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The Covid-19 Impact on Packaging Experience; Consumer Preferences & Expectations

In recent years, the big trend within the packaging sector has been the significant growth in the consumer desire for more environmentally friendly packaging solutions. However, due to the unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 crisis, both consumer and customer preferences are changing. The principles that packaging have long served, Safety, Hygiene & Integrity of goods, are now top of mind. This change in dynamic has created a tension point between the desire for Sustainable solutions and the need to satisfy one of our most inherent motivations, safety (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). How long these changes will last, stick or evolve, is a question that we need to explore.

Concern & New Appreciation

Hygiene and food safety concerns in the context of the pandemic, are evident in the new appreciation of plastic as a material. Not only is it safe, affordable and long-lasting, it also delivers hygiene advantages. A benefit that seems to be outweighing interest in pack recyclability, as consumer focus switches to the role of packaging in the prevention of Covid virus transmission.

Within grocery and food service, we have witnessed a move to more pre-packed & individually wrapped items (e.g. bakery & fresh produce) as a hygiene and safety precaution. Whilst it may be temporary, it means current consumer demand may be for more, rather than less packaging. Single-Use items have come back to the fore as they are the cleanest and most efficient way to protect health and hygiene. Demonstrated in the recommendation to use disposable items such as coffee cups and containers, rather than refillable or reusable. Single-Use hygiene credentials have already slowed down the momentum of change for Sustainable alternatives. In the UK for example, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has pushed back the ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. Having been due to come into effect in April, it has been moved to October 2020.

E-Commerce Resistance

Online retail has become a hotspot for changing consumer behaviour. The e-commerce channel has experienced years of growth within a few months and consumer engagement in this channel is likely to stick post Covid. McKinsey state that the trend impact of e-commerce has gone from a 4 to a 5 (1-5 point scale) whilst Sustainability has gone from a 5 to a 4.

There is now a significant requirement for e-commerce ready packaging and the retail focus is now on getting products safely to consumers first time. With such pressure on logistics, supply and demand, the protection of goods through resistance technology will be critical. This type of packaging will minimise the risk of product loss or damage, reducing the potential of financial losses & returns for customers and preventing a negative product quality and safety experience for the consumer. We may see less environmentally friendly materials being used and again we are likely to see a consumer demand for more rather than less packaging.

Sustainability Tension

Whilst Covid has brought to life one of our most basic needs, safety, it has also contributed to a global conversation about the environmental impact of the world that we live in. There has been a resurgence of nature during lockdown, whether it is the return of wildlife to the clear canals in Venice or the sighting of a wolf in Northern France for the first time in over 100 years. The UN’s Environment Chief, Inger Anderson said that “Nature is sending us a message with the ongoing climate crisis”. This is not going unnoticed by consumers (global), as 55% claim to be more concerned about the environment as a result of Covid 19 and 47% are willing to pay more for products that have less of an environmental impact (FMCG Gurus). Here in lies the tension point between the desire to live responsibly and the inherent need to feel safe and protected.

How can we help?

Today, we need to understand the relationship between the need for hygiene & safety and the desire for sustainability and how we can deliver upon the experience, first time round. We can help you to measure your consumers’ packaging experience and performance within the E-commerce and retail channel.

We can evaluate the susceptibility & existence of damage or defects to packaging and sustainable solutions, how these fare versus consumer expectations and what the impact is on immediate and longer term consumer experience.

For more information contact martina@eolasinternational.com

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