Flexible packaging has been a consistent growth segment in recent years, as new innovations have made it a strong solution for a wide range of products, and increasingly attractive to a variety of brands. As consumers laud its convenience and begin to understand its sustainability advantages, flexible packaging is changing how consumers interact with the products they buy.
For example, Barb Woodruff, director of sales for flexible packaging printer and converter, Glenroy, Inc., explains that as pouches become increasingly advanced, they are becoming more than just vessels to hold a product.
“Premade pouches continue to stand out and you can see how they are changing from simply holding a product to becoming an integral part of the delivery of the product,” Woodruff says. “Zippers, sliders, pour spouts, sprayers and innovative closures are all showing up in the space more often.”
Consumer Trends Driving Packaging Trends
At the core of any successful package is how consumers react to it and welcome it into their daily lives. As consumer behaviors and lifestyles evolve, a correlation can be made among many of the latest innovations in flexible packaging.
For example, the hectic lifestyle of the modern consumer often requires eating on-the-go, as he or she shuffles between the day’s activities. Additionally, consumers have also shown a desire to decrease food waste. Richard Custer, commercial director for Fresh-Lock, a line of resealable flexible packaging zippers produced by Presto Products, says flexible packaging that offers these types of closures can help consumers reduce food waste while adding convenience to their lives.
“Consumers and brands are looking for enhanced easy-open, easy-reclose options that are not only convenient, but also extend food freshness,” Custer says.
Part of the methodology behind designing and manufacturing flexible packaging structures is developing an understanding of how a package can improve a consumer’s experience with the product. For example, Woodruff explains Glenroy has worked to develop flexible packaging that improves how the product is dispensed to the consumer.
“We want to know how the product will be used by the consumer,” Woodruff says. “With this information we can develop a pouch that will enhance the delivery of the product as well. A great example is the premade STANDCAP pouch. From the consumer’s standpoint, it’s really all about improving the delivery [by eliminating] the utensil, [making it] easy to use, [dispensing] virtually all of the product — and it’s easily portable.”
According to Woodruff, a key component in the rise of flexible packaging is its acceptance among the younger generations. Despite flexible packaging structures being a newer packaging format compared to many of their rigid competitors, younger generations are willing to accept these innovations due to their familiarity with flexible packaging.
“A lot of innovation is being driven by the millennial consumer,” Woodruff says. “They are looking for new, exciting and convenient packaging. Don’t forget, this generation grew up with flexible packaging, so the trend we’re seeing now with more premade pouches in retail doesn’t faze them and is actually readily embraced.”
But beyond having grown up with flexible packaging, the fast-paced lifestyles of many younger consumers make them an ideal target for flexible packaging. Custer explains that as millennials move throughout their hectic days, products packaged for portability can be enticing options.
“Today’s consumer lifestyle trends not only focus on reduced waste, but also young consumers’ strong preference for convenient and portable products,” Custer says. “Millennials are constantly on the move and want products that can travel with them. Flexible, reclosable packaging is easy to transport and also maintains product freshness for far longer than traditional rigid packaging options.”
In addition to the convenience factor that has led to innovations in packaging closures and portability, consumer trends have also been a catalyst for sustainability improvements in flexible packaging. According to Mark Kay, performance films group leader for NOVA Chemicals’ polyethylene business, this consumer push for sustainability is leading brands to seek out packaging options with less of an impact on the environment.
“Shifting demographics and consumer preferences are driving the demand for more sustainable solutions, in packaging and far beyond,” Kay says. “Negative publicity around ocean gyres and plastic-filled beaches only add to the urgency to lightweight products; increase recyclability, curbside collection and sorting capabilities; and innovating to increase the demand for recyclate. Major retailers and brand owners are working towards goals around all reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging, and these initiatives are speeding the shift to recyclable packaging. There is also a significant push towards sustainable solutions by the packaging companies themselves.”
Kay also details that there are programs in place that can educate consumers about the recyclability of a package. For example, he explains the How2Recycle initiative from environmental nonprofit GreenBlue has been effective in directing flexible packaging into the recycling stream. Brands and retailers that participate in the How2Recycle program implement specific recycling instructions onto a package so consumers know the proper steps to take to ensure the package is properly recycled.
Another key consumer trend driving development in flexible packaging is the rise of ecommerce. According to Kay, as brands and retailers seek methods to better protect their products during shipping, flexible packaging could play an important role.
“Ecommerce is a game-changing example of the convenience trend, and its efficiencies, coupled with the ease of comparison shopping, are also driving down prices in many sectors,” Kay says. “As Business Insider reports, ecommerce is driving virtually all retail growth, and its impact on flexible packaging will grow with it. According to FMI [Food Marketing Institute], the online grocery market alone may reach $100 billion by 2022. Better performing flexible packaging solutions — especially seal integrity and abuse resistance so products arrive at the consumer’s door intact — will be a must to support the more rigorous ecommerce supply chain.”
Custer explains that ecommerce will only continue to be a driver of flexible packaging innovations, as its growth will introduce variables into the delivery of products bought online. With more products entering the ecommerce stream, he says flexible packaging is poised to play a strong role in keeping these products protected.
“As more consumers are doing their shopping online, brands have to consider the delivery of those items,” he says. “The packaging needs to hold up to the rigorous demands and unknowns of ecommerce. These items will be shipped across the country with a variety of items in the same shipping carton — you don’t want them arriving damaged. Flexible packaging is a great fit in this arena. I think this will drive innovation in both the structures as well as the design of the package.”
The Future of Flexibles
While convenience, sustainability and ecommerce are three major consumer trends driving current flexible packaging innovations, there are developing consumer demands that could be catalysts of flexible packaging’s future evolution. Product safety is one area to watch, Woodruff says.
“The development of approved, child-resistant closure systems like Child-Guard, have opened the door for many possibilities for manufacturers of regulated and non-regulated products looking for safe reclosability,” Custer says. “Companies in regulated categories such as pool chemicals are able to take advantage of flexible packaging solutions for their products. For non-regulated products, child-resistant closure systems give CPG brands an extra level of protection that can be used as a marketable differentiator on product packaging. Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to pay more for premium closure systems and peace of mind.”
With flexible packaging’s growth expected to continue into the future, it’s clear that the most successful packages will be the ones that take consumer considerations into account.
“Over-packaging as a means to meet retailer needs, such as theft protection, has become a turn off to environmentally conscious consumers and will be replaced by ‘right-sized’ packaging comprised of sustainably-optimized materials,” Custer continues. “With that, single-serve individual package convenience will give way to larger multi-serve packages that allow repeated access. The process of open, consume, discard — open, consume, discard will be replaced by open, consume, reclose — open, consume, reclose, repeat multiple times, producing less waste to be landfilled or recycled.”