2024 has arrived and the seismic changes in the packaging industry in recent years are rearing their heads.

Supply chains have been hit hard by successive global conflicts, increasing environmental disasters have amped up pressure on companies to reach sustainability targets, and rapidly developing technologies have left regulatory bodies and industry leaders scrambling.

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Given these issues, it would be understandable if some industry professionals are relieved to leave 2023 behind and welcome in the new year.

To ensure that 2024 is a smoother ride, GlobalData’s thematic intelligence has identified the top themes in the global packaging industry.

Artificial intelligence in 2024

By 2024 artificial intelligence (AI) will already be a well-integrated feature of packaging businesses, but there are still plenty of unexplored use cases to present potential advantages.

In packaging, AI will primarily serve to improve production, distribution and logistics processes, saving companies significant time and money. The technology is also increasingly being used in problem-solving circular economy issues, such as smarter materials and recycling infrastructure and processes.

The cost, safety, ethical and sustainability reservations that some in the industry have about AI will need to be confronted on a case-by-case basis to weigh up the benefits against the risks for now, until the technology becomes more advanced in the following decades.

Cybersecurity in 2024

The increased digitalisation and automation of manufacturing will continue to have knock-on effects on the packaging industry in 2024.

Often a crucial last step in the production process, any delays to filling and packing arising from cyberattacks will have a knock-on effect for consumer goods partner companies as well as for packaging businesses themselves.

The importance of industrial cybersecurity in packaging is unique, as it catalogues industrial assets such as digitally-connected machinery and protects them from threat actors.

E-commerce in 2024

As the e-commerce trend grows in 2024, packaging companies will see increased demand for more personalised pack designs. These bespoke offerings are especially popular in subscription models and can enhance brand identity and consumer engagement.

Circular economy initiatives have been difficult to implement in e-commerce as consumers lack the resources to recycle or return packaging. Digitally convenient features and deposit facilities are likely to become more commonplace in 2024 to overcome these challenges.

The future of work in 2024

Packaging companies are increasingly automating their operations to maximise output, and this should continue to be a priority in 2024.

Given the sector’s reliance on business with other consumer sectors, improving digital connectivity internally and externally will greatly improve economies of scale.

Technologies such as digital twins and AI will also help workers to more easily find innovative solutions to pack design and material challenges.

Supply chain management in 2024

Packaging companies have a vital role to play in other sectors’ supply chains, so efficient co-ordination with businesses such as manufacturers, distributors and logistics companies will be essential.

Like all other sectors, the key to optimising supply chain efficiency in packaging in 2024 and beyond will be investment in technologies such as AI, IoT [the internet of things] and robotics.

More sophisticated packaging technology, particularly in advanced material innovation, will also help to improve the efficiency of consumer goods and foodservice supply chains. For instance, smart labels can be used to make products easily identifiable by tagging or scanning, saving time in inventory management.

These are only some of the themes GlobalData has highlighted as being essential to all players within the packaging industry. Other themes include health and wellness, robotics and ESG [environmental, social and governmental issues].

Industry leaders and companies who bury their heads in the sand and fail to engage closely with these themes will find themselves facing obsolescence.