Packaging Trends 2021

9 Packaging Trends to Watch for in 2021

Posted on January 20th, 2021 / Jesse Drori / , , , / Packaging
  1. Consumers will remain cautious about food safety
  2. Growth in e-commerce will create more demand for envelopes
  3. E-commerce makes tamper-evident packaging worth it
  4. More measures to protect consumers against fraud and counterfeiting
  5. More demand for flexible packaging
  6. Packaging enriches the customer experience
  7. Expect to see further advances in smart packaging
  8. Environmental concerns are making a comeback
  9. The necessary evolution of the buyer-supplier relationship

Last year was such a tumultuous year. Who would dare to make packaging predictions about 2021?

No one could have anticipated the extent of COVID-19’s impact on the world. And yet, it has completely upended our lifestyles. All sectors have been deeply affected, including the packaging industry.

The goal here isn’t to predict the future, but to reflect on the repercussions of the changes brought about by the virus. Because, even if no business is immune to surprises, by understanding upcoming trends we will be able to seize new opportunities.

Consumers will remain cautious about food safety

Uber Eats, DoorDash, SkipTheDishes… Today, consumers have so many options to eat in the comfort of their home. Some restaurants and grocery stores have even launched their own delivery service.

But the question of food contamination quickly arose. How do you know if someone has tampered with your food?

You may remember that at the very start of the pandemic, Pizza Pizza came up with its proprietary tamper-proof pizza box. Many restaurants, grocers and meal delivery services have followed suit with tamper-proof labels to reassure consumers.

These precautionary measures will probably remain in place long after the end of the health crisis.

Growth in e-commerce will create more demand for envelopes

Several studies have shown that customers expect to receive online orders in less than one business day. They also prefer brands that offer free shipping.

In this context, brands have to choose the most cost-efficient packaging for express delivery while also protecting products from damage or tampering.

Corrugated boxes, bags and envelopes (padded or unpadded) are often the preferred methods to protect shipments, but it all depends on the dimensions, weight, fragility and value of the product.

Boxes are ideal when the product is fragile, heavy or bulky. However, it is generally faster and cheaper to mail an envelope than a box. Envelopes, to a certain extent, also reduce the risk of theft. An envelope can be left in a letterbox, while packages are usually left outside the door.

For all these reasons, envelopes are often better suited to e-commerce requirements than boxes.

E-commerce makes tamper-evident packaging worth it

Similarly, the acceleration of the e-commerce trend has revived retailers’ interest in tamper-evident packaging.

While tamper-evident packaging isn’t new, the direct-to-consumer model has prompted retailers to rethink how they package products ordered online.

Individual packages go through more touchpoints than products that leave the warehouse for direct delivery to brick-and-mortar stores, thus providing more opportunities for unauthorized access.

Also, while retailers may accept a certain level of inventory shrinkage—let’s say less than 1%—the volume of online sales is now such that the cost of tamper-evident packing tape or tamper-evident courier bags is negligeable compared to the cost of lost merchandise. While tamper-evident solutions do not eliminate theft entirely, they serve as a visual deterrent.

More measures to protect consumers against fraud and counterfeiting

True, counterfeiting has always existed, but e-commerce is making it easier for criminals, to the point that online sellers could be held responsible. In March 2020, the U.S. Congress introduced the SHOP SAFE ACT in an attempt to protect consumers.

Meanwhile some marketplaces have taken the lead to reassure consumers. eBay launched eBay Authenticate to guarantee the authenticity of luxury watches sold for $2,000 or more and sneakers priced at $150 or more. Other products may soon be eligible.

This type of initiative creates new expectations among customers and inspires other brands to take action to curb counterfeiting.

More demand for flexible packaging

Flexible packaging was already one of the fastest growing segments of the packaging industry. And everything indicates the trend will continue in 2021 and beyond.

This is due to the convergence of several factors.

Understandably, hygiene and safety concerns are driving demand for food packed in individual packages such as bags and pouches.

Furthermore, flexible packaging makes it easier to transport certain items, thus making it more suitable for the e-commerce direct-to-consumer sales model.

Packaging enriches the customer experience

For a long time, retailers have relied on the in-store experience to make their brand memorable. But the accelerating adoption of e-commerce has forced them to reconsider the importance of shipping boxes, padded mailers, bags and envelopes to the brand’s image.

When a customer receives a product at home, the first thing they see is the packaging. And you rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression. Damaged or opened packages can have disastrous consequences for the brand.

Suitable packaging protects products from damages and tampering attempts. It also makes packages or envelopes easy or even fun to open.

Expect to see further advances in smart packaging

As consumers become more technologically savvy, you can expect more brands to introduce augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) elements into their packaging to create immersive experiences for their products.

This allows customers to interact with or virtually try on your products. It also provides the opportunity to better educate customers about your product’s benefits or to increase engagement with interactive stories.

That said, smart packaging has the potential to solve so many other problems.

RFID tags and QR codes are now commonly used to improve identification and traceability throughout the supply chain. This enables businesses to strengthen quality control systems and to react quickly to potential problems.

Similarly, the food and beverage industry is well aware of the advantages of using sensors in food packaging to reduce food waste. Soon, you’ll receive an alert on your phone when frozen food has not been stored at the right temperature or when the milk’s expiration date is fast approaching.

The possibilities are endless.

Environmental concerns are making a comeback

Before the Coronavirus outbreak, sustainable packaging was a major trend. Eco-friendly buyers would eagerly bring reusable cups to Starbucks or buy from brands that had taken a pledge to implement more sustainable practices.

Unfortunately, the health measures imposed by the pandemic have forced companies to suspend such initiatives.

Worse, in some cases protective measures have come at the expense of the environment. The proliferation of individual packaging will probably create more waste, at least in the short term.

Yet, customers shouldn’t have to choose between their health and protecting the environment. Brands that come up with innovations to successfully reconcile the two will come out ahead.

The necessary evolution of the buyer-supplier relationship

When the economic climate is uncertain, companies tend to be extra cautious.

Many retailers have been hit hard by mandatory store closures. They face more cost pressure than before, and will attempt to pass it down the supply chain.

This reactive approach makes sense when you treat suppliers as just vendors. However, 2020 taught us that in times of crisis, adaptability offers a greater payoff.

As the packaging industry keeps evolving, suppliers and clients need to commit to each other’s success and form true partnerships if they want to take advantage of future opportunities.

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