The changing face of packaging reflects shifts in the way people interact with products. But its evolution also accounts for newly emerging technological capabilities that expand the options for producers and packagers. Just as products mirror consumer demands and preferences, packaging follows suit, to accommodate users in every possible way.
Package size, shape, construction and a host of product-specific features evolve as a result of research, demand, innovation and necessity. For help recognizing how packages change over time, consider the various milk containers constructed over the years, showing how new materials and lifestyles influence packaging choices. Early deliveries were made in glass, facilitating route sales in which jugs could be continually refilled. As distribution networks grew and streamlined materials emerged, milk was more commonly seen packaged in coated cardboard cartons and formed plastic jugs. Through each advance, producers found ways to maintain product integrity, while still responding to demand for consumer-friendly packages. In much the same way, rigid packaging is currently giving-way to alternative options, changing the balance in today’s commercial packaging market.
Rigid Packaging Plays Prominent Role
In addition to consumer preferences, the packaging industry is influenced by factors ranging from global economics to commodities prices. Packagers respond and react to market demands and conditions, which ultimately shapes the flow of the industry. For a long time, this has meant shifting goods from glass packages to rigid plastics, which furnish economical solutions for items traditionally packaged in glass. Weight, for example, is reduced significantly when shifting from glass and metallic packaging into rigid plastic alternatives. Lighter packages translate into lower shipping costs, so there is a bottom line advantage to moving to rigid containers.
With so many users committed to rigid materials, it is hard to imagine the role of plastic packaging disappearing. What is occurring, however, is slower growth in the packaging sub-sector, which is facing competition from flexible alternatives. Though it is impossible to predict future outcomes, rigid plastics will probably continue to pick-up converts from other packaging mediums, at the same time as flexible packages erode the market stronghold rigid options have maintained for years.
Flexible Packaging Making Gains
There are so many features working in concert, it can be difficult to determine precisely what leads to packaging success. Certainly its functional component – protecting contents – is paramount, especially when it comes to packaging food.
But there are other things to consider when bringing retail products to market. While flexible packaging is nothing new, the diverse containers are making their way to more and more retail shelves, furnishing packaging solutions well-suited for 21st-century living.
Consumer Preference – Retailers ultimately answer to their customers, so shoppers yield mighty influence on producers’ and retailers’ packaging choices. Convenience and portability rank highly for most modern shoppers, so package design has taken a turn toward flexible, easy to handle containers. Snacks once packaged in jars and tins, for example, now stand-up on store shelves in gusseted flexible pouches. Gels and liquids are also well-suited for flexible pouches, which serve food producers as well as nutraceutical packagers.
Materials Advances – Innovation shapes manufacturing and food production, so it is not surprising technological advances also influence packaging. When marketing food in particular, protecting and preserving product integrity is a primary consideration. Today, as flexible packaging takes the place of rigid options, it is partially because advanced materials are capable of providing high levels of product protection. Evolving barrier technology, for example, enables packagers to incorporate multiple layers of protection into each package. The custom wraps shield contents from light, water, vapor, and other harmful forces. Outer layers are puncture resistant, which furnishes the advantages of metal containers, without the weight and high-cost materials. And adhesives used to bond flexible containers now include effective water and poly-based versions.
Reduced Waste – The current retail climate is more sensitive to packaging waste than ever before. Green consciousness, for instance, drives brand preferences among consumers increasingly committed to conservation and responsible production practices. Using flexible packaging does drastically reduce the amount of material required to construct a package, in many cases, when compared to rigid counterparts. As a result, producers are changing their packaging approach to better mirror their customers’ values. But there is also money to be saved for producers, who spend less on flexible alternatives than they would on conventional packaging options. And since they are lighter than rigid plastic versions, flexible containers also save on transportation costs – when empty or full.
High Competition – Regardless of what you sell these days, competition is high standing out among similar products. Flexible packaging alternatives boost competitiveness in a few important ways. For starters, improved flexible designs save money directly by lowering packaging and transportation expenses. Flexible packages also create unique brand awareness, bringing goods to market in distinctive containers. Freight-friendly flexible packages are less prone to breakage than glass alternatives and the effective soft-sided packages help expand distribution networks over larger territories.
While there is still movement away from traditional packaging materials in the direction of rigid plastics, there is also a significant migration under way, which is drawing producers toward increasingly versatile flexible packaging options. In fact, a hybrid package recently honored by DuPont combines the advantages of both rigid and flexible packaging in a single injection molded tub outfitted with flexible side panels.
Innovative, flexible packages offer convenience and portability traditionally limited by rigid packaging methods. And since manufacturers frequently save money by shifting to flexible containers, consumer pressure isn’t the only driver contributing to the decline of rigid containers. Though its seat at the table is not in jeopardy, advancing technology and fervent competition are likely to challenge the role of rigid packaging, perhaps giving-way to forward-thinking solutions like reliable flexible alternatives.