Consumers have, by the very nature of the pandemic, been forced to adjust their lifestyles.
The packaging they interact with, how they shop for packaged products, the products they actually buy, how they receive them and when, what they look and feel like, what their use experience is and then what happens to the packaging after this…it’s all been turned upside-down.
They have seen the realities of plastic providing an essential and important role in packaging, but are still not grasping the practical realities of the call to exit plastic. That pressure has been sidelined in the last 12 months, however, it can now be seen evolving onto its next level after this period of relatively non-challenging and incremental innovation hitting the market place. The frustration, as perceived by the consumers at large, will most likely be realised as a renewed vigour and fervour to force changes in light of this relative stagnation of sustained efforts to make packaging more environmentally conscious. How much will the number of products moving out of plastic increase in the next 12 months?
There has also been a luxury not afforded in ‘normal’ times, that of time to reflect and take stock aside from the pressures of day to day life. Consumers have become more aware and conscious of their environment, the noise, the quality of the air and the prevalence of a new menace, that of discarded PPE, becoming more the narrative than packaging litter. The general impression in the market place is this will catalyse a new and deeper realisation of the impact we have on the environment. One can see, as we emerge from the pandemic, a renewed energy to encourage change to keep the benefits to the environment they can reach out and touch, and take responsibility for the legacy of the impacts we have made. How will consumers change their purchasing paradigms given their new perspective and insight?
The incredible switch to remote shopping, click-and-collect and delivered to door through the online portals from the in person, in store, in your shopping bag experience has changed how consumers look at packaging.
For those shopping in store, the whole experience has become almost entirely transactional and functional, browsing has become ‘dangerous’. There is little thought or time spared for exploring and discovering new, alternative or different products. The perception of packaging in store has become focussed on the transaction, the identification and acquisition of the product in mind, the decision being much more default and less open for challenge. How will this be in 12 months?
Shopping online is still numb and a shallow experience. The shopping websites try their best to lift the experience up but the reality is it is a necessary chore, yet another antiseptic picture and drop-down menu. What will have changed a year from now?
History shows us that when, as a whole population, the restraints are lifted and freedoms are restored, there is a marked and dramatic shift in attitude. The human condition, as a consumer, will be to revert to a more colourful, tactile, dynamic and emotively directed mindset. One could even predict certain shifts in products used to more experiential, premium and enjoyable brands and products, where the whole experience of acquisition, use and one could argue, disposal, can be savoured and enjoyed. What product will consumers now favour above those being purchased today?
One underlying ripple throughout any scan or analysis of the consumer market, whether it be packaged goods or otherwise, is the expectation of change for the better. The economic impact of the pandemic is still yet to be fully understood, change to steer us onto a better future is inevitable and it will be difficult. At the government level, consultations and policy has been delayed protracting the time when legislation, like Extended Producer Responsibility, will be in place to drive the direction of change. How will the packaged goods industry prepare and then react to the changes required by government and expected by customers and consumers?
Packaging has become a different talking point from the narrative of 12-14 months ago, when the more predictable aspirational and operational priorities of environmental sustainability and cost, and the inevitable evolution of businesses to understand, appreciate and begin to adopt these changes. It has become something a little more basic and functional with the practical realities of getting the products that are needed to people who need them. But what does this hold for the future as we emerge from the pandemic and freedoms are restored?
Let us all hope across all industries and sectors we are conscious and responsible enough to learn well from this time of reflection and as a global industry we make the right changes and as individual consumers we vote for the right changes with our pockets.
Mike Swain is a seasoned, accredited packaging professional, a long-standing Exec Board member of the IOM3 Packaging Group and an enormously respected figure throughout the active packaging community. He’s currently the Managing Director of Pack IDS Ltd, an independent consultancy which offers support and solutions for packaging strategic initiatives, marketing and technical development for the Circular Materials Economy, for every day to luxury products in the food, beverage and non-food sectors. All up, Mike has 28 years’ experience in packaging innovation, R&D and marketing and manufacturing for both big multinationals and local SME businesses with a track record of consistent delivery of commercially successful packaged products.