If we had binoculars that could see into the future of packaging, what would it look like? Based on what we know so far, it’s not that difficult to imagine.
By analyzing emerging technology, global packaging trends, and market projections, we can get a pretty good glimpse into what the packaging industry will potentially look like by 2028 and beyond.
In this article, we’ll go over everything from sustainability, design (smart packaging) to manufacturing (machine automation) to operations (AI and blockchain technology) and more.
What’s In-Store for Design?
In the next ten years, service providers-not product sellers- will take the throne. Therefore, future consumers will be able to enjoy an all inclusive shopping experience.
Instead of, for example, a few branded hair & beauty items, it will be customary to offer full-spectrum personal care experiences that go beyond the brand and appeal to customers mentally, emotionally, and sensually.
With new technological advances, there will be a shift away from mass production and more towards innovative and specialized brand packaging to serve specified products and services.
While we all recognize our classic cardboard boxes, bags and bottles, the future may be reshaping these classics we’ve all grown up with.
With growing consumer demands comes a growing need for convenience.
Convenience calls for innovative upgrades and technological advancements that unlock new doors of opportunities for businesses.
Let’s explore some changes that we may expect to see in the packaging industry.
Edible packaging is an interesting and innovative alternative that alleviates the reliance on fossil fuels and has the potential to significantly decrease our carbon footprint, which is exactly what consumers are already looking for.
Using raw materials extracted from algae, natural sweeteners and natural dyes using the skins of fruits and vegetables shows a lot of potential for offering the food industry a variety of options with regards to colors, designs and more.
Furthermore, it offers an exciting experience for customers that goes beyond the packaging, seeing as they will be consuming the packaging too!
Edible packaging has been explored and continues to establish credibility and functionality with edible water bubbles entering the market in 2013.
According to Design Boom the london-based sustainable packaging start-up wants to transfer from simply selling their water bubbles from pop-ups to challenging plastic waste on a global scale, piloting their water bubbles at major sporting events in 2018.
It is estimated that the edible packaging industry is growing at a CAGR of 6.81% from 2017 to 2023. This innovative way to combat plastics may be becoming a norm sooner than we think!
Reducing waste is not limited to the food and drink industry, but also to household items.
We have seen a huge emergence of water dissolvable packaging for dishwashing and laundry detergents, and this is becoming more normalized and part of the mainstream as time goes on.
Moreover, corn starch based packaging seems to be gaining more popularity in the retail industry as well as the food and beverage industry.
Items such as bags, take away containers and cutlery made from corn starch are gaining more attention in many industries, especially in fast food.
From a customer perspective, this will seem like an attractive option due to the growth of the eco-conscious consumer.
Space Saving Packaging
Storing and transporting mass amounts of packaging is also seen as less eco-friendly as planes, boats and trucks transport packages to mass warehouses to be stored and ultimately end up in a landfill if stock isn’t sold or customers get their hands on product packaging they don’t see a use for.
Especially in the food and beverage packaging industry, alot goes to waste. Seeing an increase in space saving packaging to reduce mass transport, storage and waste.
So, what does space saving packaging mean for the packaging design industry?
Say goodbye to the bottle design we all know and love.
We are looking at more square or rectangular packaging for stacking and storage purposes.
This doesn’t seem like the most exciting design change considering we have had square or rectangular shaped beverage packaging for a while.
However, this concept is already gaining a fair amount of attention.Boxed Water became very trendy amongst social media platforms since its release in 2009. This concept is already starting to become a norm in the drinks and beverage industries.
Boxed beverages also ties into sustainability because the use of plastic for the production of boxed drinks is significantly reduced, leaving it to paper and aluminium to do the job.
Also known as intelligent and active packaging, smart packaging is seeing enormous growth in the packaging industry today.
According to Grand View Research, smart packaging revenues came in at $10.8 billion in 2015 and are expected to reach $26.7 billion by 2024.
From a consumer perspective, smart packaging offers many value-added benefits, including enhanced unboxing experiences, eye-catching visuals, product preservation and protection, authentication, security, and connectivity.
For brands and companies, a new world of communication is opening up.
With the opportunity to track consumer behaviors with more convenience, this type of packaging offers a more tailored experience to your target market allowing businesses to meet consumer demands more effectively.
While smart packaging doesn’t offer new shapes to our classics, it does reshape the purpose and capabilities of packaging, allowing the packaging industry to explore the unknown.
We may see the implementation of two primary technologies: printed electronics and nanotechnology.
Printed electronics are seen in the form of near-field communication (NFC); radio-frequency identification (RFID); ambient intelligence; smart LEDs/OLEDs; and compact power sources, screens, sensors, and data storage offering consumers a level of interaction never seen before.
Advanced materials and printed electronics with smart LEDs/OLEDs will bring a new level of product interaction, infotainment, digital sales aids, and online connection.
In simple terms – sensor activated screens that are part of the packaging design and huge part of the customer experience.
Recently, Karl Knauer and INURU GmbH partnered to create an illuminated Coca-Cola label using printed OLEDs, receiving the German Design Award for their innovative work.
As we get closer to 2028, augmented reality technology will find its way to packaging, offering a compliment of visual, tactile, and auditory elements to vastly enhance the quality of prototyping and production for producers and experience for customers.
The nano coating market is seeing the most substantial growth at nearly 25% CAGR, with anti-fingerprint nano coating at the top of the list for several industries, including packaging.
Nanotechnology will also be used in the reduction of packaging waste and sustainability, with bio-nano composites having the potential to replace non-biodegradable, petroleum-based plastic.
With the swipe of a card or scan of a smart device, for example, packaging will provide:
- advanced tracking
- theft protection
- additional information
- dynamic visuals
- online connection
- integrated product interaction
- active monitoring
- And many other innovative features
Over the next few years, nano-materials with protective properties will be used in hygienic and antibacterial packaging, particularly for medical, pharmaceutical, and food products.
Along with innovations such as the use of discarded packaging chips in the production of lithium-ion batteries, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg with nanotechnology and we can expect a wave of more innovation coming our way in the future.
With the emergence of augmented reality (AR), we’ve started to see what role interactive tech will play in the future of packaging design.
Over the next decade, consumers will be able to virtually test-drive products, examine packaging options, and interact with game elements, as companies build brand recognition and provide new forms of entertainment through packaging and products.
One company that is starting to make its mark in this technological frenzy is Zappar.
Zappar has already pushed out some augmented reality campaigns that have gained a lot of popularity. Through slowly normalising this new concept of packaging, the packaging design industry will learn about many new changes in the near future.
AR will not only enhance the engagement of your product but will provide tons of consumer data that can help deliver more measurable results and benefits to customers.
This will help provide a more personalized experience for each consumer and make future product launches and marketing efforts more relevant and targeted.
Essentially, AR will provide a better understanding of what your customers want!
Sustainability in aspects beyond packaging and products is already an evident trend within the packaging industry. Consumers are leaning towards a more eco-friendly shopping experience and this is also becoming more normalized as time goes on.
While eco-friendly options are currently less cost effective, consumer spending on eco-friendly products seems to be on the rise.
According to Survey Monkey; 1 in 3 consumers favor eco-friendly options and 35% of respondents would purchase a product that is better for the environment over other products that may be slightly cheaper.
With more companies taking up the mantle of environment protection, coupled with savvy consumers who now expect a higher level of eco-responsibility, sustainability has already become a strong focus for the packaging industry.
Current trends include waste reduction, efficient use of box space, lower carbon footprint, and recycling.
So, what exactly does the future hold? An area that will see a boost is compostable packaging.
The compostable plastic packaging market is projected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.4% by 2028.
In simpler terms – investing in sustainable packaging now shows promising benefits for brands worldwide.
Sustainability has been a heavy topic of discussion in the business and consumer world over the last few years. We’ve already witnessed and grown with many new sustainable packaging options at our disposal.
It’s safe to say that because of this, sustainable packaging may be the new norm overriding plastic packaging completely in the future.
COVID-19 took over everyone’s day to day life very abruptly. Robbing everyone of in-store experiences, events and services. E-commerce has become the main form of consumerism today.
With no in-store experience or opportunities for the customer service industry during the lockdown, e-commerce has become the main form of shopping today.
Although e-commerce has been recognized as a high priority for businesses, the level of reliance on online shopping has spiraled the importance of e-commerce right to the surface.
The pandemic has been a horrifying time for everyone worldwide. However, online based businesses have gained a lot of attention because of it.
Brick and mortar may still dominate the market, but due to the pandemic and heavy reliance on online facilities for job opportunities as well as shopping opportunities, e-commerce may already be taking the first place.
With giants like Amazon currently commanding the market and e-commerce world, there is still room for progress.
The e-commerce shopping experience is becoming more and more tailored to the customer allowing brands to accommodate their target market even further through things like packaging.
We have already normalized targeted advertising through algorithms and customer’s online behaviors. We may be looking at a highly customized experience through e-commerce.
This offers vast amounts of opportunities for the packaging industry to specialize and customize their products to an even higher degree, especially with the rise of smart packaging and the above mentioned trends.
The future for all things corrugated is looking bright.
Valued at $155 billion in 2017, the global market is expected to double by 2025, expanding at a CAGR of 4.6% from 2017 to 2025.
This massive growth will most likely be attributed to an increase in disposable income and savvy consumers who will expect a certain level of quality from box packaging.
Coupled with the demand for sustainable efforts, increased applications for corrugated materials, and lowered prices, it will add up to a big win for corrugated box packaging.
Corrugated material is strong, cost-effective, and recyclable, but it’s not perfect.
At the moment, we are seeing the use of Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs) for the transport of perishable goods.
Looking to capitalize on this opportunity, companies like Aeroclay, Biome3D and UFP Technologies are developing innovative and biodegradable materials to enhance and make corrugated packaging more adaptable to our future of sustainability.
Manufacturing & Operations
Additive manufacturing technology has captured our imaginations over the last few years with its ability to create complex shapes and designs on demand, which would otherwise be unattainable or wildly resource-intensive through traditional manufacturing practices.
In the future, 3D printing promises to raise the bar up high via print-to-order manufacturing.
For packaging prototypes, 3D printing will provide a vastly superior option over current methods, offering flexibility, efficiency, and cost reduction that will meld design and manufacturing.
3D printing will also offer a more sustainable path for the packaging industry. With manufacturing usually done overseas for cost efficiency.
3D printing will allow the packaging industry to manufacture for a much lower price. Through integrating manufacturing and warehouse facilities the overseas shipping costs as well as CO2 emissions will be significantly reduced.
As printing quality, speed, and material choices increase over the next ten years, 3D printing will have a larger impact than anticipated on the packaging industry.
This will most likely lead to smaller and smarter spaces that utilize large-scale printing for products and packaging, coupled with smart warehouse elements such as:
- robotic process automation (RPA)
- cognitive computing (artificial intelligence and machine learning)
- internet of things (IoT) connectivity.
Although we have come a long way in 3D printing, it is still in its infancy. Soon, we will see a shift from limited specialized production to scalable printing for all sorts of industries.
In 2028 and beyond, additive manufacturing processes will offer personalized on-demand package solutions limited only by imagination.
AI & Machine Automation
Future consumers will expect made-to-order products shipped quickly.
As previously mentioned, cognitive computing, robotics, IoT connectivity, and other innovative technologies will come together to form comprehensive fulfillment solutions to meet this demand via smart warehousing.
The shift from today’s slow processes to tomorrow’s faster, smarter practices will hinge on several innovations.
These innovations include the introduction of:
- predictive maintenance (instead of waiting for something to break, systems will anticipate and address accordingly)
- cobots (robots that will work in conjunction with humans),
- IoT standardization (allowing for effective network connection)
- integration of print-to-order manufacturing.
As robots begin to take on more tasks, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will become more prominent in the world of machine automation.
One company that is currently utilizing smart warehousing is the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Their automated warehouse robot can carry up to 500 kg and coordinate package placements around the warehouse floor.
We are seeing the integration of robotic process automation (RPA) and cognitive computing services starting to revolutionize fulfillment. Imagine what innovation they’ll introduce in the next ten years!
Another innovation that will likely take hold is on-demand warehousing.
One example is Flexe, a company helping e-commerce merchants save on storage costs and provide next-day delivery virtually anywhere in the U.S. by utilizing unused warehouse space.
Just like Airbnb, companies will rent out warehouse space optimized by the latest tech.
This will provide greater efficiency and the opportunity to expand without having to rely on the old model of acquiring and maintaining massive, inefficient facilities.
Shipping and Logistics Efficiency: Blockchain Technology
Although Bitcoin failed in the eyes of crypto currency; the technology it’s built on blockchain is primed to disrupt everything, including the packaging industry.
Logistics costs in the United States come in at $1.5 trillion per year, and while growth continues, two significant issues are plaguing the industry: systematic inefficiency and fraud.
Fortunately, we are witnessing the beginning of massive disruption through Blockchain technology.
How will this happen exactly?
By offering a decentralized digital ledger, blockchain will eliminate the need for intermediary shipping fees, paperwork, and other inefficient/vulnerable/wasteful practices.
This will streamline the shipping processes while providing a level of tracking, security, transparency, counterfeit protection, and cost-effectiveness we’ve never seen before.
UPS, for instance, has already started to invest in smart logistics via blockchain technology.
One startup the package-delivery giant has invested in is ShipChain, which is creating a decentralized transport & logistics platform set to revolutionize the entire shipping process.
The future is coming fast, and those who embrace blockchain now will be part of the logistics revolution.
This offers opportunity for effective collaboration and alleviates the complexity of not only the packaging industry, but any industry in question.
All parties involved from shippers and carriers to brokers, vendors, and consumers will soon witness and be directly affected by the rise of this transformative tech.
Automated Home Delivery
By 2028 and beyond, delivery, as we know it, will change.
Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock recently has gotten a glimpse at a future filled with whirling drones and rumbling driverless vehicles.
Through innovative projects like Amazon’s drone initiative and self-driving Ubers, automated home delivery is quickly becoming a reality.
In 2016, self-driving startup Otto, which was acquired by Uber, successfully traveled 120 miles to deliver 2,000 cases of beer.
This marked the first-ever commercial delivery via self-driving technology and grabbed the attention of companies worldwide with its safety, speed, and efficiency.
According to the World Economic Forum, the use of automated delivery will reduce accidents by as much as 70%, lower fuel consumption by 20%, and save up to 1.2 billion hours of transport time over the course of a decade.
Drone Delivery and Concerns
Leading the helm of last-mile solutions is drone delivery, but the tech isn’t without its issues.
Many are concerned with the complexity of door-to-door fulfillment, especially in crowded urban areas.
Others have speculated about the potential for theft, property damage, invasion of privacy via data collection, safety (think of all those weighty Amazon packages overhead), and the logistics nightmare involved with such vulnerable technology.
Alternative Delivery Options
Some alternatives that are being examined right now include underground transport tubes, autonomous air taxis, crewless cargo ships & river shuttles, and sidewalk delivery robots.
In conjunction, engineers are developing software, sensors, artificial intelligence technology, vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure communication (V2I), and intelligent lockers & boxes to help guide the future of delivery.
Of course, the acceptance of autonomous tech flying overhead and self-driving robots traveling along our waterways and interstates will come down to public opinion.
Some will gleefully embrace it, while others will be less enthusiastic. In any event, what seems like science fiction now will soon become an everyday reality.
As the world moves towards more advanced and sustainable methods, packaging manufacturers and consumers will benefit from efforts that will revolutionize customer experience, manufacturing & shipping, and environmental protection.
Companies and brands that can anticipate these future trends and adapt to as well as incorporate them into their packaging strategies will reap the benefits of being ahead of the curve.
Especially with COVID-19 still having a huge impact on companies worldwide, these future trends will highly benefit companies, especially in the e-commerce world as we are already seeing today.