Your browser is no longer supported. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

What’s next in packaging: the view from the aisles


At Miraclon, we’re dedicating this quarter to looking at the impact that changing consumer habits are having on packaging print.

Consumer behaviors don’t change in isolation. They invariably inform everything from the functionality of packing to its shape and color, and this requires new innovations and thinking in packaging print – whether that’s printing on sustainable substrates or using effects to convey value in otherwise bland e-commerce packs.

To get insight from the frontline of retail, we spoke to Olga Munroe, Head of the UK-based Retail Institute, an academic center whose recently-published Retail Review showed what we can expect in the sector this year: challenges, and plenty of room for creativity. Here are the five key points for printers and converters…

People Have Conflicting Needs

According to the Retail Review members’ magazine, the trend of mindfulness, health, and physical and mental wellbeing among consumers is still gaining momentum, with ethically-minded people demanding sustainable, free-from and plant-based ranges. But this isn’t straightforward. “In argument with those conscious behaviours, we’re continuing to see the need for convenience among busy consumers too,” says Olga. The challenge for packaging is to communicate that it’s holistically ‘good’ while being built for those hectic modern lifestyles.

Simple Packaging Needs To Stand Out

When it comes to packaging, the trend towards simplified, minimalist designs to communicate premiumization, will continue. We can also expect a continued drive towards authenticity in packaging, related to provenance and heritage values, with high-quality packaging materials that help brands stand out. Communicating environmental credentials, whilst preserving premium cues is an interesting area of innovation.

Finally, we’ll see a rise in what the Retail Institute calls ‘extraordinary differentiations’. “In order to draw the eye and offer something different to the consumer, brands need to break the boundaries of their category when it comes to the visual attributes of their product,” says Olga. “The challenge is how to break some of the traditional, visual boundaries of your product category but remain recognisable to consumers? How to attract the eye with extraordinary differentiation of your product, but communicate clearly what one will find inside the pack? There is a balance to be struck.

Packaging Is A Key Part Of Sustainability

As they become increasingly aware of sustainability issues, consumers need to know that their decision to buy a product has a positive environmental outcome, or is at least causing no damage.

The Retail Institute expects to see many more announcements from retailers and brand owners in 2020 detailing their actions to reduce their reliance on plastic. And they’ll be reducing the amount of packaging in general, as packaging becomes part of a more holistic analysis of the lifecycle impact of a given product. “Over-packaging in an online environment is seen as a huge challenge,” says Olga. “Shortly, we might see a more holistic approach to understanding ‘green’ pack credentials that goes beyond materials – with considerations for lightweight designs, water use during production or CO2 emissions during transportation of products.  More complex criteria, aligned with Life Cycle Assessment tools, are likely to come into play in the future when we evaluate how environmentally friendly the end product is.”

E-Commerce Packs Must Be Sustainable…

Thanks to the continued, rapid, rise of online shopping, says Olga, “expectations around packaging will change”. “We’ll see the reduction of material being used, more innovative formats and opening solutions, and greater use of sustainable inks. Brands will be reducing the weight, and making the packs simpler to recycle.”

This will require creative solutions from converters. Consumers will associate certain types and colors of print with different levels of environmental damage. “If you use a certain type of ink on a cardboard box you might be communicating to the consumer that your product is not eco-friendly,” says Olga. “And if you have an interior packaging effect, that as we know contributes to the consumer first ‘moment of truth’ but for example feels very plastic-like, you may be communicating the opposite to what you would have if you’d used the same ink with a matt effect. There may be a different combination of materials and inks that create a more consistent sustainability message for consumers that enhances your environmental efforts, contributes to your brand credentials and sets positive sensory cues.

… But Still Amaze And Delight People

When buying a product online, having potentially only seen it on screen, the customer’s real moment of truth with the product comes when they first hold the package at home. The challenge is, that sometimes communicating ‘green’ may also communicate lack of quality. If buying luxury perfume, say, shoppers may be disappointed to open a plain brown cardboard box with no premium cues inside that do not communicate product value efficiently.

As such, e-commerce represents a major opportunity for innovative packaging. Olga cites a good example from fashion. “One fashion brand is trialling a small tub that opens when the consumer pulls a little zip, and the product unrolls without any creases,” she says. “This is interactive, engaging and different, and has an element of discovery. Consumers tend to have set expectations for what they will find inside packaging: if the product matches up to expectations set on pack it leads to ‘sensorial congruency’ and increased customer satisfaction. In other words, the more satisfied the consumer is with their experience, the more likely they are to repeat the purchase.

Packaging plays an important role in setting expectation of the product. The texture or ‘feel’ of the packaging materials and it’s print effects (haptics), it’s structural shape, vertical or horizontal orientation, sensory cues communicated by effective graphic design – are all the elements that brands and converters can utilize to influence shopper behavior and communicate value. These cues can be also used to communicate positive environmental credentials of new products if done correctly. With the ever-changing landscape for FMCG retail, it will be increasingly important for print and packaging innovation to experiment in this space, providing new exciting solutions that will delight consumers.