Packaging Industry Trends

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Last updated: 1/14/2020

2020 Packaging Industry Trends

On a global scale, the packaging industry is an enormous economic generator. Statistics from the well-recognized Smithers Pira organization indicate demand for the world packaging industry will reach $1.05 trillion by 2024. Consumer trends and industry trends for packaging drive this gigantic growth rate. To understand this phenomenon and appreciate where it’s heading, it’s necessary to examine the top packaging industry trends for 2020.

Packaging is an all-encompassing industry term for the technology and design work going into protecting or enclosing every sort of product destined for storage, shipping and sale. Packaging also takes in the product manufacturer’s marketing efforts. For leading manufacturers, the way they package their products signifies their brand. They view packaging as an essential part of their business model. That’s next to producing an excellent product, of course.

Every industry has megatrends. That means overall changes in the marketplace that affect manufacturers’ product placement and presentation. At the forefront of today’s market change from brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce is a definite swing in how every type of product is getting packaged, labeled and offered for sale. Here are the top packaging trends for 2020.

Digital Printing Revolution

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2020 is the beginning of a new decade that will be dominated by the digital world. Digital printing utilizes computer generation as the principal mechanism behind designing physical product packaging and creating the images or graphics governing their appearance. It’s fair to say digital printing influences every part of today’s packaging and shows no signs of stopping.

Digital printing allows packagers far more latitude in personalization and customizing options than mechanical processes like typesetting did. Most packaging companies switched from analog to digital within the past decade. However, it takes time to retool a factory completely. In 2020, there are only a handful of companies not getting on the digital train and making that progressive investment.

The packaging industry reached a tipping point in this decade. The use of digital presses grew, while conventional presses declined. In 2018, narrow-web digital presses exceeded the standard flexo presses for the first time. This digital printing technology allows all colors to be printed in a single pass, which has fostered a trend of “printing on-demand” in the industry. Studies say this demand will only grow. By 2024, it is estimated the global digital printing packaging market will reach $28 billion. That’s proof of a major trend change in the packaging industry.

Personalized Packaging

Digital printing makes it far easier to customize packaging and add personalization to products. This trend has been building for a few years, and it has a major industry impact in 2020. Many of the top product brands have explored personalized packaging and found a significant return on this innovative marketing investment. One report cites that 70% of marketers believe personalization has a strong or extremely strong impact on their customers.

There’s no one-size-fits-all in personalized packaging. In fact, that’s the core philosophy behind this trend. Personalization allows a company to promote their name and brand in a forceful way that stands out from competitors. Here are three successful examples of the personalized packaging trend.

  • Coca-Cola printing people’s names on their soft drink containers
  • Frito-Lay printing faces on their potato chip packages
  • Bud Light printing football teams on their beer cans

More and more brands are even beginning to target extremely targeted markets with their packaging.  For example, Anheuser-Busch themes their Busch and Busch light beer cans to the outdoors to appeal to hunters, fishermen, and other outdoorsmen.  During hunting season, they have a “hunt” for a gold can, which can win you gear and even a hunting trip paid for by the company.  During fishing season, they offer similar prizes for finding cans with certain fish on them.

The personalized packaging trend is successful, as it allows individuals to identify with a brand’s product. Seeing their first name on a Coke can instantly attracts a person to the product. It’s hard to resist something shouting their name. Facial recognition on a Frito-Lay bag makes a consumer connect with the brand and reach for a helping. Seeing their favorite NFL team like the Saints or the Pats on a Bud Light certainly sells more beer to a diehard football fan.

Personalized packaging also takes in a brand’s story. Smart marketers know people relate to stories as much as they do to brand names. When a company presents its package in a story-like way that connects to consumers on an individual level, the product becomes irresistible. Personalization is a top 2020 packaging trend, and it’s sure to stay around for a while.

Transparency and Clean Labels

Presenting product information in a clear and transparent way is another strong packaging industry trend for 2020. This trend is all about trust and honesty. In today’s world, where consumers have so much access to information, they can better educate themselves about product choices. At the top of smart consumers’ interest list are what their product choices contain and the packaging methods they use.

“Transparency” refers to manufacturers being completely open and honest about what the products contain. “Clean” means products are safe and don’t contain harmful ingredients. When a manufacturer packages their product in a way that makes content information clear, concise and open, it promotes trust in the company’s brand name.

Clean and transparent labeling strongly affects the packaging industry’s food sector. More and more U.S. consumers are scanning food packages with their smartphones to find out exactly what they contain. Brands answered the clean and transparent trend in 2020 with the implementation of Smart Label™. The label code immediately connects consumers to a landing page with transparent information about how clean this choice may be. This desire for transparency will likely remain strong in 2020 as consumers may be more likely to purchase a newly launched food product that has clear product information.

Private Labels and Store Brands Dominating

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Individual store brands and private labels are an interesting trend for the packaging industry. This move finds many stores offering product lines with a specific brand name unique to that store. It creates in-house brand awareness and local customer loyalty, as opposed to generic brands offered by every competitor. This trend also helps stores compete in the retail landscape, where consumers have a plethora of ways to buy the same products.

Private store brands and their recognizably unique labels have exceeded national brands in consumer popularity. Many consumers prefer purchasing private brands. Millennials lead the private brand loyalty group, followed by lower-income earners.

The store brand and private labeling trend started a few years ago, with some of the biggest American companies leading the trend. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods hinged on in-store branding and private labeling. As Lidl’s enters the U.S. market, consumers can expect to see their personal brand on the packaging. Trader Joe’s and Aldi are two more examples of the current trend toward store brand labels on packages. Today, one out of every four products sold in the U.S. comes from a private label or store brand. As consumers continue to switch to private labels and store brands, this trend will dominate the retail space.

Playful Colors, Designs and Gradients

The move toward bold designs and effects on packaging has been expanding for some time. In 2020, this trend remains strong. Many companies recognize how well strong colors, designs and dramatic effects stand out. They also see how well this trend results in increased sales volume.

There is no doubt about how well humans respond to packaging with unique designs and colors. Information from the Pantone Color Institute states people experience 80% of their awareness from sight. Strong colors like neon green and bright yellow quickly attract a person’s attention. So do effects like shining metallic sheens and reflective surfaces.

Leading marketers design packaging to grab hold of a consumer’s notice and retain the memory. Studies have shown that people make subconscious decisions about buying products within the first minute and a half after observing it. Color often plays a big role in this decision.

2020 will likely see the continued dominance of bold packaging colors along with the rise of playful graphics on packaging. Unique typography and quirky design convey a lightheartedness that may suit brands targeting a youthful audience. One trend within unique package graphics is the popularization of color gradients. From logo design to packaging, brands are adopting gradients for their visual interest that is both subtle and striking. Gradients provide complexity without adding busyness, which makes them extremely dynamic.

Growth in Flexible Packaging

Flexible packaging is a trend that continues to gain great popularity, and there’s a good reason for it. Technological advancement in flexible packaging materials makes them suitable to far more consumer products today that were once restricted to rigid and hard materials.

The United States accounts for approximately $170 billion in the global packaging market. The Flexible Packaging Association reports the flexible packaging segment accounts for 19% of the total U.S. packaging market. Flexible packaging takes in all non-rigid materials. The most popular flexible packages are wraps, bags, pouches and envelopes.

Flexible packaging has many advantages over rigid packages due to the following factors:

  • It is easier to store.
  • It has an extended shelf life.
  • It is more convenient to open.
  • It is highly practical to close or reseal.
  • It has a more attractive shelf appeal.
  • It uses less material.
  • It has improved cost economics.
  • It weighs less.
  • It has better shipping characteristics.
  • It is better suited for e-commerce.

Part of the reason flexible packaging is such a prominent trend is material advancement. For years, most flexible packaging materials were polyvinyl chloride. This plastic wouldn’t break down or decompose, which made it environmentally hostile. Today, most flexible packaging uses materials made of polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polypropylene. These high-tech plastics are durable when in use but deteriorate when discarded.

New end-of-life recycling programs are trending and propelling flexible packages even more. In fact, Smithers Pira reports the flexible packaging industry will grow by 3.3% each year to reach $269 billion in 2024.

Recycled Packaging Products in Use

The recycled packaging trend has never been so popular. The movement started a generation ago with the 3-R principle: reduce, reuse and recycle. Today, the 3-R model creates a circular economy where it’s a mainstay for how proper product packaging performs. Recycling has now become firmly embedded in the American psyche.

Recycled packaging is part of the worldwide sustainability movement. For years, the vast majority of packaging waste found its way to landfills. Worse yet is the mass of non-perishable plastics currently floating in the oceans. That pollution cannot be ignored, and many consumers want to do what they can to prevent it. They’re choosing recyclable product packaging instead.

Looking toward 2020, businesses will also join the recyclable packaging movement. Retail giant Amazon is taking action and requiring its vendors to meet waste-efficient packaging standards or pay a $1.99 fee per package. In addition, over 400 organizations have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. These companies are committing to increase their recycled packaging by 25% by 2025.

Technology is also improving the packaging material industry. Advancements in plastic and paper chemistry now allow recycling to be easier and more convenient than ever. Federal, state and local authorities also promote and encourage packaging recycle programs. Some of the main things driving the 2020 trend toward recycled packaging products are consumer choice and company action. People avoid purchasing anything packaged in non-recyclable materials, and companies are switching materials to accommodate.

Vintage Packaging

Vintage packaging pays homage to the phrase, “What’s old is new again.” Whether young or old, nostalgia has a significant effect on people. Many companies are channeling the vintage packaging trend in 2020 to promote products that reflect the values of years ago.

Throwback designs present a piece of the past to consumers. Vintage packaging provides an essential part of American culture and memories. These classic colors, shapes and themes reflect an earlier era of simplicity and placidness. It’s a direction many modern people wish they could turn to, and packaging helps them achieve that experience.

There are three reasons the vintage packaging trend is popular. First, these old designs reflect a timeless quality that remained intact through the years. Second, vintage designs invoke memories of traditions and passion. Humans are partial to stories, and people listen to vintage packaging. Finally, vintage packaging allows adults to share pieces of their past with the younger generation. These products help communicate meaningful nostalgia and memories while also driving sales.

Minimalist Product Packaging

“Less is more” is an adage that’s true for many types of packaging. It’s certainly true in 2020 packaging industry trends. Minimalist product packaging is popular for conscientious consumers who prefer products that don’t have extraneous wrapping and protection. This trend is especially strong in the modern food packaging industry.

Minimalist packaging works well because it’s simple. Consumers appreciate simplicity and economy, which is one reason brown paper wrappings are so popular. It’s a pushback to unnecessary excessiveness.

The minimalist trend also affects product labels. People resist information overload. Labels with fine print and too much detail are a turnoff. Packages with simple labels that tell consumers what the product is and what’s in it for them are today’s trendy move. Companies that ignore the minimalist message do so at their marketing peril.

Label Printing Over Stick-On Shipping Labels

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Stick-on shipping labels were once the norm in product packaging. Shipping labels were the last things to go on a packaged product before it went out the door. Back in the old days, this made sense, because most packages were complete before the shipper knew their destination.

Stick-on labels aren’t the 2020 trend for shipping labels. Now, many sellers package their products on demand, after they already know their recipient. It’s especially true in e-commerce and online shopping, where buyers place orders before companies fill them.

Digital printing has virtually replaced stick-on shipping labels in many businesses. Label printing directly on packaging removes one step in the distribution process. Each step costs money. Digital label printing lowers packaging and shipping charges, and sellers can then pass on those savings to the consumer.

Ever-Present E-Commerce and Packaging

In the new decade, e-commerce will only grow as consumers increase online buying. Smithers Pira estimates the current e-commerce market — which is valued at $35 billion — will grow to $55 billion by 2022. Accordingly, specialized packaging specifically for e-commerce is trending. Amazon is the giant of e-commerce, and there are some valid lessons to learn from Amazon’s e-commerce packaging.

Amazon is a pack-to-order company. Once they receive an order, workers pick and process the items. Amazon has automated every step of their process, including the physical packaging and digital printing. That includes some individual items and a multiple order in one shipping box.

Amazon might be big, but it’s not the only e-commerce player. Many companies find the trend to e-commerce purchasing effective and profitable. E-commerce packaging still reflects the same basic principles as real-time shopping. Products have to be professionally presented, protected and please consumer expectations. This will be increasingly important as social media grows. Smithers Pira reports 49% of consumers share their unboxing experience on social media, giving product packaging center stage.

Sustainable Packaging

The green movement has the momentum to carry itself through 2020 and beyond. Every company that deals with packaged goods should consider joining the green wave. It’s all about responsibility through sustainable goods and environmentally friendly products. The green scene also involves smaller packaging.

Many brands are converting to sustainable packaging made from biodegradable materials like paper or hemp. Others are focusing on reducing the amount of packaging each product has. This cuts down on the product’s weight and shipping cost, and it sends a positive message to consumers.

Reduce, reuse and recycle is part of the green commitment to being responsible in the world. Today’s consumers are conscious and deliberate about their environmental footprint. More people than ever are joining the ecological fight and doing their part to protect their share of the world. The packaging industry must recognize and respect consumers’ desire to maintain a smaller carbon footprint. They can do that by making smaller and greener packages.

York Saw & Knife Recognizes the 2020 Packaging Industry Trends

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York Saw & Knife is a cutting-edge supplier to America’s packaging industry. That’s not a pun or play on words. Since 1906, York Saw & Knife of York, PA, has supplied top-quality and precision cutting tools to packaging companies across the nation and around the world.

Every company in the packaging industry requires precision cutting equipment. York Saw & Knife manufactures and distributes custom industrial machine knives for every conceivable application in the packaging world. Our knife blades for packaging include:

York Saw & Knife supplies American-made products. We offer quick lead times, free quotes, zero minimum for orders and assistance from an expert in-house team. For more information on how York Saw & Knife helps the packaging industry, call us today at 800-233-1969. Our online contact form is always available.