Between the continued acceleration of online deliveries, and the loud call of COP26, in 2021 had never been more aware of the role packaging plays in our world. But what have we learnt, and how will this influence packaging trends over the next year?
1. Inclusive packaging helps brands walk the walk
Brands can talk the talk, but unless they create packaging that everyone can easily open and use, then they’re not really doing it at all. Thankfully, a plethora of launches last year suggest that creating more widely accessible product packaging will be higher on brands’ agendas in 2022.
By way of example, in January 2021, McDonald’s collaborated with designers in India to offer EatQual - a recyclable tool that allows their guests to comfortably eat with one hand.
And in November, Olay unveiled a limited edition of its popular face cream that provides easier assistance with a wide-grip winged lid and braille on the top. From later this year, Kellogg’s are introducing NaviLens QR codes to its cereal boxes to provide audio descriptions to the visually impaired.
The past couple of years have proven more than ever that we must look after one another. It’s very positive to see brands not only saying they care about these issues, but taking tangible steps to make life easier for all of their customers. It’s beautiful thinking like this that builds meaningful relationships, after all.
2. DTC commerce drives sustainable innovation
The performance of Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) commerce has catapulted in the past two years, with statistics reporting 10 years of ecommerce growth across just 90 days at the height of the pandemic. This is spawning more intelligent packaging designs that ensure safe transport, whilst keeping financial and environmental costs low.
One such trend is lightweighting, where brands replace heavy plastic wrapping and gift boxes with more minimal options. So, for example the thickness of a bottle may be reduced as much as a manufacturer could possibly get away with.
The reduced weight and material is obviously better for the environment. Shipping costs are reduced, which is great for consumers – but also for the Brand Owners EPR commitments, it reduces their tax liabilities.
It’s especially positive to see brands from the luxury sector, who would usually opt for more elaborate packaging options, making use of this trend. Champagne house Ruinart has already switched to using cardboard in creative ways because it is lighter, and malleable, but can still indicate quality.
I anticipate that the UK Government's new plastic packaging tax, arriving in April 2022, will act as another catalyst for positive change in this direction, particularly in the cosmetics sector.
3. Hygiene concerns derail sustainability
Then there is hygiene. Consumers are increasingly concerned about who has handled products – mostly in store, but also with online deliveries. Many people are worried about contamination, despite there being little evidence of Covid-19 being transmitted via packaging or food.
This has had a negative impact on sustainability efforts, overall. Raw materials, especially plastics – rather than as hoped, have gone up in demand and down in cost. This is partly down to PPE and sanitiser production. But mostly - and this is an odd anomaly – due to the reduction in air travel, leaving the petrochemical industry with a surplus of oil. As a result, raw plastic manufacturing is ramping up.
Many retailers switched back to single-use plastic wrapping in order to temper hygiene concerns. Not only this, but because cardboard is now being prioritised for online deliveries, customers have become used to purchasing their baked goods and everyday produce wrapped in plastic. This has resulted in 14% less consumers supporting the ban of plastic in food packaging.
In 2022, it’s possible we will see more tamper evident packaging and fresh produce in sealed packaging. On the flipside – the combination of the two could drive more innovation. After all, trends are mostly driven by consumer behaviour, and while hygiene has been high on the agenda for the past couple of years, I’d argue that more people are concerned about the fate of the planet.
Consumers continue to influence packaging decisions
Overall, it’s been a positive year for packaging innovation, despite obvious, continued concerns around health and safety. I look forward to observing how these trends continue to influence brands over the coming year, and in turn, the packaging bottom line.
By Robin Munden, Production Manager at Free The Birds