This blog was originally published in 2020 and has been updated for 2023.
The new year is quickly approaching, which means it’s time to reflect and think ahead for what’s next. Although 2022 was another volatile year, definite patterns emerged for the plastic packaging industry. As you plan ahead for the future, keep these key industry trends in mind.
Plastics and Sustainability
Global consumers – and governments – continue to demand greater accountability at all levels of plastic production. They want to know what their plastics are made from, what impact they will have on the environment, how they can be recycled and more. Commercial consumers are also interested in these areas. Now is the time to emphasize your company’s commitment to sustainability (whether downstream or upstream) with programs like reclaiming scrap and the usage of bio-based plastics. According to Andrew Reynolds, director of Business Publishing International Ltd., “Recycled resin demand is going to grow quite strongly. The problem everywhere is there’s not enough recycled resin for the demand. Actually getting as much as you would like isn’t very easy.”
Customer and Consumer Preferences
The pandemic, while waning, also produced a shift in consumers’ lifestyles and preferences. According to research from AMI Consulting, these six areas comprised the biggest trends and touchpoints for consumers:
- Digitization and e-commerce
- Authenticity and trust
- Environment and sustainability
- Healthy living
- Value for money
For items like e-commerce, convenience and sustainability, it’s easy to see how plastics and packaging can play a role. Consumers are increasingly interested in plastic packaging that is easy to use, safe, and can be recycled.
Labor and Supply Chain Issues
Supply chain challenges have been rampant over the past few years, and they may not be going away anytime soon. Coupled with ongoing labor shortages, it’s become harder to get products from point A to point B, and more crucial that you have visibility into your supply chain. Companies are also exploring the benefits of re-shoring their production, according to Reynolds: “We’re certainly seeing a reconsideration of the security in supply chains in a whole host of industries…the old-fashioned economics, the Western countries who had moved a lot of manufacturing to Asia and China in particular, are maybe reconsidering that.” Packaging and plastics are important pieces in the supply chain puzzle. Reinforce your value to customers concerned about their supply chain costs.
Digitalization of Packaging
The Internet of Things is arriving, and it includes packaging. The digitalization of packaging includes things like upgraded tracking labels or increased reporting at each level of the packaging process. This ties in neatly with the idea of increased e-commerce sales and more efficient supply chains. While this exact topic may not directly impact your business at this time, let customers know that you can innovate with their needs and are ahead of packaging trends.
Other Forces Shaping the Plastics Industry
Consumer Safety Concerns
More and more consumers are questioning what their packaging is made of and how it could affect their health. A Smithers article reports, “As the use of plastic films has become more common, concerns have arisen about their ability to allow the exchange of gases and vapors that can compromise the quality and safety of packaged products, and this is being addressed by the introduction of safe, novel barrier films and coatings.”
Virgin Feedstock & Petroleum Costs
Tied into the supply chain and sustainability trends is the volatility of resin’s virgin feedstock material costs – namely, petroleum. As oil prices change, so do resin costs. While the industry is still a long way from what The New Plastics Economy calls “decoupled plastics from fossil feedstocks,” know that it continues to be a factor that affects costs far upstream of the consumer.
Stay in the Know About the Plastics Industry
Read more trends, insights and tips from the packaging experts at Versa Pak in our distributor news resource section.