This is the last day of the first month of the new year, the first month of a new decade. Within three days, February 3, it is the first day of the Chinese new year. So it is time to take a look at the trends and forecasts in packaging related affairs for this year and beyond. It is my personal vision, substantiated with the results of market surveys and research projects. It took me a month to interpret what I saw in the crystal ball. Don’t blame me for the results.
Sustainability is for the 21st century, what technology was for the 20th century
In a previous article I stated that “Sustainability is for the 21st century, what technology was for the 20th century”. And, more importantly, that the term ‘sustainability’ is defined by the consumer, consequently the industry has to understand that their interpretation of the word sustainability isn’t dominating. It is the definition of the consumer which counts and that means that the industry has to turn around its thinking process and realize that profits for shareholders aren’t the ultimate goal. It’s the satisfaction of the consumer, the consumer will be king again, and he wants to see green and healthy products manufactured by sustainable production processes.
This statement is underlined by the report “Marketing Sustainability 2010: Bridging the Gap Between Consumers and Companies” from The Hartman Group, which found that consumer understanding of the term ‘sustainable’ is changing, moving away from more literal or dictionary meanings, such as ‘ability to last over time’ and ‘self-reliance’, toward wider concepts like ‘green’, ‘responsible farming and production methods’, and ‘conserving natural resources’.
Greenwashing will mercilessly be punished and telling fairy tales will be counter-productive. The captains of industry have to grasp that.
I, for me, foresee quite some changes in management behaviours and attitudes towards the consumer. An interesting era has started with this new decade.
2011 and beyond will be the era of consumer information
One of the reasons why I am very sure about the above statement is the fact that this will be the era of the consumer information. According to Mintel: With smartphones becoming the dominant mobile force, QR codes and app technology will pique interest, provide portals into unique experiences and improve our quality of life.
In the US, sales of smartphones grew 82% from 2008 to 2010. In the UK, 28% of consumers own a smartphone and by 2015 iPhones will make up 11% of all total devices used in the UK. As consumers are empowered like never before, 2011 will see people take a deeper interest in where they are: from the city to a specific store. Geography and status can be redefined through retail, presenting savvy brands with an opportunity for increased location based services, promotions and solutions.
To capitalise on consumer awareness of technology, brands will need to take QR codes beyond niche understanding, using it to explain and offer exclusive content. Rather than displacing our interaction with the physical, this technology has the potential to reinvigorate our relationships with brands, retailers and with each other.
One of the most important features of QR codes is that the consumer has instant access to product information, the moment he walks in the supermarket aisle and considers buying a product he visions. But not only that, the eco-credentials of product and packaging will be able to be checked via the websites of non-profit eco-organizations or governmental agencies. There is more: Braille will be mandatory, colour changing shelf life labels and sensors will be common good, companies as well as consumers will be able to trace the product to its origins and companies will have the opportunity to inform the consumer electronically in cases of recalls. And this is only the beginning.
Growing organic food and drink sales push bio-packaging
According to Organic Monitor, the global market for organic food and drink is recovering from the economic slowdown, with revenues of some USD 60 billion last year. Although growth has slowed from previous years, revenues have expanded over three-fold from USD 18 billion in 2000.
The North American market continues to show healthy growth. It has overtaken the European market last year to become the largest in the world. The market for organic products in other regions is also showing healthy growth, especially in Asia and Latin America. Growing consumer awareness of organic agriculture and increasing distribution are the major drivers of market growth in these regions. Organic foods are becoming widely available in large food retailers, with some launching private labels.
The above makes it crystal clear that a landslide will occur in packaging. It is unthinkable that the consumer will buy organic produce in an eco-unfriendly packaging. So, shall we see and hear more noisy PLA packaging in the market. In my opinion no. The PLA-era is over, grow of PLA will stagnate or even decline. As more food shortage is looming, PLA, made from corn starch occupying huge areas of arable land, will be turned down by the consumer as packaging material. All eyes will focus on packaging material made from bio-mass from agriculture residues and algae.
Research such as at Imperial College London, UK, where polymer is made from broken down lignocellulosic biomass generated from non-food crops such as trees, grass and agricultural waste, offer a significant advance on polylactic acid (PLA). The same we find in Brazil where Embrapa started a research project with agriculture residues. The research will test the feasibility of using the residue of banana trees, papaya trees and the peach palms, which produce large quantities of biomass that could be used for the manufacturing of packaging material. Acreages of papaya and banana must be renewed regularly and the removed plants serve no goal other than waste. (read this article for more)
In the meantime Cereplast has started to commercialize its algae-based resin technology. Algae-based resins represent a breakthrough in industry technology and have the potential to replace 50% or more of the petroleum content used in traditional plastic resins. (read this article for more)
The emergence of new materials and major suppliers that are set to shake up the global market for bio-packaging over the next decade, is underlined by a report from Pira International, which forecasts a new breed of bio-plastics that will become significant drivers as “packaging market demand gradually shifts from biodegradable and compostable polymers towards bio-packaging based on renewable and sustainable materials”.
The study – The Future of Bio-plastics for Packaging to 2020: Global Market Forecasts – predicts the current top five suppliers, which presently meet more than half of global supply, will be joined by a raft of other companies.
These are the first three items, I have some three more, namely the traditional battles between Plastic and Paper and of course between Plastic and Glass. I end my forecasts, for what they are worth, with an insight in the future of, what I call: “Back to Nature”, the increasing use of natural materials.