We watch the marketplace for ideas, new or newish ideas, in the form of trends that inspire us directly or subtly. Annual trends in the packaging and label field come along at the end of one year and the start of another, and we watch. Trends obviously don’t change overnight, and they don’t obey calendars, but sometimes they are forced by marketers – if enough get behind them – to emerge fairly quickly. They also fade at different speeds. One recent trend, with no sign of a terminus in sight, is that digital communication has accelerated the speed of change in just about all aspects of our lives. Except for birthdays, thank you.
Last year, 99Designs said that simplicity would gain strength in packaging graphics. A giant online marketplace with more than a million graphic designers, 99Designs forecast the minimization of packaging elements, because shoppers don’t always have the time to analyze all product details.
The simplicity theme carries through in 2018: “Minimalist design has been around for some time now and it’s not going anywhere soon. Although it can come across as somewhat abstract and primitive, keeping it simple plays an important role in helping us access our intuitive side. The hardest part about going minimal is finding symbols and signs that many people can relate to.”
To hammer home the point, the group says that “over-cluttered design is becoming a thing of the past… In the coming years, we expect to see even the most classic ‘old school’ CPG brands update their packaging to adopt a more modern, minimalistic style.’ ”
In direct contrast to this view, 99Designs also touts the utility of vintage packaging, which appeals to a different mindset and demographic. Creative Bloq, an advice and inspiration blog for digital and traditional artists and designers, echoes the thought by saying that such designs “are ideal for brands that want to appeal to consumers using an ‘old school’ approach. This kind of vintage look tells onlookers that your brand offers artisanal quality that stands in opposition to the modern-era factory age. A vintage art label has an authentic feel and an exclusive vibe; it’s clear that this is a special product, something different and bespoke.”
Among other trends seen by designers include a broader use of pastel colors and doodles; a fascination with the movie poster look; standout shapes and materials, more photography, holographic effects and vibrant gradients. And large words. “If you’re looking to send a clear and loud message about what your product is all about, then big words might be what you’re looking for,” says 99Designs. “Words are a great way to get creative with the message you’re bringing forth. Be it funny or serious, a clear message will work as long as it’s in a bold and easy-to-read sans serif font.”
Mintel, the large marketing intelligence firm, examines five major packaging trends in its 2018 report. First is the growing awareness that packaging should be a useful tool in managing product freshness and safe delivery. “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted globally each year, with consumers in Europe and North America throwing away between 95 and 115 kg (210-253 lb) of food per person,” Mintel says. “With consumers concerned about this growing waste mountain, and shoppers seeing the cost of this waste on their wallets, people are now actively seeking solutions.
“Brands need to act now, exploiting on-pack communication tools to educate consumers to the benefits packaging can bring, from extending shelf life of food to providing efficient and safe access to essential products in developed and underserved regions of the world.”
E-commerce is a swiftly growing and unavoidable reality in the packaging sector, and a trend that has been showing up in lists for years. Citing a global sales forecast of $4 trillion and 15% of the global market, Mintel says that marketers who are not engaged in e-commerce must decide now when they will do so.
“Brands must consider when, not if, they will enter the online retail and e-commerce packaging fray. Packaging that safely delivers products through the e-commerce supply chain is only part of the equation, with opportunities for material optimization and improved sustainability.”
Mintel takes the trend toward simplicity further with its observations of the clean label, focusing on the verbal as well as the artistic communication of a label or package. “Though consumers are more informed than ever, they may reject brands if they feel overloaded with information, which leads to questioning of provenance, authenticity, and transparency. Every package must create an emotional reaction for consumers at the point of sale.
“Where mass brands often fear stepping outside a category’s design status quo, craft brands often pare back too far and become candidates for de-selection due to being too far outside consumer’s comfort zones of marketing expectation. The ‘essentialist’ design principle bridges the divide between not enough and just enough of what is essential for consumers to make an enlightened and confident purchasing decision.”
A few years ago we all learned of something called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the immeasurable archipelago of plastic waste that represents but a portion of the used packaging tossed into the seven seas (See L&NW September 2017 Front Row). Mintel says more has to be done about this by way of creating plastic products with higher recycling and re-use potential.
“It is estimated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. With lobby groups pointing the finger at packaging, brands are right in the firing line,” Mintel states. “Concerns over safe packaging disposal will increasingly color consumers’ perceptions of different packaging types and impact shopper purchase decisions. Only by communicating that a brand is working toward a solution will this growing barrier to purchase be overcome.”
Coca-Cola announced last year that it will increase the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to 50% by 2020. A good move by a big company, but a small step toward solving a global problem.
A couple of energetic businesses today are removing plastic from the oceans and recycling it for use in new packaging. That, too, “can raise consumer awareness but won’t solve the problem,” the company adds. “In order to keep plastic out of the sea, a renewed effort toward the circular economy is needed to keep valuable packaging material in use.”
Pastel colors, minimalism, big type on packages. E-commerce and product freshness. These and other trends keep products on the move, which benefit packagers and employees in every stratum of production. Then there is waste and sustainability, which require investment.
Consumers are aware, at different levels, of these trends, and expect industry to respond with functional, artistic and socially conscious creativity.
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.