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Top 10 trends shaping packaging for 2010

by John Mahaffie and Jennifer Jarratt, Leading Futurists LLC

1. Copenhagen consequences: the push to limit carbon emissions will continue to impact packaging with expanding attention to carbon miles inputs, resources use, and feedstocks. In 2010, manufacturers will begin to talk seriously about carbon sequestration and what they can do, individually and collectively, to promote sequestration as a way to offset carbon from production and consumption of their goods. So far, packaging has plucked the low-hanging fruit of easier lo-carbon adaptations. The next decade will demand bigger changes in processes and systems.

2. Packaging embraces the power of digital printing. Digital printing allows shorter runs, more SKU variation for products and their packaging, and customization, and can save money, reduce inventories, allow more rapid marketing action, and help move products more flexibly. Longer term, DP will overturn conventional approaches. Already printing’s role in produce-on-demand is creating new in-store one-to-one manufacturing in customizable products, such as books, game discs, and ice cream. Look out for even bigger changes as digital printing and production flexes muscle!

3. Design” is the new creativity-there is new and growing respect for design in packaging strategymaking. But design isn’t just for engineers, important though they are. Design has to “care” and to appeal to all the new attitudes in the marketplace. Design thinking will be applied to creating tools for developing sustainability, as well as in pulling together teams that can apply sustainable design ideas across many product lines. Given these fresh demands, packaging firms may discover shortages of truly innovative designers in the packaging sector.

4. Hybrid is the new strategy: borrowing a “frame” from the auto industry to describe taking the best and/or greenest aspects of two or more packaging staples and combining them into a new and more sustainable package design. This could mean a natural material/plastic combination or a rigid/flexible hybrid, for example. We’ll see more hybrids in the marketplace, and a readiness to try different combinations of materials and processes in packaging. Warning: hybrids can create their own recycling and reuse problems if they don’t “fit” most recycling systems.

5. Shrinking packaging. Packaging (per unit of product) will continue to shrink, as packagers find new ways and reasons to limit package size, thin out walls, and otherwise reduce materials used. We’re approaching a “how-low-can-you-go?” moment for the sector. Packagers must be sure that materials used can be recycled and recovered before they can reach a balance in shrink versus recapture. However, greater producer responsibility for recapture brings its own headaches, not the least of which is establishing a strong market in recovered packaging. It makes sense to build a value chain-wide strategy, to make extended producer responsibility successful. Retailers and their suppliers will continue to battle this one out-er, sorry; collaborate on reaching a solution!

6. Packaging’s value to food and safety intensifies. As food manufacturers continue to process ingredients from global, widely dispersed sources, food safety moves up the public agenda in the United States and around the world. We’ll see smarter labels the consumer can access with her cell phone for information on origins, ingredients, and allergens, for example. This trend works against the consumer’s demand for less packaging. However, if packaging can convince consumers that it ensures greater safety, then….

7. The new frugality cements itself in people’s consciousness-2010 is the year for deciding how much frugality is normal, and what we can afford to do with our incomes. How value-oriented will we be, even as economies strengthen? Will Americans, for example, continue to eat out less, prepare more food at home, and therefore consume more branded, packaged goods? The New Frugality fits with being greener, and with Locavorism (supplying as many needs as possible from local sources) which could lead to new strategies for small-scale, local packaging. Leading packaging equipment producers, or start ups, can conquer the market for scaled-down packaging lines and compact systems usable on farms, and by artisanal producers.

8. More people will become “own-baggers” as cities and communities encourage or require it. For example, on January 1, 2010 the District of Columbia will institute five cents per bag charge for plastic grocery bags. “Own-bagging” will spread beyond grocery into restaurants (Tupperware opportunity?), Costco, DIY, and department stores. For packaging, this could sharpen the focus on waste and recycling, especially for plastics.

9. Composting is gaining traction as an option for municipal waste management, for example with a new requirement for composting food waste in San Francisco, which began October 21, 2009. The new ISO standards for packaging, in development in late 2009 and due in final form in 2012, are expected to include standards for composting and biodegradation, and will likely extend work done under a long-established European Union directive on packaging and packaging waste that directive requires European member states to reduce their landfill inputs to 75% of 1995 levels by 2010, 50% by 2013, and 35% by 2020. These efforts will carry us past the hobby-level interest in composting by home gardeners, and will likely bring a stronger focus on packaging developed for composting in the next few years. Is your packaging compost ready?

10. Keeping up with consumers, other businesses, marketing, and retail in real time will be the challenge of 2010. The real time web is the aggregation of live/streaming content, social network traffic like Twitter and Facebook. Although not real time, retail online is growing increasingly sophisticated, with greater customization, and faster and more efficient price searches, and speedier delivery. While Google measures “authority” by links to an item, now we’re more interested in what’s hot, what’s on the rise, i.e. “trending.” Packaging needs strategies to navigate and populate the web real time, and to talk to customers in ongoing business and consumer conversations about their concerns and needs.

Keep in mind… Innovation and changes in packaging discussed here could be held back if a stalled economy persists in 2010. On the other hand, the poor economy is accelerating some changes, with moves to cost-cutting, and with economic stress falling most strongly on particularly weak parts of the system. This makes the current climate an interesting time for the packaging sector, and an opportunity for some players.

About us: @packfutur’s creators, Jennifer Jarratt and John B. Mahaffie, Leading Futurists, LLC, are joining with PTIS in offering a 2010 multi-sponsor program on the Future of Packaging, open to packaging executives, consumer goods manufacturers, printers, designers, converters, and anyone involved in the packaging sector. Be an active partner in the future of packaging, rather than watching and reacting as the industry changes. See: http://www.futureofpackaging.com/ for more information.

Images: psd and Valentina Powers, via Flickr, cc license, and fresno.gov

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