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February 2, 2022

Ten ways to ensure your packaging solutions are futureproof

We all make New Year’s resolutions, right? How about making ten, for 2022? John Mahaffie, the co-founder & principal of US-based Leading Futurists LLC, offers ten tips to help ensure your packaging solutions are ready for the years ahead.

10 – Avoid ‘wrap rage’

Keep a focus on what are you handing the consumer to deal with. They may understand why a paint can has to be hard to open, but should they have to struggle with a bag of chips or a pack of batteries? Your packaging should always put the consumer first, not just be optimised for retail and distribution networks.

9 – Enable local production

For many products, carbon footprint and other factors are pressing for greater local production. Indeed, there’s a movement to try to consume locally to reduce the impact of that consumption on the environment. If we move to much more carbon footprint measurement, as well as focusing on other environmental aspects of consumption, for example, energy used in agriculture and shipping food, there will be more pressure to produce goods locally. A local strategy makes sense for everything in the market – now is probably not the time to reduce the number of regional plants for producing packaging and products.

8 – Create – and utilise – an identity

Your packaging can connect the product to an online identity. This becomes both powerful and essential as more consumers explore what to buy and learn about products online through the likes of additional information, consumer reviews and comments. There are already proven technologies that make it possible to scan the barcode on a package with a smartphone and get connected to information, contests or a community of users.

7 – Design for disposal and recycling

Put simply, this means not including combinations of non-recyclable materials, not forcing the consumer to take the packaging apart, or not being difficult to crush or crumple. Consider what you would do if you were the consumer. Also, consider what packaging choices will work for you – the producer – if you’re going to get all of the packaging back.

6 – Know the whole system

Bear in mind how the package will be used – and potentially misused – including improper disposal, littering, composting, burning, reusing in the home, etc. Consider the whole value chain. Consumers have no particular incentive to handle the package the way you want them to. Some consumers, and some regulators, will consider the producer responsible, or at least target the package. This is already happening in more markets with plastic bags.

5 – Anticipate where customers are going

Create packages that fit emerging realities in the marketplace and changing values in the consumer market. For consumers, examples that will continue to grow in importance include the desire for authenticity and an interest in products that ‘fit who I am’, particularly for affluent markets, and fits rising aspirations for success and quality, if focused on emerging markets. For retailers, changes in how goods are merchandised and sold, including automating inventory and checkout, may drive new needs.

4 – Be ready for change

Packaging should be part of an adaptable system that doesn’t overly depend on a particular sourcing for materials, a particular regulatory regime, or a single – or narrow range of – sizing options. This approach recognises the risks in a complex world, with changing resource costs and availability, changing regulations and economic turbulence. Make sure the fit works with the changes that retailers and suppliers are making and will continue to make.

3 – Tell a story

Packaging should tell its story well, from “What is this? and “Who made it?” to “How do I use it for the most success?” and “What can this package do for me?” This isn’t limited to what is written on the package label – a package can connect the user to a world of information. The graphic and label design is also essential to getting the message right.

2 – Be humble

Ensure your packaging is as sustainable as you can affordably make it. Avoid claims that the item is totally green if it isn’t. The science of sustainability will change: As we learn new things, you’ll need to show some eco-humility around your ‘greenness’ claims.

1 – Serve

Always remember that your packaging performs a service – both to a retailer and to a consumer. It’s not just an afterthought, it’s not just a wrapper, it’s a technology that has a value. Anything that does not serve should be left out. That includes technical flourishes consumers don’t notice or care about, built-in hassles such as hard-to-open seals, disposal complexities and other time-wasters.

Leading Futurists runs ‘The Future of Packaging’, a “triennial multi-sponsor program that explores the long-term future of packaging with implications for action today”. Click here for further details and email John Mahaffie to express your interest.

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