As brand owners in the food space look forward to 2019, several trends could–and should–affect their upcoming packaging decisions. 

Sustainability has been an issue in packaging for so long now that it is difficult to call it a “trend.” However, it is still at the forefront of considerations for many packaging decisions, especially with recent calls to create a circular economy by reducing single-use plastics. Many major food brand owners, including PepsiCo, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Unilever and nearly 250 brands globally have committed to making all packaging recyclable by 2025.

A recent report by predicts that demand for sustainable packaging will grow about 5.1% annually by 2025. These actions are likely to spur innovation among packaging suppliers. Look for suppliers to enhance processes that may make recycled plastics more usable with food products and develop new bio-polymers and cellulosic fibers that are recyclable.

Despite its bad rap on recyclability, flexible packaging continues to grow rapidly.  Bags, pouches and wraps have so many advantages, such as shelf appeal, light weight, less material usage, ease of storage, easy opening and resealability. However, use of laminated structures inhibit recycling because the layers can’t be separated. 

Advances in single-polymer packages, bio-polymers and other structural evolution will make pouches and bags even more attractive to food companies.  Pouches also can be used with emerging processing technologies, such as HPP and microwave-assisted processing. A related development is the increasing need for transparency, not just in ingredients, but in the packaging, too. Consumers want to see the product itself to know what is really inside the package. 

Packaging also is going digital. Consumers want an experience with their packaging, and brands want to further engage shoppers with their stories. This is most apparent in the area of digital printing, which is making inroads with all types of packaging, from cartons to pouches and cans. For the first time, converters’ purchases of digital presses in 2018 was expected to surpass flexo presses. 

Augmented reality is another way brand owners are using packaging to engage customers. By embedding digital codes in the images on packages and labels, brands can capture consumers’ attention and increase sales simply by having them point their smart phones at the packaging. This entertaining technology is likely to gain wider acceptance and more general usage in the coming years.

Look for these and other evolving technologies to strengthen packaging’s role in food protection and marketing in 2019.

Originally appeared in the December, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Packaging's Progress.