Four Packaging Trends to Watch in the Era of COVID-19

Topics:
Packaging Sustainability
Posted by Joshua Oleson

COVID-19 has introduced tremendous uncertainty to virtually every aspect of modern life. While businesses are starting to reopen, social distancing is still in effect and timing on a vaccine is uncertain. I firmly believe that retail businesses can survive disruptions and prosper in the long run if they understand the factors currently impacting the packaging industry. In this post, I’ll share some of my insights about recent trends and which ones I think are here to stay.

Trend #1: Demand for contact-less delivery is driving increases in packaging.

With more people making online purchases, use of shipping boxes has spiked. The industry is also seeing an uptick in the use of carry-out bags, cup carriers, and other packaging as brands turn to “contact-less” delivery. Packaging for pre-packed home meal kits are also getting a big boost while dine-in eating and attendance at theaters and stadiums are on the decline.

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. I expect some reduction in the use of delivery packaging once people resume public life, but we might not see a return to pre-COVID levels.

Trend #2: Businesses are turning to automated processes.

To remain in operation, businesses are looking for ways to reduce human-to-human 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. Automation was a growing trend prior to COVID-19, and I believe it will play a growing role in the packaging industry once the coronavirus is contained, provided it can be properly implemented.

Trend #3: Concerns over COVID-19 are increasing demand for secure, hygienic packaging.

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 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 tremendous peace of mind. In the meantime, we’ll see an elevated demand for security and hygienic packaging done in a sustainable way.

Trend #4: Single-use packaging is on trend for now, but reusable packaging is primed for a comeback.

Consumer concerns over COVID-19 have prompted some brands to ban reusable, personal packaging in favor of single-use disposables. I think we’ll continue to focus on portability and containment solutions like carry-out bags, meal bundles, and other types of secondary packaging, in the near-term. However, I anticipate an eventual return and focus to reusable packaging due to consumer desire for sustainable solutions and regulatory pressures to limit the use of single-use materials.

With so much in a state of flux right now, businesses and consumers are looking for stability and continuity. Knowing which packaging trends are likely to stick around is one way to find some much-needed predictability and plan for future success.

By Josh Oleson, VP, Sustainability, Innovation, and Packaging Development

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Topics: Packaging, Sustainability

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