Packaging continues to be a strong contributor to the perceived value of a product. Good marketing and packaging design infer a superior, well-thought-out product, which users interpret in positive ways. Vibrant, attractive colors or muted natural tones can position your product in distinct ways to sell to your specific target market.
Following the trends in the previous year, packaging in 2020 further pushes the boundaries of unique aesthetics with a focus on increased sustainability to fuel a brighter, more eco-friendly future.
First, let us briefly recap the history of packaging all the way back from ancient times.
The earliest examples of packaging come from Ancient Egypt where the discovery of blown glass was used to house food, fruit, and water for storage. At this point, glass was not yet transparent yet, but its glistening properties still added a royal touch to containing otherwise normal products. While many may not consider this packaging, blown glass served the same purpose as packaging today — to package products in a presentable manner while adding value.
Next up, was Ancient China’s discovery and use of ‘flexible packaging’, a term used to describe malleable or foldable packaging. In early Chinese history, packaging was made from treated mulberry bark, which was later refined into paper, used to transport food, clothing and other products to the Middle East and then later to the United Kingdom in 1310. This technique was further refined, arriving to the Americas in 1690 in the form of flax fibers and old linen rags. Only later in the industrial revolution did paper from wood pulp begin being produced as a common form of packaging.
In 1810, tin cans were developed by Peter Durand, from the United Kingdom to store and preserve foods, giving rise to many of the canned products we have today.
The first example of commercial boxes began production in 1817, more than 200 years after China invented cardboard, while corrugated shipping cartons began to replace wooden crates in the early 1900s.
Paper bags began growing in popularity in 1870, leading to the first modern examples of flexible packaging. From there, the next major packaging milestone was the growth of one of the most popular packaging types today — paperboard (folding carton), as a light and durable form of shelf packaging in the 1970s.
The use of plastics and foam packaging began in more modern times, beginning in 1831, where styrene was distilled from balsam trees. This was later refined in Germany between the world wars and by 1950, foam was largely in production as a protective, cushioning packaging option, along with foam cups, trays, and boxes for food. Common plastics were invented during the American Civil War and experienced great refinement into the 1960s when plastics could be made into thin and resilient film for the military. Plastic recycling began in 1972 in an operation in Conshohohocken, Pennsylvania, setting records to 100 million pounds recycled in the United States by 1984.
Now let’s jump back into the current state of packaging and discuss where we are in packaging trends in 2020.
While it is difficult to gauge the sheer volume of packaging created based on the market size of each type, we can make an estimate based on the most current data. Here is a breakdown of the global packaging market by segment:
The market value of each packaging segment gives us an indication as to which packaging types have a higher use frequency, but with varying costs per unit based on quantities, complexities, size and other factors, we can only share what has shown growth or decline over the years as a whole.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty.
Trending Materials and Packaging Styles
Folding Carton (Paperboard) Packaging
In 2020, the use of folding carton or paperboard packaging continues to grow due to its versatility and its biodegradable and recyclable nature. According to Mordor Intelligence, the global folding carton market was valued at USD 123.84 billion in 2019 with the expectation for a 4.4% increase in CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over the next 5 years into 2025.
For the sake of simplicity, we are throwing chipboard packaging, also known as clay-coated natural back (CCNB) and coated natural kraft (CNK) packaging, commonly used to package cereal and tissue boxes, into this category as well. Folding carton boxes and packaging are usually made up of a percentage of recycled material, with Kraft paperboard often consisting of 50-100% post-consumer material.
Still, paperboard packaging remains one of the most versatile forms of packaging, accounting for a large portion of retail packaging. Paperboard is easy to print on, inexpensive, consumer-friendly and largely seen as a sustainable form of recyclable packaging.
You don’t need anyone to tell you that corrugated packaging and boxes are still one of the most used protective packaging types in the market. Just have a look over your shoulder — you see that Amazon box? Yeah, that’s made of corrugated cardboard. The global corrugated packaging market was valued at USD 262.61 billion in 2019 with an expected growth at a CAGR of 8.1% from 2020 to 2025 and will continue to rise as demand for delivered for consumer goods skyrockets.
Corrugated boxes are recyclable, biodegradable and often made up of very high concentrations of post-consumer content (between 40-80%). In the USA alone, there are 49 million tons of goods, valued at over $53 billion being shipped in the country (source: US Department of Transportation), EVERY DAY. You can bet that a good 50-60% of these products are contained within corrugated boxes or packaging.
As one of the most popular and resilient shipping packaging types, combined with a good portion of the general public quarantining at home (or avoiding shopping trips), the use and necessity of corrugated packaging is on the rise. Online businesses are growing and corrugated boxes, such as custom mailers and cardboard inserts, are among the most desired packaging types, creating amazing product unboxing experiences.
People can’t seem to get enough of rigid boxes and packaging with the industry valued at USD 496.72 billion in 2016 with an expected CAGR of 5.8% through to 2023, according to Allied Market Research. The rigid packaging market consists of rigid plastics, metal, paper,glass and others, with the rigid plastics segment as the most dominant material type in 2016 as biodegradable bioplastics continue being developed with greater global awareness. This remains a controversial topic since the creation of bioplastics also releases methane (a greenhouse) gas, which actually contributes to global warming.
Rigid paper packaging remains the pinnacle of custom packaging types with an ultra-premium look and feel that consumers don’t want to throw away — even after unboxing their product. Need proof? Ask a friend if they kept their smartphone box.
Although even more hardwearing packaging types exist (such as wood and aluminum tin boxes), these options are seen as less eco-friendly and less-common, making these options more exclusive, higher-priced and therefore less feasible.
Today, rigid boxes are still most commonly used for electronics and technology-product packaging for smartphones, tablets, and other premium product markets such as luxury fashion goods, cosmetics, jewelry and wine.
While not growing as quickly as aforementioned markets, the plastic packaging market is valued at USD 345.91 billion in 2019 and expected to grow at a CAGR of 3.47% from 2020 to 2025 according to data from Mordor Intelligence.
Contrary to popular belief, plastic packaging can have many environmental advantages. Packaging firms like Berry Global manufacture plastic packaging sustainably using significantly less resources and energy to produce their packaging, resulting in much a lower carbon footprint. The following graphic illustrates how efficient their plastic packaging can be compared to alternatives:
Many plastic packaging types are resilient to decomposition when placed in the wrong environments (like in a body of water). With plastic waste ending up in our oceans and landfills, companies have become more wary when making plastics a packaging choice. Still, plastic can be inexpensive, protective, mouldable to any shape and can be biodegradable. Certain plastic bottles are plant-based (like Daisani’s bottles) with the ability to fully biodegrade in as little as one year. Still if these bottles end up in the sea, it may very well take much longer than that.
Keep in mind that many plastic packaging types are also recyclable and can become renewed to save energy, resources and lessen the effects on the environment.
The global pouches market is valued at USD 36.4 billion and has a growth rate of 5.5% CAGR from 2020 to 2027, becoming hotter and hotter in the food packaging industry. Like it or not, pouches are here and they are here to stay.
Lightweight, flexible, durable and economical, pouches have become a desirable choice for consumers as well when making purchasing decisions. Pouches can be free-standing, resealable, freezer-friendly and many more things, making it super-dynamic and usable for a wide range of products.
Pouches can now be manufactured in plastics, paper and aluminum, each with their own use cases. Many products that traditionally came in glass jars, or cans are now finding their ways to pouches, such as soups, beverages and sauces, resulting from lower costs and flexible sizes. Their flexibility allows for more volume to be packed in the same form factor, leading to lower costs in the supply chain (source: Packaging Strategies).
Paper and Plastic Bags
While paper and plastic bag packaging can be seen as two very different packaging options, we’ll keep them together for this conversion.
Paper bags are a great sustainable packaging option that’s due to its properties. Most paper bags are made from post-consumer material and are 100% recyclable and biodegradable. With a global market value of USD 4.7 billion in 2018 with a CAGR of 4.4% from 2019 to 2025 according to Zion Market Research. Paper bags are a fast-growing sustainable packaging option.
The drawback? Though with varying degree depending on material, paper bags are not resistant to water and more economical options are generally not as sturdy as plastic bags. While this isn’t always a deal-breaker, 2020 is an odd-year. Paper bags are widely used in the retail industry and with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, many shopping functions have been moved online. This means that the paper gift bags and euro totes that were once used to package goods are now being replaced by corrugated mailers and padded mailing pouches.
Ah shucks — sorry paper bags, you’ve got to tough it out like the rest of us this year. Not to worry though– with the plastic bag bans in supermarkets going on in many regions, paper bags will continue to trend once life returns to normal.
Plastic bags on the other hand are a less trending option but are still here as a necessity. As mentioned earlier, supermarkets, where plastic bags are most commonly used, are either charging for bags, or banning them altogether from pressure placed by environmental advocates or government restrictions.
Surprisingly, plastic packaging bans can actually harm the environment. It is known that the popular alternative (paper bags) usually have higher carbon emissions and are less reusable, which means they need to be re-processed every time they are recycled, which means greater energy consumption and more pollution. You can read more about this on BBC’s article here.
Many people may not think of displays as packaging, but you may be surprised how important point-of-purchase (POP) displays are to retail packaging segments. This remains true in 2020, despite lower consumer exposures to retail environments. With a lower overall volume, the global POP display market, which includes floor and counter-top displays is expected to reach an estimated USD 24 million global market size, growing at a CAGR of 5.9% from 2018 to 2026, according to Research and Market.
With more and more competition in every consumer market segment, popular retailers have less and less space to shelve inventory. This is where displays can help. Floor-displays can occupy a space on their own, without being on a store shelf and countertop displays can hold a greater number of products in an organized manner, which means greater inventory amounts and less shelving space requirements.
Try pitching retailers with included displays with your product and see how much more attracted they will be to your product.
Packaging and Industry Trends
2020 has been an unexpected year, but at least with packaging, trends have been emerging for some time now. Here are the most highly-sought after, emerging packaging trends this year and onwards.
For good reason, eco-friendly or green packaging has been on the top of everyone’s lists — and for good reason. Mother nature has been enduring our wasteful and harmful actions for some time and consumers recognize this, often choosing to do their part by purchasing products with more environmentally-friendly packaging.
Businesses recognize the altruistic tendencies of consumers and the positive HR associated with greener packaging leading to greater efforts to make their products and packaging more sustainable.
Recognizing that change is needed, our actions drive the change to greater sustainability in all aspects of our life. To get further insights on packaging sustainability, you can check out this amazing packaging sustainability article from McKinsey, published this year.
Shelf-ready packaging (SRP), also referred to as retail-ready packaging (RRP) is packaging that is ready to be sold on shelves. The concept alone justifies its popularity in modern times.
Packaging that can be easily opened and displayed on shelves are hugely advantageous not only to consumers, but also retailers, since the time spent stocking shelves can be greatly reduced. Shelf-ready packaging can include shipping boxes that can be turned into POP (point of purchase) displays by simply tearing off a portion of the box without the use of any tools.
SRPs not only help retailers save time and shelving space, but can also save you costs by reducing the amount of packaging you need. By acting as your shipping box and display box together, your products can be packaged with lighter and more cost-effective packaging. Head to Pinterest for some more SRP examples.
The demand forecast for resealable packaging has been consistently increasing with a CAGR from 2017 and onwards to 2027 based on research conducted from ResearchNester.
Resealable packaging includes pouches with zippers, bags with adhesive and other packaging options that are able to be resealed to preserve product shelf-life expectancy, or freshness. Resealable bags contribute to lower carbon footprints since additional packaging or storage options can be reduced by simply being able to reseal existing packaging.
Augmented Reality (AR) Experiences
The AR market has been continuing to grow since it’s introduction to the consumer market in 2013 as a beta Google Glass product.
AR in packaging refers to scannable areas of your packaging that can become interactive upon being viewed through your smartphone. Google’s product, Google Lens is a good way of interpreting how AR is expected to work with packaging.
While the success of AR in packaging is still largely undetermined and can be seen as a fad, we’re confident that as more packaging is introduced with AR, it will become a popular way to show more information than what’s just printed on packaging.
Packaging as a Product
Can packaging be a product? In 2020 it can.
Many new products are utilizing the packaging as part of its product, like this Mushroom Kit from one of our customers, Manhattan Mushroom Company (Instagram, @manhattanmushroom). You can simply cut open the box, make an incision in the bag and start watering your mushroom kit for it to grow into real, edible mushrooms right from inside the packaging.
There are many other fun ways to include your packaging as your product and getting creative can pay dividends towards getting a viral unboxing or review video made of your product.
Tamper-Proof and Authenticity Guaranteed Packaging
A surging popularity in cannabis-related industries has been part of the reason for the increased demand for tamper-proof packaging in recent years. Research conducted from Business Wire shows the tamper-proof packaging (or tamper-evident) packaging industry is expected to grow by a CAGR of 5.2% by 2026.
Traditionally used in the pharmaceuticals industry, tamper-proof packaging involves having a seal, or indication of when a product has been opened or ‘tampered’ with, which can result in lower-effectiveness, or product expiry.
Similar to tamper-proof packaging, authenticity-guaranteed packaging gives a clear indication of a product being authentic. With the ever-growing growth of counterfeit products, companies can create holographic stamps on their products that are difficult to counterfeit, giving consumers assurance that their products are the real deal.
Onwards and Upwards
While 2020 will go down in history as an ominous year of unexpected occurrences, the packaging industry remains tremendously resilient for one simple reason — all products need to be packaged in one way or another.
Whether we’re shopping in stores, or online, products need to be packaged to arrive in usable condition for a good shopping experience.
Often we can’t help but to judge books by their cover and it’s undeniable that a product’s packaging can bring about negative or positive value. We hope it’s the latter.