Packaging is getting smarter, more customized, more connected to social media and greener. These are the top 2016 packaging trends that we’ve spotted and that we predict will become even stronger in 2017.

Smart packaging hit the mainstream

2016 saw the Rollout of SmartLabel, a QR code based labelling system. It is designed to bring more information to the customer, primarily via the use of their smartphone. When consumers scan the QR code on the product, they get access to a host of information. This includes ingredients, ingredient sourcing practices, third-party certifications, social compliance and sustainability programs, allergens, animal welfare, manufacturer information and more.

Although this is technically not smart packaging technology, it is a step forward for consumer access to information about their purchase. It also represents a dynamic connection between the consumer and packaging through the Internet.

There are two reasons we feel this is a top 2016 packaging trend: firstly, several big manufacturers rolled out these labels, including Pepsi, Unilever, Nestle and Hersey, which taken together represent a big portion of the food industry. Secondly, it has been associated in the media with another big story in 2016, GMO labelling in the USA.

Many manufacturers are now working on smart packaging.  Designs include applications such as better preserve its contents or give detailed information about freshness by using chemical applications. See more about that in our previous article entitled Smart Packaging adoption to reduce food waste. We expect this area of packaging to expand slowly as innovation costs are still high and the industry has much regulation to settle before making smart packaging mainstream.

We should also quickly mention the approach of Augmented Reality as another to connect consumers,products and their manufacturers.

The continued trend of customization

Customization was first seen in large-scale mainstream packaging in Absolute Vodka’s and Coca-Cola’s use of individualized bottles in 2013 and  2015, respectively.  Now it is being experimented with by manufacturers such as Anheuser-Busch (Bud Light customization with shrink sleeve labels) and Mondelez (Oreo colorable packaging).  Technologies such as digital printing on shrink sleeves as well as on colour labels have made this process possible, and profitable.  We would expect more such activity in the future.

Socialization of packaging 

Social media has long been important for brands and this trend will continue as manufacturers seek to interact with customers to generate buzz, enhance sales and even get packaging ideas.

Instagram is currently seen as the strongest social media to seek brand awareness. According to Brandwatch 2016, brand engagement there is currently 10 times higher than on Facebook, and 84 times higher than on Twitter! Instagram (300 Million) now has more users than Twitter (284 million) but is still dwarfed by Facebook (1.35 billion) though.

In some lucky instances, mindshare is increased by intense discussion around the packaging. A good example seen this summer was Budweiser’s name change to America in time for the 4th of July.

Green packaging

As per a MarketsandMarkets report entitled “Sustainable Packaging Market by Material,” the sustainable packaging market which was valued at 201.6 Billion dollars in 2015. It is expected to have a cumulative annual growth rate of 7.17% through 2020. More stringent regulations regarding sustainability and increasing customer preference for sustainable packaging are the leading factors for this growth.

Indeed, forward-thinking manufacturers are multiplying their announcements about sustainable product launches or approvals. For example, UPM Raflatac one of our trusted commercial partners recently announced just last month the approval of its wash-off adhesive for PET bottles by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). In October, their “Vanish” line of recyclable self-adhesive labels received approval from the massive Novelis recycling company. It now considers these PET film labels to be acceptable for recycling beer cans.

2016 packaging trends to continue

In our eyes, each of these 2016 packaging trends will continue gathering strength in 2017 and beyond.

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