Consumers, packaging and the new normal

Even before Covid-19 hit, brand owners faced various issues relating to consumer's relationship with their products. These issues varied in size, magnitude, & urgency. However, at the crux, once all the layers have been peeled back, packaging challenges broadly revolve around one of the following four themes - sustainabilitycost, performance, and convenience.

But has the pandemic made a difference to consumer's perception of packaging and what does a post-Covid world hold for brands and the packaging industry in general?

It’s fair to say that, as with so much in life, consumer’s perception of packaging has been transformed by the pandemic. It’s also difficult to say at this point just how much life will change when we emerge from it. A number of major packaging trends have certainly been affected or exacerbated at the very least, however. These are likely to have a profound impact on packaging over the next few years and brands should re-evaluate their strategies accordingly.

Societal changes and consumer preference are likely to force the industry to move beyond purely thinking about cost, performance and convenience to ensuring that packaging is hygienic, sustainable, and aligned towards e-commerce. These megatrends can largely be capsulated by the following;


The push towards sustainable packaging took a long time to embed in consumer’s minds pre-Covid-19, and awareness had risen to a high-point just before the pandemic took hold. It’s fair to say that sustainability concerns took a bit of a back seat at the start of the pandemic, but this is unlikely to continue. The demand for sustainable packaging that emerged before the pandemic will almost certainly pick up pace. 

Achieving sustainability goals set out by companies will be increasingly challenging given new hygiene requirements of consumers, and brand owners should now re-evaluate and reset goals in line with this.

The general public remain committed and engaged with sustainable packaging and businesses should continue to meet challenges in this space. Increasingly, consumers are choosing to engage with brands that are sustainable in their approach so leadership in this area will be key.

Rise of ecommerce

Whilst sustainability may have temporarily taken a back seat at the start of the pandemic, e-commerce certainly did not, as lockdown and home working across the world prompted a boom in online purchases. This has had a significant impact on the packaging requirements of both consumers and retailers alike.

Much of today’s packaging has been optimised for bricks and mortar shopping and traditional supply chains, not online shipping and increased demands on packs through extreme handling. In the ecommerce world, brands need to ensure that packs are robust enough to protect the product throughout its new journey into consumer hands.

Ecommerce supply chains involve many more touchpoints and additional demands are placed on packaging. Products sold online often have enhanced or additional packaging requirements as a result. This may impact upon brand sustainability commitments to reduce and remove packaging wherever possible. All at a time when sustainable packaging remains as important as ever through the eyes of a consumer; excess packaging materials can turn off buyers, will be challenged on social media and can even push them towards competitor products. It’s therefore important to strike an optimal balance of product protection without using packaging to excess.

For companies leaning into sustainability, ecommerce can actually also provide an opportunity to win over consumers whilst also reducing costs. Right-sizing and optimising packaging to minimise space and material use not only ensures waste reduction but potentially costs as well.

Health and hygiene

New hygiene and safety demands have largely been driven by concerns that Covid-19 may be caught from packaging. Indeed, so pronounced was this fear, that a large percentage of household disinfectant purchases were made to clean products purchased. This has precipitated a rise in single-use packaging, but given ongoing sustainability concerns, this is unlikely to continue. The packaging industry now needs to find ways of offering more hygienic and sustainable solutions. 

Packaging in the new normal

Packaging already fulfills a number of key roles for brands including underpinning buying decisions through the look and feel of the pack; ensuring that the product is easy and cost effective to deliver; and providing consumers with much sought after convenience.  With the aforementioned trends in sight, packaging design will undoubtedly also need to build a strong sustainability narrative into its core. 

As with so many of the trends we’ve been seeing over the past few months, these are not so much new trends, as trends that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, such that they are now taking on even greater importance. One thing’s for sure, packaging remains the best way for brands to differentiate themselves from the competition. Whether it’s through the look or feel of the pack, or the materials used and their sustainability credentials. The new challenge is that they also have to incorporate design features that allow the packaging to be safe, hygienic as well as being optimised for ecommerce shipping. In addition, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that operating costs need to be kept in check during a period of economic recovery.