Since 1997, Leading Futurists LLC has taken regular looks at the future of packaging. We maintain that focus in ongoing collaborations with PTIS Global, an packaging strategy consultancy. In 2016 we concluded our sixth multi-sponsor program on the future of packaging, with The Future of Packaging; 2016-2026. We are planning another program for 2019.
In the meanwhile, here are some thoughts on how you can “future proof” your packaging, i.e. make sure it’s right for the immediate and longer-term future, now to 5 or 10 years from now, you should:
- Serve – Recognize that your package performs a service-to a retailer or to a consumer, for example. It’s not just an afterthought, it’s not just a wrapper, it is a technology that delivers the consumer and your business customer 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 hassles, and other time-wasters.
- Be humble – You should make sure your package is as sustainable as you can affordably make it. Avoid claims that the item is totally green if it is not. The science of sustainability will change, and since we’ll continually learn new things, we need to show some eco-humility around our greenness claims.
- Tell a story – Your package 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 is not limited to what is on the package label-since a package can connect the user, via the network, to a world of information-but the graphic and label design are essential to getting it right. And, of course, part of telling the story comes with advertising and other messages in the media.
- Be ready for change – Your package should be part of an adaptable system that does not overly depend on a particular sourcing for materials, a particular regulatory regime, or a single, or narrow range of sizing options, etc. This recognizes the risks in our complex world, with changing resource costs and availability, changing regulation, and economic turbulence. And make sure the fit works with the changes retailers and suppliers are making.
- Anticipate where the customers are going – Create packages that fit emerging realities in the business marketplace and changing values in the consumer market. For consumers, current examples that will continue to grow in importance include the desire for authenticity, and interest in products that “fit who I am” especially for affluent markets, and fits rising aspirations for success and quality, if focused on the emerging markets. For retailers, changes in how goods are merchandised and sold, including automating inventory and checkout, may drive new needs.
- Know the whole system – Consider how the package ultimately will be used, and misused, including improper disposal, littering, composting, burning, reuse in the home, etc. Consider the whole value chain. Consumers have no particular incentive to handle the package they way you want them to. Ultimately, at least some people, and some regulators, will consider the producer responsible, or at least target the package. This is already happening in more places with plastic bags, for example.
- Design for disposal and recycling – This means not needlessly combining non-recyclable materials, necessitating the consumer take something apart, and not being difficult to crush or crumple, for example. Consider what you would do, what packaging choices you would make if you, as producer, were going to get all of the packaging back.
- Create and use an identity – Your package can connect the product to an online identity. This becomes both powerful and essential, as more people explore what to buy and learn about products they buy online-seeing additional information, consumer reviews and comments, and so on. There are already proven technologies, e.g. using 2D barcodes, which make it possible for anyone to image the barcode on a package with their mobile phone, and get connected to information, contests, or a community of users. Scanbuy [www.scanbuy.com], a DuPont venture, has pioneered in this area.
- Enable local production – For many products, the “carbon footprint” and other factors are pressing for greater local production. In fact, a small movement of consumers is trying to consume locally to reduce the impact of their consumption on the environment. If we move to much more carbon footprint measurement, as well as focusing on other environmental aspects of consumption, e.g. energy used in agriculture and shipping food, there will be more pressure to produce goods locally. Whether or not you agree 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.
- Avoid “wrap rage” – Finally, 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 pack of batteries? In doing so, it should put the consumer first, not just optimize for the retail and distribution networks.
Thanks for the inspiration to Jeff Hilton, IMG Brandwire, for his post “Are You Guilty of the 10 Most Common Packaging Mistakes?” Link His thoughts led me to think, what are the kinds of things you can do right or wrong in packaging with the future in mind?