Exploring The Changing Role Of Packaging In The Recovery
If you’re hoping that consumers will start buying more products again, don’t overlook the importance of the packaging those products come in. That’s one of the take-aways from an interview The HighCare Factor recently held with Josh Oleson, VP, Sustainability, Innovation, and Packaging Development at HAVI.
Here, Josh shares his insights into recent packaging trends and identifies the ones he thinks are here to stay into the next normal.
THCF: First things first, how optimistic are you that there will be a rise in consumer demand any time soon?
Josh: It's important to acknowledge the extent to which Covid-19 has introduced enormous uncertainty to almost every aspect of modern life. While businesses are starting to reopen, social distancing rules are still in place and timing on a vaccine is uncertain. However, we strongly believe that retail businesses can survive the uncertainty and achieve long-term success as long as they understand the factors currently impacting on the packaging industry.
THCF: Are you saying that packaging trends also highlight trends in the wider retail sector?
Josh: Well, look at a difference the increasing popularity of online shopping is making. For a start, the trend has caused a rise in the use of shipping boxes. The industry is also seeing an increase in the use of carry-out bags, cup carriers, and other packaging as brands turn to contactless deliveries. In addition, packaging for pre-packed home meal kits is enjoying a boom while the number of people dining in at restaurants or going to theaters and stadiums is falling.
Consumers will eventually return to the movies, sporting events, and their favorite restaurants. However, people have come to appreciate the convenience of e-commerce and home delivery. We expect some reduction in the use of delivery packaging once the pandemic passes. But we might not see a return to pre-lockdown levels. THCF: Is Covid-19 likely to bring about equally significant changes in packaging processes?
Josh: We believe so, and the key trend here is automation. To stay open, businesses are looking for ways to reduce person-to-person interactions and that includes automating packaging processes. These processes will need to work seamlessly to facilitate automation - and to enable businesses to make this shift in the first place.
Of course, automation was a growing trend before Covid-19. We believe it will still play a growing role in the packaging industry once the coronavirus is contained - provided it can be properly implemented.
THCF: Safety and hygiene are two concerns that risen to the top of people's priority lists since the pandemic broke. How is the packaging industry responding?
Josh: To date, we haven’t yet had any reports of individuals contracting Covid-19 from packaging, but some consumers worry about these materials as a potential source of transmission. To address their concerns, manufacturers are exploring the feasibility of placing antimicrobial films on screens for kiosks and point of sale order systems.
If the industry ever develops a coating material that eliminates the coronavirus on contact, that could bring consumers enormous peace of mind. Meanwhile, we'll see a higher demand for security and hygienic packaging produced in a sustainable way.
THCF: Single-use packaging is on trend for now, but is reusable packaging ready for a comeback?
Josh: Consumer concerns over Covid-19 have prompted some brands to ban reusable, personal packaging in favor of single-use disposables. In the near-term, it's likely that we will continue to focus on portability and containment solutions like carry-out bags, meal bundles, and other types of secondary packaging. However, we anticipate our focus will eventually go back to reusable packaging. This is because of consumer demand for sustainable solutions and regulatory pressures that limit the use of single-use materials.
With so much change happening right now, businesses and consumers are looking for stability and continuity. Knowing which packaging trends are likely to stay around is one way to find some much-needed predictability and plan for future success.
Contributing Author: Joshua Oleson