profound and long-lasting impact on packaging design and functionality.Several factors should be considered by forward-thinking packaging manufacturers and the brands they service. These include:
1. Ensuring the virus cannot survive
One packaging development that COVID-19 may command is the manufacture of antibacterial/antiviral materials. These would help consumers to feel safer about picking up products that others have been in contact with.
We have already seen antiviral materials being used on items like payment cards, so it is possible that antiviral/antibacterial packaging may become commonplace in the near future.
2. Develop new delivery mechanisms
Consumer demand for convenience has already sparked develop mention advanced packaging closers and delivery systems that promote on-the-go consumption.This includes easy opening and closing of single-use packs (like energy-gel pouches).
For example, are canned beverage brands currently suffering? How do brands weigh up the benefits (i.e.: better recyclability than plastic bottles)and the perceived negatives (i.e.: consumers potentially drinking straight from a potentially contaminated can)?
Packaging design that allows for consumers to peel off a lid and put their mouth to a container or packet, knowing that they are the only human to have been in contact with this surface would appeal to many now. For example, people may be uneasy about consuming a beverage directly from a traditional can and prefer a removable foil lid (like San Pellegrino cans) or a sports-style bottle with a concealed spout that is widely considered to be more hygienic. Considerations like this would reassure the growing number of consumers with hygiene concerns.
3. Tamper-proof packaging
Another issue to address to improve consumer confidence would be to provide enhanced tamper-proof packaging. This would ensure protection against contamination, particularly on food and beverage packaging and could be as simple as a paper seal or more complex, like a Stanpac’s SecurTEC snap band system.
However, in order to address the first issue we raised, sustainability, it will be vitally important for brands to do this without creating excessive packaging waste.
The implementation of graphics and printed information could also improve consumer perception of products, reassuring them that they are safe.
Whilst recent events have taught us that it is impossible to predict the future, we can prepare for uncertainty and evolve packaging design approaches to meet consumer concerns today.
Brands that respect consumer concerns and ensure their packaging strategies have addressed the needs on the online channel, sustainability and hygiene (as well as the obvious fundamentals like cost, performance and convenience)will undoubtably come out on top.
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