Major trends to look out for in flexible packaging industry

Consumer trends for effective packaging solutions have drastically changed over time. One packaging trend that has always been a key preference for industries such as food and beverages, retail and electronics, is flexible packaging.

One of the main advantages associated with flexible packaging is that they are designed to minimize the use of packaging materials. In addition, they are highly customizable, lightweight, provide easy adjustability and boast of a low packaging ratio (i.e. 5 to 10 times lower than substitutes). It would also be pivotal to note that making use of flexible materials like aluminium for producing packaging solutions could generate 75% fewer carbon emissions than some other alternatives.

Owing to these facts, the demand for flexible packaging solutions is rising across the F&B industry applications.

Why is flexible packaging gaining momentum in the food and beverages industry?

The 21st-century population is highly inclined towards packaging that is highly effective and convenient. Rising urbanization, hectic work schedules, and the need to be on time is making people opt for ready-to-go meals that are served in flexible packaging and pouches. A recent survey conducted in Malaysia showcased that majority of the participants, nearly 52%, consumed ready-to-eat foods two to four times a week.

More food companies are considering the adoption of flexible packaging options for their products. And to do so, packaging leaders are taking up strategic initiatives like mergers and acquisitions, product innovations, investments, and facility expansions that allow them to move ahead in their mission to offer suitable options for their customers.

In 2021, ProAmpac – a pioneer in flexible packaging, announced taking over Irish Flexible Packaging and Fispak. The latter have been operating in the space of sustainable, flexible packaging business, serving bakery, dairy, meat, cheese, and fish markets in Ireland and worldwide.

What makes the product an ideal resort in the industry is the reduced carbon footprint. Flexpack-Europe report suggests that packing food in flexible packaging solutions could bring down the overall carbon footprint for packaging by 40% in the European continent. This equates to nearly 1% of all the EU GHG emissions.

This all narrows down to 3 of the crucial trends that are anticipated to revolutionize the future of the flexible packaging industry in the coming years:

  1. Sustainability- Plant-based packaging solutions are foreseen to be the future

Flexible packaging provides sustainability benefits and significant value to producers, consumers, as well as retailers. These packaging solutions call for less transportation and storage space than their counterparts, cutting down on fuel consumption and toxic carbon emissions.

‘Flexible pouches demand 4% less cargo space than glass containers when used for the same amount of food’- as quoted by Flexography. Besides, it requires less landfill space and consists of 4% of the packaging material in landfills.’

Studies indicate that flexible packaging can now be made with plant-based polyethylene resin and/or paper. Moving ahead in this trend, different companies are now ideating the concept of plant-based packaging to support the sustainability trend in the industry. An instance of the same is TricorBraun Flex’s launch of a fully compostable, plant-based flexible packaging material.

Labelled as Biotre 3.0, the product is made from compostable and renewable resources like pulp and wood. It is designed to limit the amount of packaging that’s end up in waste, as it breaks down naturally in a home composting environment.

  • E-commerce: impact on flexible packaging market?

It is no surprise that a large number of consumers turn to online shopping for an enhanced experience, more product options, and heavy discounts.

Worldwide, e-commerce retail sales’ share increased from 16% to 19% in 2020, as suggested by an UNCTAD report.

Over half of all millennials prefer online shopping over shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, and the COVID-19 pandemic has just made e-commerce sales a necessity for people looking to get their products delivered safely. This has led solution providers to reshape the way consumers buy products.  

‘As per Paper and Packaging Board statistics, 72% of consumers announced dissatisfaction with product’s packaging solution and design, influencing their purchasing decision’.

This has drawn attention toward flexible packaging in e-commerce stores. The solution presents an ideal option for at-home delivery and online sale of diverse product categories, from pet food to snacks to cosmetics. These have got to offer a variety of benefits for online retailers including-

  • Lightweight – supports reduction in shipping costs
  • Enable warehouse managers to seal boxes more effectively than rigid packaging solutions, optimizing the logistics space.
  • Unbreakability – ensures superior quality service during delivery.
  • Digital printing

Digital printing is the next big thing in the flexible packaging industry! With printing on-demand in virtually any quantity or size, from biscuit packs to different retail pouches, digital printing is shaping up to play an essential role in the future of product safety via flexible packaging, shrink sleeves, and labels.

Available in different pre-made pouches or roll forms, the technology offers distinct advantages over conventional printing technologies, such as –

  • Reduced turnaround time
  • Ability to print multiple SKUs in a single run
  • Easy to make changes to packaging design
  • One-to-one customer engagement with variable print designs and QR codes
  • Increased sustainability

In lieu of such benefits, different printing ink solution providers are working towards innovating new solutions for flexible packs for different industries. For example, Siegwerk, in 2022 announced offering next-gen NC inks for flexible packaging applications manufactured with the most state-of-the-art production equipment at its unit in Germany.

EPR schemes- Where is the industry headed to?

In wake of the growing plastic packaging pollution, different food giants have come together to announce combating flexible packaging pollution. One such strategy is the investment of EPR payments in the industry.

It has been claimed that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes are highly required to stimulate structural advancements in sorting, collecting, recycling, and developing end-market for the recycled flexible material, collaborating with teams across the local governments and value chains. In addition to the EPR fees, these conglomerates are planning to invest in scaling up any promising complementary technologies that would contribute to the circularity of flexible packaging in the forthcoming years.

With new trends shaping up the flexible packaging industry portfolio, the market is envisaged to grow beyond a valuation of USD 390 billion by 2028. Besides the F&B sector, healthcare and personal care applications will provide a significant boost to the packaging demand. Expanding disposable incomes in developing economies is offering vast opportunities for packaged food and cosmetics companies to strengthen their business by keeping up with consumer awareness, fuelling flexible packaging material trends.

Written by Dominy Jones