The Future of Packaging

A recent survey by Packaging World Magazine and Dupont Packaging’s Global Marketing Group gives some interesting insight into the future of packaging machinery like the most used robotic packaging machinery.

The survey asked several questions of packaging professionals, requesting an opinion on the current status in the packaging market as well as the expected status in 2022, ten years from now. The answers from the professionals lead to some expected, some unexpected and some questionable outlooks.

When asked about packaging trends that affect their work today and those that will affect their work ten years from now, packaging professionals all seemed to agree that sustainability will continue to increase in importance through 2022. The most surprising responses to this question show a fairly dramatic decrease in the way cost of packaging components will affect the workplace in the future. While the cost is the most important factor affecting packaging work today, packagers believe it will fall below sustainability and other factors worldwide by 2022. There may be several reasons for this train of thought. First and foremost, many people in general, packaging professionals included, understand that the economy around the world is anything but flourishing. The heightened importance put on cost of packaging components today could be nothing more than an understanding of the current cash flow situations. The expectation of a recovery in the next ten years could also help explain the expectation of a lower importance on cost in the future.

In the alternative, given that we live in a world with limited resource, sustainability may just be seen as that much more important as we move into the future. A slightly higher cost for bottles, pouches, caps, labels or even robotic packaging machinery such as filling machines, capping equipment and the like, may be justified if it produces a sustainable, recyclable product.

As for packaging strategies that are currently being pursued by packaging professionals, efficient package size and shape and down gauging of packaging materials lead the list of current trends. Down gauging, in general, means using less material or getting more packaging from less material. By 2022, industry professionals do not see these two trends as being high on the strategies list. This is, most likely, due to the fact that these are issues that can be reined in and accomplished within the next ten years. By working today toward efficient package size and shape and getting the most out of package material as is possible, the strategy can be followed and the goals achieved.

Instead, the strategies of the future will focus on renewable and recyclable materials, reinforcing the idea that sustainability will become an even more important factor in the future. Smart packaging also gains ground as a strategy in the future. This type of packaging, in general, allows for monitoring certain aspects of a product, for example, temperature. As technology increases, smart packaging may become more easily accessible and allow the packager to pass along important information to the consumer. This will likely, however, have an impact across the packaging industry, affecting not only the package itself but the machinery that is used to package these products like palletizing robot.

Finally, the packaging professionals were asked to name the packaging attributes considered important to consumers today and those that will likely be considered important to consumers ten years from now. Not surprisingly, convenience and ease of use, along with shelf appeal are noted as the most important attributes to consumers today. Somewhat surprisingly, the perceived “greenness” and the recyclable and renewable aspects of products are what the professionals expect the consumers to look for ten years from now. Again, arguably the most logical explanation for the drop in convenience and shelf appeal comes from the fact that limited resources in the future may lead to some compromise from not only packagers, but consumers as well. However, this may simply be wishful thinking as this author believes convenience and shelf appeal will always sway buyers, whether consciously or subconsciously.

As the article points out, the packaging professionals believe that the packaging attribute that will become more important than any other in ten years is recycling. However, when asked about strategies that will be pursued in ten years, the use of recyclable materials actually drop from 2012 to 2022. While at first this may seem like poor planning on the part of the packaging professionals, one has to take into account that using recyclable materials is already strong in the minds of many packagers. Similar to the efficient package size, using recyclable materials may simply be a strategy that will not need as much consideration in the future due to the fact that such use is, and will stay, in place.

In a multi-billion dollar industry such as the packaging industry, it is important to stop at times and consider the future. Given the thought put into the survey, packaging professionals appear to be focusing on strategies that will help to grow the industry while also considering important aspects such as the limited resources available, the footprint left by packaging and the needs of the consumers.