4 packaging trends from Mintel

Technology, e-commerce and the plastics issue are influencing this area in 2019.

1 April 2019

1. Connected packaging

With the growth in devices from mobiles, computers, tablets and even voice-activated speakers and the advancement in technologies that link packaging to the online world, there is a renewed interest in this area.

Brands have a wealth of options to connect virtually with packaging – from QR codes and other graphic markers to near field communication, radio frequency identification, Bluetooth and augmented reality, said David Luttenberger, global packaging director at Mintel.

“A vital link between physical and digital shopping worlds, brands can capitalise on connected packaging to influence how they are viewed online, together with delivering engaging content and product-specific information to directly influence purchasing decisions,” he explained.

2. Closing the loop

While brands have been quick to shout about committing to recyclable materials or ensuing their packaging is recyclable, the reality is few have yet to fully consider how, where, and who will be supplying and recycling these materials, according to Mintel.

In fact, though recyclable packaging claims have become common – including companies turning to third parties like TerraCycle to help – claims to include recycled content are still rare.

“Low availability of high-quality recycled plastic and concerns over food safety are hampering the use of recycled material in food and drink,” commented Luttenberger. “And while recycling may be second nature to some, inconvenience and confusion surrounding recycling are a barrier for others.”

But with the option to ship packaging waste off-shore and out of sight scuppered as other countries realise the impact of plastics, there is likely to be fast improvements in recycling facilities, predicted Luttenberger.

“This will drive up capacity for high-quality recycled material,” he said. “Going forward, brands have an opportunity to ride consumer awareness of recycling issues by being part of the solution and committing to using recycled material in new packaging.” 

3. Reinventing the box

As the UK ranked second in the world for embracing e-commerce, this area has had more of an impact on the design of packaging globally than anything the industry has experienced in the past several decades. There are now limitless opportunities for brand marketers to think about the next generation of shelf presence, the 'hero images' on retailers' websites, and the 'unboxing' experience, said Luttenberger.

“In e-commerce, brands are learning that messaging and branding should be split between the shipping container and the interior of the box – with the latter incorporating elements that give consumers a sense of delight and surprise when opening the parcel,” he commented.

While most consumers currently prefer to buy groceries in-store instead of online, the convenience of purchasing online will eventually spill over into food and drink, he added.

“Only through an established e-commerce packaging strategy can brands design packs for the worst-case distribution scenario,” he said. “Meanwhile, there will be huge financial, social, and brand equity gains to be made in the e-commerce packaging arena just by exploiting elements of package optimisation rooted in sustainability.” 

4. Plastic-free

Enter the Blue Planet effect, which brought into sharp focus marine plastic pollution as one of the world’s most serious environmental problems.

Some companies are already embracing new opportunities to show consumers they are proactively addressing this issue such as plastic-free aisles at Thornton’s Budgens, package-free stores and alternative pack materials.

But these incentives are not without their own challenges, acknowledged Luttenberger. “While plastic-free aisles reflect consumer exhaustion with excess plastic packaging, in reality, few would want to lose the convenience and benefits plastic packaging can bring,” he said. “And while the term 'plastic-free' may appear to be a simple one, there is no universal definition; even plastic-free packaging often includes plant-based plastics, showing the lack of clarity in the plastic-free call.”

Brands should act now, urged Luttenberger, either to implement plastic-free zones by switching to acceptable pack materials or by engaging with the debate and clearly explaining the benefits of plastic packaging to their product, as well as addressing plastic pollution concerns with appropriate end of life pack solutions.

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