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4 Societal Trends and What They Mean for the Future of Food and Bev Packaging

Aug 25, 2021

Written By
Fred Gammon

There will always be product changes and competitor activities that force you to rethink your packaging. As a seasoned CPG brand exec, that’s predictable enough, right?

But there are societal issues and trends a step removed from your direct orbit and your day-to-day that will almost certainly impact how packaging works in the future, too.

If you see these larger influences coming, you can be proactive and adapt your packaging design to suit society’s latest preferences first. Your forethought will earn your brand credibility and leader status — all while your competitors scramble to react just a little too late.

Interested in a taste of sweet, sweet trendsetting victory? Consider four societal trends that will only continue to affect packaging more and more over the coming decade and beyond. Plus we’ll offer some unexpected opportunities they present for your brand.

1. Sustainability and How it Affects Your Packaging Material

You can’t go a day — or even a few hours — without coming across news on climate change. Consumers are rightfully concerned about the future of our suffering planet. Not only that, they want brands and corporations like yours to take part in the conversation around climate change and, importantly, contribute to a solution.

As a result, companies are becoming more sustainable as a way to participate in the moment. As a CPG brand, becoming more sustainable could include changing your packaging material.

Before the 20th century, packaging was merely a utility meant to keep contaminants out of foods. Customers brought their own containers from home to fill while shopping. But then savvy marketers realized packaging could also serve as a sales tool. Suddenly, packaging material was about more than just packaging — it needed to stand out. As a result, glossier, moldable materials capable of holding lots of ink, namely plastics, were in.

The problem? Plastic is anything but sustainable. And consumers are fed up.

The Opportunity for Your Brand

Sustainability is likely to drive packaging technology toward simpler, more easily recycled materials and methods of decoration. Take this as an opportunity to embrace retrograde simplicity and authenticity, and communicate to your consumers that you care about the environment.

You should know that some (though certainly not all) of these sustainable packaging materials are more costly right now — especially the options that mimic plastic. Someday, as more consumers demand sustainable packaging and more CPG brands move to plastic alternatives, the costs will come down.

In the meantime, consider embracing sustainable packaging, regardless of the potentially higher price tag. Your consumers will appreciate your effort and become more loyal to your brand, likely offsetting the added packaging expenses.

Besides, it’s the right thing to do.

Not ready for a big packaging material change yet? Take a page out of Barilla’s book. They simply removed the plastic panel from their pasta packaging so it’s 100% recyclable cardboard instead. Small shift, potentially big impact.

2. Carbon Footprint Reduction’s Marketing Implications

Consumers care about companies reducing their carbon footprint for the same reason they care about sustainability — climate change and the environment.

Your company’s carbon footprint is determined by how much energy and resources it takes to produce your products.

Reducing your carbon footprint may result in a more costly product because it often requires better ingredients with minimal processing and, from a packaging perspective, less plastics.

The Opportunity for Your Brand

You may be wondering: If it costs more money to reduce my food and bev brand’s carbon footprint, where’s the opportunity?

Well, aside from that pesky “right thing to do” thing again, it’s becoming increasingly popular for brands to talk about their carbon footprints as a claim on the front of their packaging. And consumers love it. In fact, there’s a whole number rating system to discover your CPG brand’s carbon footprint and a labelling system to call it out on your pack.

Promoting your low carbon footprint differentiates your product from your competition. It also leads to elevated positioning — you’re made over into an environmentally-conscious brand.

Need evidence? Oatly publishes their carbon footprint, talks openly about their environmental impact, and is totally killing it in the dairy alternative world.

3. Digitally Interactive Packaging Can Attract Mobile-First Customers

For a while now, customers have been most interested in the products in the perimeter store aisles. A lot of products in the middle aisles are ignored, meaning their packaging rarely gets the chance to shine.

And on the off chance a customer is both in the store and in a middle aisle, he probably has his head buried in his phone looking at his shopping list or googling an item. The packaging is overlooked yet again.

In light of society’s shopping preferences and our increasingly digital environment, how can you renew interest in your packaging and, therefore, your products?

The Opportunity for Your Brand

To attract distracted and rushed customers’ attention, add cutting-edge digital elements to your packaging.

We say cutting-edge because the grocery shopping experience has already been digitized through in-store scanners that allow customers to skip the check-out line and QR codes that lead to promos. You’ll need to up the ante from here to be a true trendsetter.

Try inviting customer interaction with your packaging — digitally. Perhaps, in the future, shoppers will scan a QR code on your product and get their FAQs answered. Kind of like asking Siri, but asking your packaging instead. Clever, right?

That’s just one possibility. The overarching idea is that you’ll ingratiate your brand with your customers if you can ideate any novel way to forge digital connection. To meet them where they are — on their smartphones.

4. Ecommerce and Omnichannel Retailing Growth Calls for a Packaging Design Shift

Ecommerce is booming both via online retailers and traditional retailers that now offer expanded shopping options (think delivery, curbside, and in-store pickup). In the CPG industry, it’s gone well beyond Instacart. Almost every grocery store has its own online shopping platform, too.

As a result of the rise of ecommerce, customers aren’t holding your package in their hands as often these days.

You have no choice but to sell your products online. It’s what customers want. It’s where they’re browsing. But how well does your packaging play digitally, without that in-person touch?

The Opportunity for Your Brand

In some ways, it’s harder to design packaging that looks good and performs well online. Most of the time, your product is reduced to a postage stamp-sized image among hundreds of other postage stamp-sized images. Again, customers can’t pick up your pack and read it like they can in-store.

But this article is about opportunities, right?

Don’t think of ecommerce interfaces as limiting to your packaging design options. Instead, think of how well you can tell a story online. Take Amazon for example. You can upload tons of images of your product’s packaging so customers can see every angle. And don’t discount all of the extra descriptive text you can add online that goes above and beyond your packaging’s main claims.

Track These Trends to Emerge as an Industry Leader — with the Hippest Packaging, of Course

Having a long view of up-and-coming societal trends is as vital to your CPG brand’s success as being ready to respond to more obvious near-term threats and opportunities.

And bonus: Your competition might not see it coming. Meaning, with these four trends in mind, you can emerge as a leader and set the tone for how they’ll affect the future of food and beverage packaging.

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