Covid-19 has changed a lot already. And it’s not over yet. For many the ‘new normal’ is fast becoming the normal as the months pass by. New behaviours are becoming engrained and likely to stay with us long after Covid-19 is (hopefully!) a thing of the past. This also has an impact on the world of packaging. If the way we live our lives changes, the packaging in it also has to.
Here are 10 ways that Covid-19’s impact may be felt in packaging going forward:
- Sustainable single use options
One interesting outcome of the coronavirus pandemic is that single use is up – particularly in the hospitality industry. Part of this is down to the fact that with customers staying at home takeaway food sales were up and that meant an increase in single serve condiments. But equally, even in countries where restaurants are still open (or have reopened) customers are now more conscious of touching things that others have such as condiment bottles. All of this means that single serving sachets are in demand. As such, finding sustainable single use packaging options is a big industry focus.
- No-touch beauty samples
Samples are a way of life in the beauty industry. But coronavirus has required retailers to rethink how these are packaged. Often samples are filled by staff, or have multiple customers all touching and using the same product, which isn’t ideal as retailers look to offer a safe and hygienic experience. As a result, we’re seeing new innovations in contact-free packaging for samples. One approach is to reimagine automatic soap dispenser technology, where a set amount of product is dispensed when a hand is waved under it, for products like foundation. However, we expect other developments in this area.
- Antibacterial packaging materials
One packaging development that coronavirus may spearhead is antibacterial materials. This is to help customers to feel more comfortable about picking up products that others may have touched. It also offers a sense of security that the product won’t make you unwell. For retailers, it would remove a need to disinfect or wipe down goods when stocking shelves or packaging online orders. We’re already seeing antibacterial materials being used on things like payment cards and others are exploring it for plastic packaging, so antibacterial packaging may be a thing sooner rather than later.
- Touch-tracking packaging
One of the big concerns many shoppers now have is how many people have already touched something they want to buy. One way around this would be to develop packaging that can visibly demonstrate how many people have touched it. This might be via packaging that changes colour on prolonged contact or when it detects fingerprints. These materials aren’t a reality yet but with hygiene so high on everyone’s radar they’re certainly an area we can see being explored.
- Ecommerce-proof packaging
Coronavirus has accelerated the uptake of ecommerce globally. As a result, packaging designers need to think about how to package products to arrive intact after passing through the supply chain. This is particularly important as many products are packaged for sale in stores, but ecommerce adds extra stages of transport. As such, packaging needs to be robust enough that it arrives at the customer’s door in good condition. This shift to ecommerce-proof packaging gives designers room to reimagine how some products are packaged. This might include changing materials, shifting to refill packaging where possible or reimagining the packaging entirely.
- Contextual packaging
Wai Wai noodles had an interesting response to the coronavirus pandemic when it came to packaging. It quickly pivoted its packaging design to include information from the World Health Organisation on how to wash your hands properly. We love how fast the brand responded to what was happening and that it used its packaging to share valuable information – particularly as long-life foods like noodles were in high demand. We also see a future for more packaging to change in response to what’s going on in the world. This does require fast turnarounds when it comes to supply chains, but sharing important, useful messages and information increases the value of packaging on products.
- Increased focus on brand identity
Brand identity has never been more important. The coronavirus pandemic has changed customer shopping habits. More people are buying online. Those who are going into stores are typically making fewer trips and focused on getting in and out as quickly as possible. This means that many are gravitating towards brands that they know and trust rather than browsing for new alternatives. But it also means that they need to be able to quickly identify those brands whether scanning shelves or looking at small images online. For packaging design, this means rather than radical redesigns the focus is on maintaining clear brand identity. That identity also needs to work in person and onscreen and at different sizes.
- Environmentally friendly plastics
The pandemic has slowed down the sustainability shift in packaging. Not only are customers gravitating towards plastic as a material because they feel it is more hygienic, but items that could be sold loose may now increasingly be packaged. While reducing plastic packaging is still necessary for the future, Covid-19 has given us new insights regarding customer behaviour when it comes to safety. As such, the race is on to develop environmentally friendly plastics, such as bioplastic, that can meet customer requirements and sustainability needs.
- Growth in tech enhancements
Another way coronavirus may change packaging is through technology. Again, with concerns about touch and hygiene being high, tech enhanced packaging could give brands a way of communicating with customers without them touching the product. This may include using AR and QR code technologies to scan the front of packaging to bring up product information, recipes and recommendations. Image recognition technology through smartphones may be another option.
- More packaging?
Perhaps the biggest impact that coronavirus may have on packaging is to create more of it. Brands and retailers are all looking for ways to reassure customers to buy their products. As hygiene becomes front of mind, many may turn to packaging to create that sense of security. For example, this may include putting foil caps over cans (as San Pellegrino already does) so customers know the surface is clean to drink from, or adding extra layers of packaging to protect contents. This needs to be carefully considered though. While it’s important to try and meet customer demands, we’re all well aware of the need to minimise waste and that often means minimising packaging. If Covid-19’s impact pushes us the other way, it needs to be in a sustainable direction.
By Cate Trotter, Head of Trends at Insider Trends, London