By Graeme Young, Director of Packaging Works
Have you had a chance to catch up on 'Our Planet' on Netflix? If not, grab a box of tissues and be prepared to experience The Attenborough Effect: the global phenomenon fuelling the 'war on plastic' and bringing packaging decisions into the consumer eye.
Consumers are paying more and more attention to their purchasing decisions when it comes to packaging. According to a recent survey of consumers from the US & UK by Globalwebindex:
- 42 per cent of consumers said that products that have packaging made from recycled and/or sustainable materials are important in their day-to-day shopping.
- The percentage of consumers globally who have said they are willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging has grown from 47 per cent to 59 per cent in just seven years.
- More than half of people surveyed said they're now making a conscious choice to use less disposable plastic than they were doing a year ago.
It's not just documentaries that are fuelling this step-change in consumer trends, it's also due to viral trends on social media. Images of heaps of rubbish piling up on islands and videos of animals being injured or even killed by plastic packaging are evoking strong emotional responses from the public. Twitter users slam e-commerce brands by posting photos of excessive delivery packaging. All brands are facing consumer scrutiny about their packaging choices in ways not possible before the days of social media.
So, where do brands stand when it comes to packaging trends?
Brands' responses to packaging scrutiny
Companies opting to commit to recyclable packaging are making headlines daily.
Guinness and other beer brands have finally decided to abandon those dreadful plastic rings to opt for plastic-free alternatives like gluing beer cans together. A supermarket in Thailand has gone viral after creating 'banana leaf packaging' for fruit and vegetables. And Aldi has committed to selling only recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025.
It's not only selling recyclable packaging that matters, however. Coca-Cola was recently slammed as being the most common source of packaging pollution on UK beaches, even though they recently announced that 98 per cent of their packaging is recyclable. Now, campaigners are calling on the British government to toughen packaging laws and make companies 100% responsible for the cost of the waste resulting from their packaging.
How can your company make adjustments to satisfy consumer demands for eco-friendly packaging?
Customers in the US and UK are becoming more aware of environmental issues and how companies work – from production to delivery to disposal.
Whether you're selling clothing, food, tech gadgets or cosmetics, online or in-store, your company needs to reassess your packaging strategy in order to maintain a market position in today's eco-friendly world. Sustainable packaging is no longer a USP: it's a must.
Affordability and brand trust are typically the most important considerations for consumers, which is why it's important to choose a packaging option that won't break the bank but that is still sourced responsibly.
Keep in mind that almost half of consumers are trying to buy products that use recycled or sustainable materials – an upward-growing trend. 61 per cent of consumers recently surveyed said that if they realised their current brand is not environmentally friendly, they'd be likely to switch to one that is.
Companies around the globe are working on improving packaging standards. It's not a simple process, however: there are many factors to consider that are of importance to consumers:
- Is your packaging manufactured responsibly? For example, is the paper and cardboard sourced from sustainable, managed forests? Are materials made from renewable resources?
- Could you be using packaging that is reusable instead?
- Is the price point right, in accordance with the materials used?
- Does the size of your packaging fit the product? Is it over-packaged?
- Are instructions for recycling included on the packaging? Is it simple for consumers to separate the different materials for recycling and/or disposal?
By not only switching to sustainable packaging materials, but by also promoting your brand's commitment to the environment and providing details on packaging about your commitment, you can create a shared experience with consumers.
Brands redefining eco-friendly packaging
Scores of consumers are joining the 'zero-waste' movement and committing to only buying from brands that don't use excessive packaging or those that offer recyclable packaging – or even brands that don't use packaging at all.
Organisations taking their environmental commitment to the next level could be redefining the future of packaging.
Waves of bulk-buying stores are offering new ways to think about packaging: consumers simply reuse jars and containers to purchase items like spices, lentils, pasta and even laundry detergent. These are popping up across the US & UK and could inspire supermarkets and other shops to clone their model.
Loop, a new 'zero-waste platform,' is a delivery service that is launching pilots in New York and Paris this year. The scheme relies on reusable, stainless steel packaging for items like food and cleaners. The containers are sent back to a sterilisation facility after use and resold to other consumers to repeat the process.
The bottom line: eco-friendly packaging is no longer just a 'nice-to-have.'
Brands not adopting new eco-friendly practices will face consumer criticism sooner than later. Big steps must be taken but investing in a switch to environmentally friendly packaging will only help companies retain their market share.