Sustainable. Customizable. Simplistic. Throw-back. Flexible.
These are just some of the buzzwords surrounding today’s packaging. So, what’s in store for the field in the future?
For their third challenge, we asked Anna, Garrett and Eric to gain some insight into what’s trending in packaging now – and what may be in the future.
Read on to see what’s coming!
Anna: What’s Next for the World of Packaging?
The world is changing at an exponential rate and we can do one of two things: dig our feet in or adapt. The packaging industry, like many others, has chosen to adapt to the changes being introduced as the world evolves, grows, and learns. As a result of this, we have seen several trends rise to the surface over the years and we have seen several fade out. A few trends that rose to the surface and continue to grow are sustainable packaging, marketing-focused packaging, and interactive packaging.
Sustainability and eco-friendly are two terms being used to describe and promote packaging that is ideally better for the environment. First, let’s define the words since they are often used interchangeably even though they have different meanings:
- Sustainability is the “quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”
- Eco-friendly is the characteristic of “not being environmentally harmful.” (Dictionary)
Essentially, sustainability is a practice while eco-friendly is a description.
Companies have different interpretations of what sustainability is because some have made the move to more complex polymer-based packaging concepts which may be more sustainable to the environment in the short term. But, what happens to the man-made chemicals, inks, and polymers being used? They have to go somewhere and unfortunately that somewhere is into the environment, whether it’s through production or end of life processes. We don’t know the true repercussions of this; we can only predict. Other companies have made the move back to paper-based packaging that has a more organic concept to it, which is something that is becoming more and more popular with the millennial generation. The paper-based packaging has an impact on the environment in the short term due to the way it is farmed; however, in the longer run, it may have fewer repercussions than polymer-based packaging.
Speaking with two of my packaging peers, Taylor Poss, a junior at University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Kelli Timar, a senior at Michigan State University, reinforced my thinking behind the sustainability trend that continues to grow today. Taylor too believes the increase in complexity of packaging will have long term repercussions on the environment and would like to see companies move back toward paper-based packaging for simplicity and ease on the environment. Kelli brought up the point of recycling the used packaging. She believes the more complex packaging components may prove difficult to recycle; however, says we can continue to work in order to make the packaging materials more recyclable.
There is still a long ways to go in order to truly have sustainable packaging. All we can do is keep working, improving, and monitoring our current and new sustainable packaging and make sure it truly is sustainable and eco-friendly.
Kelli, Taylor, and I believe future packaging trends will include convenience, marketability, interactive, simplistic, and organic packaging. Convenience packaging will be packaging that doesn’t have to be thrown away but can be reused, is easy to use on the go, and easy to store. With people 55 years and older making up more than a quarter of the US population, we will see more user-friendly packaging in order to accommodate a changing population. (United States Demographics)
We will also see an increase in interactive packaging across all age groups. Since Generation X and the millennials are utilizing technology and integrating it more and more into our lives, companies will have to adapt to this change in order to keep our attention and focus. Did you know the average attention span has changed from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015? We now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish! (Watson)
With this sad fact, we will also see more simplistic packaging emerge in order to simplify and clarify needs since we have a much shorter attention span. The companies that jump on the simplicity trend first will most likely gain the loyalty from the customer base.
Garrett: On Trend
Sustainability, customization, simplistic, throw-back designs, and flexible packaging are five buzz words you hear in the innovative packaging industry. Sustainability is boring and it will progress with some new technological advances. Customization was already mastered by Coca-Cola. Simplicity is obvious and outdated. Throw-back is nothing new, with every beer or soda company going back to their classic style can or recipe, nothing new. The real advances will not only effect the packaging of the modern world, but also in the third world countries.
Take PhutureMed as an example of new and exciting. Packaging was developed by two different companies; the first being Palladio, the leader in developing pharmaceuticals, and E Ink Holdings, the world leading innovator of electronic ink technology. The combination of Kraft paperboard and flexible plastic, in combination with electric print, makes this all possible. Based out of Madrid, Spain, the new integrated E Ink display constantly monitors the ambient conditions of the medication, helping to ensure customers can be confident in the quality of the medication. This new E Ink flexible display can also be programmed to record all uses, thus providing an online time log of the medication. The basic design has built in temperature sensors, timer and activation triggers. Using these applications, people can make a log of all events that the package is exposed to in storage, transportation and usage. In the end, this may help make sure medications are safe and not harmed in any part of the distribution channel. This is one of many prime examples you will see in the near future with the upcoming flexible plastic.
Eric: Technology is On Trend
No matter where you look, today’s markets are filled with a plethora of unique packaging designs. Current packaging trends do not only focus on innovation, but also on continuous improvement as well as sustainable and environmentally friendlier solutions. An element that ties these trends together is technology. The advancement of technology has been a leading factor in allowing mere ideas to become reality within hours. During my time in Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) School of Packaging program, while interning in the Packaging Industry, and in speaking with Mr. Nishad Kelkar, a colleague with a broad range of packaging experiences, I have been exposed firsthand to some of today’s significant new packaging trends.
While I have personally focused on food and beverage packaging, Nishad has experience in the Consumer Products, Shipping & Distribution, and Automotive Industries. He has worked as a Teaching Assistant in an engineering design course at MSU, which gave him the opportunity to explore the exciting potential of 3-D printing technology. While discussing packaging trends with him, he strongly emphasized the benefits he sees for companies that embrace the application of this new technology. In the past when companies had an idea, a prototype first needed to be designed. The mock-up was then sent out for conversion into a physical prototype. Not only was this costly, but also very time consuming. With 3D printing technology a design can rapidly be converted into a physical model using a selection of several materials. Not only is this beneficial when presenting ideas to cross-functional teams or focus groups but it can considerably shorten the time needed for designs to be altered and perfected.
The field of packaging is often viewed as design and innovation-driven. However, packaging engineers focus constantly on improving current designs. Reasons for this can stem from cost-saving initiatives, brand maintenance, product extension, and staying ahead of fast-moving trends.
A trend in many industries today is material reduction – or light weighting – of package components. Light weighting has cost-saving benefits, but is also key to reducing the environmental footprint of a product. In today’s world of rapid-fire information delivery, a consumer’s preference can be changed overnight. A brand and its image play a huge role in the consumers’ purchase decisions. Responding positively and quickly to changing consumer preferences can involve changing a marketing approach with the help of a modified package design, size, color, or geometry. Often times this change in customer expectations is related to the sustainability of the materials used in the product, its package, and the delivery method. To align with sustainability trends packaging professionals are constantly evaluating designs featuring non-recyclable materials and investigating more environmentally friendly alternatives. In addition, package designers strive to increase many packages’ life cycles, finding ways for reuse of the package or repurposing of it after its primary use has ended. Examples are returnable packaging components such as collapsible gaylords and returnable dunnage.
Be it innovative solutions and designs aided by the advent of 3-D printing technologies or the pursuit of more resource-friendly, sustainable primary and secondary packaging, the next big trend in how a product gets to market is only the next great, new idea away.
The definition of sustainability. (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2016, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/sustainability
United States Demographics Profile 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2016, from https://www.indexmundi.com/united_states/demographics_profile.html
Watson, L. (n.d.). Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones. Retrieved March 26, 2016, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11607315/Humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smartphones.html