A new report by Innova Market Insights and PackagingInsights has highlighted the trends to dominate the packaging sector in the post-pandemic world. Joshua Poole writes for PKN.

Innova Market Insights, in collaboration with PackagingInsights, has revealed its top packaging trends. ‘Home Delivery Haven’ leads the pack as the top trend, followed by ‘The Carbon Catalyst’, ‘Fibre-based Frenzy’, ‘Hygiene Heroics’, and ‘Reusable Revolution’.

Home Delivery Haven

E-commerce is a long-term trend, exponentially expanded by the Covid-19 pandemic, and home food delivery has especially soared due to lockdowns and social restrictions.

According to a recent survey by Innova, 35 per cent of global consumers have increased their home food delivery use since the virus outbreak, and 15 per cent of global consumers do not expect to return to regular grocery habits post-pandemic.

Global accounting firm Deloitte supports the findings, saying the pandemic is “rapidly changing our behaviour toward online channels, and the shifts are likely to stick post-pandemic”.

Furthermore, Amcor is predicting the online European grocery market will grow 66 per cent by 2023, with cheese, yoghurts and chilled desserts representing the most popular fresh food categories.

A crucial challenge for transit packaging is freshness preservation, intensified by pandemic supply chain disruptions and geo-political uncertainties, such as Brexit.

Exponential e-commerce growth also creates opportunities for enhanced brand recognition and product experience through fit-for-purpose packaging.

The Carbon Catalyst

Anti-plastic fervour fuelled by the so-called ‘Blue Planet effect’ has expanded into what could be coined the ‘Greta Thunberg effect’. Plastic pollution concern is undiminished, but increasingly viewed as one of several environmental issues dominated by climate change.

Getty Images identified climate change and sustainability as the top public issues in 26 countries – above even Covid-19 – using its creative insights platform Visual GPS.

Climate change fears are encouraging brands to take a holistic approach to packaging’s environmental impact, ushering in an age of Life Cycle Assessments focused on more than just end-of-life disposal.

Recycled plastics accessible via established circular economies are also increasingly integral in fighting climate change. A 2017 Alpla study found recycled PET produces 79 per cent lower CO2 emissions than virgin PET.

Carbon labelling also continues to gain traction. In January, Amcor began offering printed ‘Reducing CO2 Packaging’ labels on a range of flexible packs. The move came after a Carbon Trust-commissioned YouGov survey found two-thirds of European consumers support product carbon labels.

Energy efficiency in production and processing is also crucial to packaging’s total CO2 impact. Renewable energy is becoming increasingly common, with more leading packaging suppliers lining up to commit to net-zero carbon emissions, including Sealed Air by 2040.

Robotics and automation are also shown to be a catalyst at minimising energy in machinery.

Fibre-based Frenzy

Innovation in plastic replacement fibre-based solutions is booming as brands explore plastic waste escape routes and new connections with the enlarging eco-conscious consumer base.

Even in more technically challenging categories like confectionery bar wrappers and pouches, full-scale paper packaging conversions are occurring, notably Nestlé’s Smarties [see page 44 of this issue].

More stringent regulations are driving the transition from single-use plastics to fibre-based alternatives.

In the budding paper bottle space, Coca-Cola recently brought Paboco’s paper bottle prototype to the ‘critical testing phase’ in Hungary while Absolut Vodka is transitioning from glass to paper bottles in the UK and Sweden.

The prototype consists of a paper shell with an rPET closure and liner. Ultimately, the goal is to create a paper bottle without a plastic liner, fully recyclable as paper. Biopolymer pioneer Avantium was brought on board to develop a thin PEF liner. PEF is widely considered a promising, bio-based PET-replacement with superior performance.

Interestingly, 46 per cent of global consumers would accept decreased product shelf life if it meant more sustainable packaging. However, whether paper bottles boast superior net environmental benefits to recycled PET remains a point of contention.

Nonetheless, the appetite for fibre-based solutions is evident in the rapid uptake of alternatives to plastic shrink wrap and rings.

Hygiene Heroics

The Covid-19 pandemic has also heightened consumer hygiene concerns, giving rise to touch-free packaging design and antimicrobial technologies. According to Innova’s consumer survey, 59 per cent of global consumers believe packaging’s protective function is more important since the virus outbreak.

Consumers mostly support the increased use of plastic for hygiene during the pandemic, including typically unrecyclable films on fruit and vegetables. While 20 per cent of global consumers favour more plastics, 42 per cent see them as an undesirable necessity currently.

Antimicrobial solutions also demonstrate impressive shelf life-extending capabilities, vital in maintaining product hygiene and avoiding food waste.

Consumers are evidently on board with the food waste fight, with global consumers regarding freshness indicators as the most critical packaging feature (44%), slightly more popular than minimal (43%), and flexible packaging (42%).


Reusable packaging is increasingly recognised as crucial to waste reduction, with wide-ranging support from NGOs. Regulatory bodies and consumers. According to Innova, most global consumers (52%) believe reusable packaging is the most sustainable model, followed by recyclable (50%) and recycled (39%), biodegradable (31%) and compostable (24%).

In Australia, social enterprise Thankyou unexpectedly announced its flagship bottled water’s discontinuation, encouraging consumers to embrace reusable alternatives.

Research supporting reusable packaging’s CO2 reduction benefits is also on the rise. Zero Waste Europe and Reloop found reusable bottles, crates, jars, and other solutions are up to 85 per cent more climate-friendly than single-use options.

Although many reusable packaging systems remain in trial stages, growing environmental consciousness and big player backing point to short and long-term growth. Prevalent here is TerraCycle’s net-zero waste, reusable packaging platform Loop, which will launch soon in Australia and Germany. It is currently active in the US, Canada, Japan, France and the UK. Loop’s rapidly expanding partnerships include McDonald’s, Burger King, Tupperware, Tesco, and Open Farm pet food.

Meanwhile, Unilever has launched supermarket refill trials using touchscreen machines. QR codes enable Unilever to track refills, evaluate consumer engagement and expand the scheme. In Australia, Unilever’s refill trial has opened in Coles concept store in Moonee Ponds, Melbourne.

This article was first published in the May-June 2021 print issue of PKN Packaging News, p14.

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