Brands owners today grapple with many concerns when it comes to packaging. On the bright side, digital print and finishing technologies offer new opportunities to stand out on the shelf or amplify the unboxing experience.
The top-of-mind packaging issues for brand owners include sustainability, quality and consistency, volume growth, SKU proliferation, customization and personalization, security and brand protection, and smaller turnaround times.
“Brands are always looking to increase sales and gain market share. In today’s fast-paced, information-saturated world it’s increasingly difficult for brands to get noticed as much as they may have a decade ago. As a result, finding new ways to stand out—not only on the store shelf but in social media—are becoming increasingly critical to drive growth,” adds Randy Paar, marketing manager, large format solutions, Business Information Solutions Group, Canon Solutions America.
Packaging must speak to the customer and with ever-changing demands, this can be a difficult feat to achieve. Brand owners constantly need to continue to produce innovative and exciting packaging. “There is a saturation of content and anxiety and distrust in wider society, meaning products need to catch people’s attention. People are far less likely to remember social media adverts, which is why the physical experience is more important than ever before. These experiences are tangible and more memorable as they endure through time,” notes Jose Gorbea, global head of brands—agencies, sustainability, and innovation, HP Inc. “The key issue for brand owners is resolving the problem of how to meet changing customer demands for sustainability whilst also producing more efficient and effective packaging storytelling at an affordable price.”
Michael Ciaramella, VP/GM, Highcon, notes that big brands face decreasing customer loyalty. “Customers no longer buy products based solely on a brand. The growth of ecommerce has forever changed consumer behavior. Technologies like Shopify make it easy for smaller brands to reach the consumer and have increased the competitive landscape. This has forced brands to be more nimble and react quicker to changing consumer habits.”
Further, materials shortages play an increasing role in production demand and timeframes. “Just-in-time production is growing to help maximize the use of limited materials,” offers Ciaramella.
Dean Haertel, business director, oneLABEL portfolio, Bobst, points out that another less visible issue, but very serious, relates to the shortage of qualified workforce within packaging converters.”This impacts brand owners as it continues to move printers and converters across all market segments.”
Top Trends Packaging is on an interesting path. It is one form of print that will not go away. The availability of digital print and finishing technologies combined with demands for shorter runs and value-added effects push the envelope.
“Top trends for packaging are shorter runs, produced quickly at the right size. Growing competition and changing consumer habits increase the need for shorter runs and additional customization,” offers Ciaramella.
Haertel notes demand for personalized experience packaging capable of existing in a brick and mortar store.
The rise in ecommerce makes the the unboxing and opening experience even more important as it may be the only interaction the brand has with a consumer. “The unboxing or opening experience continues to evolve to capture the customer’s full attention—in some cases, using multi-channel approaches combining packaging with social media and other web-based experiences,” says Ciaramella.
Gorbea points to a need to build the regeneration between brands and community. “We must regenerate out values on climate, society, and the economy. This community mindset demands that brands and communities work together to have a positive change in the world. This has led to the rise in circular packaging and the decarbonization of packaging, which is seen as an important, emerging trend due to the rise in eco-consciousness in recent years as consumers look to make more sustainable choices. As well as this, supply chain transparency is equally important, as consumers want to be aware of the impact on the supply chain of purchases.”
Interactive print is another area of interest. “This is driven by the desire for customer engagement. Packaging is now one of the most impactful ways of marketing, even more so than traditional avenues. People want to be engaged by the products that they’re spending their money on. If brands can find innovative and unique ways to engage customers, or even get them to participate in some way, they will find more successes,” shares Gorbea.
He says the new blend of the physical and virtual realm has also permeated the packaging industry. “Brands are finding ways of engaging online through physical packaging. As of today, 92 percent of CPG brands use QR codes on their packaging as a way of engaging the customer and redirecting them to an online site.”
For example, HP recently collaborated with chocolate company, Hershey, to utilized this blended technique to not only print limited edition packaging, but to do this in conjunction with a film, amplifying how HP Indigo’s digitally printed packaging can be used, not only to keep food products safe, but to elevate brand engagement through the co-creation of user generated content to become the ultimate vehicle for cultural relevance and on-pack storytelling.
“As run lengths continue to drop, brands continue to revise their package designs, introduce new SKUs targeting specific market segments and consumer types to capture new customers and retain existing ones. This is largely the result of consumers expectations of a more customized experience in their purchasing decisions. People want greater choice that reflects their tastes rather than just mass produced, generic products. This is reflected in new package designs and supporting advertising campaigns,” says Parr.
Other trends involve sustainable packaging, including the continued need to improve recyclability and understand how to engage in circularity, as well as connected and secured packaging, preventing fraud, and allowing data capturing for tracking, adds Haertel.
“One thing that has not changed is that brands – whatever size, want their products to look good regardless of material shortages or production issues. The Introduction of innovative digital solutions helps our industry to continue to meet the needs of a changing environment,” adds Ciaramella.
Digital Packaging Landscape Several technologies are responsible for transforming the packaging landscape, particularly the adoption of digital printing technologies and automation.
“Thanks to digital technologies and the flexibility they offer, custom packages can be ordered cost effectively and quickly. Digital offers continued enhancements and provides the ability to quickly customize packaging and offer just-in-time solutions to help brands manage their supply chains,” offers Ciaramella.
He says digital finishing is playing a key part in the transformation by providing the fully digital manufacturing process that enhances the flexibility of packaging production.
Haertel points to modularity, providing the ability to change and adjust on the fly. In addition, automation is a way to improve workforce challenges and time-to-market. In fact, all BOBST equipment is equipped with advanced automation features. Another component, Extended Color Gamut, allows for the usage of fixed colors reduce costs reduce errors with the best quality.
Packaging increasingly embraces the benefits of digital production for a number of reasons. At the packaging development stage, Paar shares that digitally produced prototypes are produced quickly and in high quality utilizing a UV-curable flatbed inkjet printer, and can then be cut and creased on a digital finishing device. “Now a relatively inexpensive inkjet printer and XY cutter can produce labels for all types of businesses,” says Paar.
These prototypes can be produced in significant quantities to support focus groups or even test marketing in retail environments to determine the most effective design. He says digital production workflows also better support customization and versioning so the packaging can be more tailored to specific market segments and easily changed out without the high costs of makeready on a high-volume flexographic press.
“I think of the cottage industries like craft beer, Etsy artists, home manufacturers, and other startups that now can obtain high-quality packaging and labels in smaller quantities and on demand to fit the needs of their business. Capabilities that were previously inferior quality or not cost effective,” says Parr.
Supply chain issues also have a place in the move to digital. “Shortages of packaging materials will continue and will therefore drive product packaging decisions around right sizing and manufacturing smaller batches. The ability to offer brands just-in-time manufacturing will continue to grow and become more of a competitive advantage,” says Ciaramella. Many companies are also looking into the benefits of light weight products to reduce material use and shipping costs. “Our non-crush technology helps greatly in allowing the use of lighter material without compromising box strength.”
Promising Solutions Some of today’s digital label and packaging options are especially promising, particularly in terms of smaller runs, regional products, or market testing.
“Digital printing will continue to grow, especially for smaller runs and market testing,” says Haertel. In labels, BOBST recently launched the DIGITAL MASTER series—opening new opportunities to cope with varying job lengths.
Haertel sees virtual and augmented reality in service helping operators fix issues remotely, and also find a place for connected machines that conduct preventive maintenance routines on the horizon.
Gorbea believes several technology innovations are transforming the digital packaging landscape. “HP enables end-to-end value chain solutions to create on a huge scale, millions of stories from brand’s communities. These stories are then printed and celebrated individually on each select printed item. We have specialized personalization and printing software which lends itself to the breadth and versatility of our digital printing portfolio. We are able to print almost anything digitally, whether it be packaging, textiles, large format, or three dimensional printing. The technology available means that there are no limits as to how far digital packaging can go and the opportunities available. The packaging landscape is so incredibly versatile—the innovations in technology are only going to increase the opportunities for businesses to explore the digital packaging landscape,” he stresses.
Sustainability We’ve mentioned sustainability a few times, but the topic is so important that it deserves its own section.
“The word sustainability is two-fold. There is the environmental aspect, but also the social aspect which must be considered,” comments Gorbea. On the environmental side, packaging options and the role sustainability has to do with the move to net-zero and the circular economy is an important discussion. “Sustainability is no longer just about replacing something with a new product; it is about enabling packaging solutions that fulfill specific targets around emissions and circularity,” he notes.
In terms of society and sustainability, Gorbea says HP is uniquely positioned to increase the brand ability to drive sustainable behavior change through personalization. “Through the personalization of consumer stories, we can make these communities commit themselves to the higher costs. Personalized products have the potential to be marketed for the long term, as opposed to single use, thus justifying higher consumer cost, and encouraging the more sustainable use of these products by consumers who really treasure them.”
“Sustainability plays an increasingly huge role in packaging decisions; there is an undeniable move away from plastics. We are seeing moves to replace plastic moulded inserts with paperboard-based inserts. We have seen an increased use of Mono material in several areas, from product displays to inserts and trays,” shares Ciaramella.
Parr also sees sustainability as an increasing concern. “Plastic now proliferates our world because it does not deteriorate like cellulose-based papers and fiberboards. They provide great utility but are often used when a sustainable method could have been used instead. Meanwhile, trees are a renewable resource and the final packaging products produced are biodegradable. This message coming from the brand increasingly strikes a chord with more and more consumers.”
Haertel believes that sustainability is a mindset and solutions exist. “More will come in the future, but sustainability needs to be done now. There is a need to invest, but the most essential element is to change current habits—waste reduction and more recyclable packages are clearly possible,” he shares.
Into the Future Future packaging trends can be summarized with one phrase—shorter runs. This current trend will continue beyond 2022 and is supported by the latest digital printing and finishing technologies as well as automation solutions.
Haertel predicts an acceleration of similar goals with new designs, thinner substrates, easier to recycle materials, all orchestrated by more regulations. “The product and its packaging will no longer be separated tracks – new products and new packages will come simultaneously. Many large brands will ban plastic when not necessary, growing demand for cartons. Ecommerce will continue to grow demand for corrugated packaging, but at the same time, the goods shipped may not have any packaging at all—just protective, paper-based layers.”
Ciaramella sees shortages in supply and rising prices continuing and forcing change in packaging design and manufacturing. “The explosion of new brands will continue to increase both the volume and variety of packaging. The need to right-size packaging and offer new innovative designs that enhance the unboxing experience will continue to evolve.”
Digital manufacturing, especially digital finishing, is well positioned to meet the developing demands of packaging.
“Successful print providers and converters will need to continue to increase their production efficiencies, remove redundant labor, and offer brands the ability to expand creativity and agility. Sustainability and minimizing waste will continue to grow in importance to brands, consumers, and converters as the volume of packaging increases,” comments Ciaramella.
“Looking to the future, it seems that there will continue to be an acceleration in the convergence of the digital and physical, blurring the boundary within an experience, which has huge implications on the packaging industry. Brands will need to continue to think of new and innovative ways to incorporate both elements onto the physical packaging to continue to excite,” comments Gorbea. “Secondly, the quest for sustainability will continue to grow as both consumers and businesses push for more eco-friendly packaging on products. As well as net-zero solutions, there will also be an increased push for net-positive solutions to avert the climate disaster by 2050.”
Packaging Potential Within the print industry, packaging is an exciting market that is poised for disruption. For more on this topic, be sure to tune into our recent webinar, which features an expert panel including Bobst, Highcon, and Scodix.