The global flexible packaging market is growing. There are a number of reasons behind the growth such as the developing economies and the conversion from rigid to flexible packaging. Flexible packaging consumption in Europe grew by 2% to around €14bn in 2017, with about the same growth rates in both Western and Eastern Europe, according to research by PCI Wood Mackenzie. Forecasts expect growth to continue, with sales achieving nearly €16bn in Europe by 2022.
Current trends driving the European flexible packaging market are sustainability, functionality and convenience, dominance of private labels, growth of eCommerce and shortening life cycles of products and packaging.
Today, sustainability in packaging is something that is used for positioning the brand as ecological and attracting an environmentally conscious group of customers. Sustainable flexible packaging could mean a number of things. Packaging can be made from sustainable raw materials such as biobased or recycled plastics. It can be reusable, easily recyclable or made from significantly smaller amount of raw materials compared to competing products. The packaging can even provide a solution for decreasing food waste by extending the product’s shelf life or by protecting the products with reclosable solutions after the packaging has been opened.
The momentum for getting competitive advantage and positive image for your brand by choosing sustainable packaging solution is now. I predict that within five to ten years these solutions become so mainstream and quite likely even the only reasonable option that sustainable packaging will no longer be an advantage but a requirement, demanded by brand owners, retailers, consumers and even national and EU level legislation.
Sustainability in packaging is most often communicated with rough paper-like surfaces, earth tone or green designs and different eco-symbols. Consumers are used to associating these visuals with sustainability and many brands are using this to stand out from competition. As the number of sustainable options is increasing the brands need to think about other ways to stand out and still communicate the sustainable values. Amerplast’s Printing Manager Antti-Jussi Mattila points out that due to the technical development in materials, printing technology and colors you don’t need to make compromises in printing quality when choosing rough or paper-like surfaces for your packaging for example. “As long as you don’t let materials or technology limit your creativity we are able to create stunning visuals to your ecological packaging solutions. One important thing to ensure is that your designer is familiar with the flexo printing possibilities. If you need help with your design process, we are here to help you”, says Antti Jussi Mattila.
The Finnish Packaging Association did a packaging survey this summer which stated that 35% of the people though that a convenient packaging raised their attention at the store shelve. Everyone enjoys a packaging that is easy to use or even has some additional features to make your everyday life a little easier. For some people, packaging that are easy to open and use are a necessity. According to UN, globally the number of older persons — those aged 60 years or over — is expected to more than double by 2050. The population aged 60 or above is growing at a rate of about 3 per cent per year. Currently, Europe has the greatest percentage of population aged 60 or over (25 per cent).
I believe that many of these people are making purchasing decisions based on packaging. Is the packaging easy to open and use? Is it a small enough packaging size for me and my spouse or a large family pack? Am I able to read the product information without a magnifying glass?
It is not only ageing population that are choosing products with convenient packaging. People are looking for little things that make their lives and the day-to-day routines a little easier. Convenience is a subjective matter depending on the user. Most important thing in any product and packaging development is knowing your customers and meeting their needs.
You are not alone. Every day, the market is demanding more customized products and the product life cycles are getting shorter. Consumers are expecting to see new things on store shelves every week and competition for consumers’ attention between products is fierce. Innovative, functional and attractive packaging solutions offer a competitive advantage. Packaging development plays an increasingly important role when it comes to creating successful products and brands.
Accelerating speed in which the trends and markets are changing means shorter times to market for the products and more pressure for the whole supply chain. Due to tightening regulations especially in food products it takes more and more time to launch new products. By the time the product has been develop to a point when it’s time to think about the packaging there often is a limited amount of time to get creative about the packaging.
For this reason we encourage our customers to think more about the product as a marriage between the packed product and the packaging. There is nobody else but your packaging present at the grocery store to do the sales work for your product.
People are visual creatures. We rely on our vision more than we rely on our other senses. It is no high science why brands are using the same colors and logos to identify themselves from their competitors. Colors are the most important element in visual communication. They create emotions and it has been studied that people first pay attention to colors and after that the shapes. When it comes to packaging and the visual trends of today we are living a time of matt colors and earth tones. This trend is originating from the increasing environmental awareness thus the need to communicate sustainable values. Today new applications and finishes, such as natural feeling, matt and rough surfaces are combined with attractive and high quality printing.
People are buying products when they like the packaging. Especially young people are using their consumption as an extension of their persona and personal image. They buy products that communicate their values and image to others and post their latest buys on Instagram or other social media channel.
This is an extreme example but everyone is affected by the images that are being created about the products through their packaging.
I wish I had a crystal ball to predict the future but I can only offer you my best guesses. What has already become evident is that plastic packaging play a significant role in both the challenges and solutions when it comes to global environmental issues. Plastic is recyclable and light weight material that has incomparable protective properties especially when it comes to food packaging. The big problem we are now solving with alternative materials is actually littering which will not be corrected with changes between materials. It is a heated debate which is eventually the sustainable packaging solution but my advice would be to make Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) and trust the scientific data as the base for decision making.
There is also an increasing pressure from EU level to make the packaging recyclable, reusable or made from either biobased or recycled materials. European Union’s strategy for plastics in circular economy will transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. By 2025 the recycling rate for plastic packaging is set to be 50% which requires a lot of efforts from the entire value chain. What this means from a design stand point is more clear communication about the packaging materials and recycling on the packaging.
A big issue that has now started to raise concern is food waste. I believe that we are now just seeing the beginning of this discussion as it becomes increasingly more clear that this is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Food is one of the biggest accelerators of climate change and there are a great deal of solutions for reducing food waste to be found from the packaging industry. In the near future people are looking for longer sell by dates, suitable packaging sizes and reclosable solutions that keep the food products fresher for longer.
The world becomes more and more digital and this can already be seen in the packaging world as well. We have seen RFID tags, QR codes, sensors and other technology already on the packaging and now we are also able to utilize Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in the packaging to provide additional value to customers and consumers. What is still slowing down the utilization of these technologies in packaging is the additional cost versus the benefits. Packaging is still in many cases a single use disposable part of the products with a short lifespan. However in some applications we are going to see these technologies being used.
Finally some wise words from Antti-Jussi Mattila: “If you can imagine it, we are most likely able to produce it. Packaging is the most powerful media of your product. Make the most of it and consider your packaging your wisest investment to boost you sales.”
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