On Shelf
On Shelf

#OnShelf: Packaging design trends

by Louise Burgers. How manufacturers are addressing the safety concerns of consumers with packaging.

by Louise Burgers. We know there is an obvious trend to healthier food choices and bolstering the immune system, in the midst of this global health crisis, but what about packaging? How are manufacturers addressing the safety concerns of consumers? In our first #OnShelf column of the new year, we take a look at the innovation we can see in packaging going forward.

We have written about how this year will define retail innovation going forward; and the same is true for all retail products and packaging. We know the demand for luxury retail and fashion is down as people go out less; and that the demand for home appliances and home gym equipment has increased as people cater for their needs while staying at home more. Much of this consumer behaviour is not temporary, it will become permanent. Here is what to expect in product and pack design for 2021:

1. Biosafety is at the top of packaging design trends for products as COVID-19 continues to ravage our planet, and the repercussions will linger a long time. Consumers are specifically focusing on the packaging of food and beverage products in this regard. Consumers either want packaging they can wipe down; or dispose of safely and sustainably; or remove and bin so that the product can be packed away and the risk of infection from Covid, minimised. Food producers have the opportunity to reassure customers that their goods are adequately protected from Covid contamination by promoting their efforts to do so with better hygiene factors and biosafety, says Packaging Gateway. From research, it seems as if the virus is less likely to survive on cardboard and porous surfaces (like Mycelium mushroom packaging), something manufacturers are taking note of. This is a powerful trend going forward, says Crowdspring.

2. Wellness and social support. Healthier meal options are being sought out by consumers and a host of new wellness lines and products will be launched by manufacturers this year across the globe. Purpose is also more important than ever before in fully engaging with customers and many brands are using social issues to do this – with packaging as their communications tool in store and on social media. An example is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and its history of activism.

3. Both product and package are usable and sustainable: Brazilian company Copapa has produced a toilet roll product with packaging that can be transformed into fertilizer. The product, Carinho Eco Green, received an ABNT eco label for its zero-impact sustainability rating. Amazon, Walmart and other mega-retailers now require packaging that reduces waste and less energy to produce, i.e., “digitally printed packaging, LED technologies require less inks and consumables than other traditional print methods; and with advances in printing & CAD cutting technologies, sustainable packaging is more easily achievable than ever”, says Xceedpkg.

4. Reusable packaging. This cat food pack which can be reused as a cat scratcher gets my vote, for sure. Although my cats have already cleverly reused my furniture as cat scratching posts, predictably (not sure about the innovative part!).

5. Neutral colours are on the rise as brands are going for “warm earth tones and softer, neutral colours in their packaging designs”. Customers need to feel cared for and reassured during these times. Creating relevant and helpful and caring messages on packaging will help brands connect with their customers and project an image of calm.

6. Transparent packaging will continue as part of the accountability trend; as well as allowing the product to showcase its values and sell itself. This includes actual product transparency for consumers through digital codes that consumers can scan using their mobile phones to access more information on the products through QR codes on product boxes.

7. Artificial intelligence on pack. AI will soon replace other product tech in order to personalise products even more for customers. The Occitane Group, through an innovative startup, has introduced an AI chip to their skincare packaging to offer personalised skincare solutions, so customers can have freshly blended makeup capsules on the go. This service is offered in the UK right now.

8. Clear typography and clear brand messaging. This is not a time for retail therapy, customers want to get in and out of a store quickly to avoid the risk of being infected with Covid. So clear logos and brand names; as well as in store signage and access must be easy to read and instructions quick to grasp. Bigger fonts, bold colours, and packaging that catches the eye are the factors that may win your brand the better margin over competitors.

9. Taking a stand: Packaging is now also speaking to customers, not only to promote the benefits of the product inside; but also, when taking a stand on social issues and the environment. Packaging with more than just a brand message is a growing trend, i.e., for pride with a #loveislove message.

10. Storytelling is of course one of the key marketing tactics as everyone loves an engaging backstory. It connects a brand to the customer and in a disconnected world, people need to feel connected. One way to do this is to personalise packaging or connect via storytelling. With ecommerce increasing rapidly around the world, what is your brand doing to give your customer an excellent shopping experience when they are not in your store or picking up your brand from a shelf? Personalised packaging is one way. Special offers and sampling is another. But it had better be something special, as choice ramps up and more services and brands are available online as customers limit in store visits.

As the Sld.com blog says,The hyper niche trend will be led by indie-inspired labels featuring entrepreneurs, unique family recipes or strong storytelling. The most significant impact will be seen through unique, almost homegrown packaging labels promoting an irreverent attitude, while also challenging existing norms too dependent on hero photography.”



Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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