Alongside changing consumer habits, there have been recent developments in technology meaning there is now an opportunity for manufacturers and suppliers to be more creative than ever before. So, what developments should we be looking out for in the near future?
Smithers Pira explores the top five trends currently occurring in the packaging industry and what manufacturers, suppliers and brand owners can be doing to engage customers.
1.) National pride and nostalgia
The 2012 London Olympics, the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton and the Queen's coronation instilled a sense of patriotism and national pride in British consumers. The packaging industry is reflecting this through designing definitively British packs, often featuring the Union Jack and images of the monarchy.
This has led to more traditional and nostalgic designs as a nod to the past; old-fashioned graphics and logos which showcase a brand's truly British nature. Vintage packaging not only plays on a popular fashion trend but points towards a certain authenticity. Due to the amount of brands and products available to choose from consumers now look for those they know they can trust, and the packaging conveys this idea.
2.) Personalised packaging
As digital printing becomes more affordable and wide-spread, there has been an increase in short print runs, and personalisation is being used more often as a tool to differentiate a brand and attract customers.
This was arguably pioneered by Coca Cola and their Share a Coke campaign, which featured popular first names printed on labels. However, Coca Cola was just the beginning, and we now have a number of other designs which capitalise on this 'made for me' approach. These include the Absolut Vodka bottles, which used 4m unique and individually numbered designs.
As brands use the internet and social media to broaden reach and drive campaigns, consumers feel packaging is 'made for them' more than ever before. Take, for example, Heinz Tomato soup - a recent campaign allowed consumers to personalise a can on the brand's Facebook page, and send it to a friend or loved one as a 'get well soon' gift. As the technology enabling such innovations improves and costs come down, the industry will become even more creative with personalised packaging.
3.) People-pleasing packaging
To be successful, brand owners need to understand consumers' unmet needs. For example, convenience packaging is popular among on-the-go consumers, who don't have time or space for large, unwieldy, or difficult to open packs. It includes Robinsons Squash'd, a plastic squeezable pouch which can dispense fruit squash into water bottles on the go, making up to 20 drinks.
Easy to use packaging also fits into this 'people-pleasing packaging' category, notably easy to open jars, and Unilever's 'Clean Lock Cap' used on their Colman's brand condiments. Packaging which can control the dosage required for both consumption and cleaning products helps consumers if they aren't sure how much of the product needs to be used.
4.) Pack differentiation
A constant battle for brands is to ensure their products stand out on the shelf at the moment the consumer is making their buying decision - the so-called 'moment of truth' in store. To do this, brands must secure their niche and advertise their unique selling point in an engaging way. Examples of companies successfully achieving pack differentiation include Budweiser, who's recent beer cans take on their distinctive bow-tie shape, and Tattinger Champagne, who's varied and colourful bottles are striking and impactful.
Many brands achieve stand-out appeal by simply 'saying it how it is'. In the same way that brands are reverting to vintage designs to convey a traditional and trustworthy approach, brands also like to communicate honesty, simplicity and clear intent to their consumers. Examples include Heinz Ketchup, whose bottle states that it is 'bursting full of tomatoes' and school bars, which directly state their purpose and context of consumption.
Sustainability has traditionally been a driver for consumers as environmental concerns increasingly enter the public consciousness, so brands are keen to flaunt their sustainable credentials on pack. Brown materials, uncluttered packaging and simple fonts all point towards an environmental focus, even if there is none present.
Recent technological innovations have been able to take packaging's interactions with consumers one step further. Bottles from brands such as Heineken and Strongbow offer numerous interactive features, for example producing beams of light when opened, and the ability to control the light on DJ decks. While these are not in mass production and are more of a marketing tool, they show what can be done with packaging technology.
Although the packaging industry is working hard to maximise technology use, there is still more that can be done. For example, differentiation between online and in-store packaging. Once purchased, the advertising and point of sale text on a pack is made redundant. If brands can use one pack for selling the product and another for its delivery, they can maximise both resources and packaging.
How can we expect these innovations to develop and change over time? The heritage and nostalgia trend will continue, as will natural and simple designs as connotations of environmentally friendly packaging. There are also profitable opportunities out there for functional packaging which delights the consumer.’
Sam Sheppard Fidler is responsible for Smithers Pira's European Distribution Testing operations and Smithers' European Product Testing operations in the UK.
He is a member of the Packaging Society in the UK and vice-chair of the ISTA (International Safe Transit Association) Global Board and chair of ISTA's European Board.
He co-wrote the article with Paul Jenkins, founder of ThePackHub - a UK packaging innovation consultancy.