It used to be simple. You knew your brand’s positioning, and packaging was about creating a sleek logomark, memorable design or cool marketing message to connect with consumers. You could operate in a brand “silo” and continue with business as usual.

Heading into 2020, that’s no longer the case. Modern consumers are savvy and they are focused on living better, healthier lives and taking steps to save the planet. This means it is more crucial for brand owners to focus on a brand’s “better-for-you” attributes. Innovative brand teams must take into consideration the industry at large, the broader impact of a product (including its ingredients), how it’s made and most importantly, the packaging it comes in.

Here are five packaging innovation factors impacting and transforming brands across all industries in the coming year.

Elevated Sustainability: From zero-waste and edible wrappers, to biodegradable plastics and compostable materials, there’s growing focus on packaging that’s good for the environment. 

What’s new for 2020 is an emphasis on elevating both the look and message of sustainable packaging. As the cost of eco-friendly materials—such as soy-based inks and edible rice elements—continues to come down, we’re going to see more innovative, earth-friendly designs. These could include colorful, biodegradable stand-up pouches for pet foods, or striking 100% recyclable milk cartons that you’d never guess were made of raw cardboard from pulp trees. 

It sounds futuristic, but an era when you can “have your food and eat the wrapper too” also is just around the corner. More companies are experimenting with bold new edible packages made from natural potato, rice paper, seaweed, wax-coated sugar and tomato-based materials. 

Transparent Transparency: Brand transparency will be increasingly critical and we’re starting to see the trend show up in packaging, with more companies removing the guesswork about what’s inside their products by choosing clear or translucent materials on the outside.

Traditional boxed food packaging for many brands—including pastas, cookies and biscuits—is being reinvented with clear cut-outs so consumers actually see the product; while cosmetics, shampoos and lotions are appearing in minimalistic, see-through containers.

Another approach, successfully used by a leading whole food protein bar, is to simply list food ingredients in large font on the front of a package, enabling consumers to quickly identify the product as a healthy choice.

Simple, Bright and Sophisticated: Bold colors, big type and one-word brand names anchored by catchy, to-the-point slogans will increase in popularity in 2020 as consumers gravitate towards minimalistic, yet sophisticated packaging.

Brands will stay on the path towards strong uncluttered messaging and quick reads that are easily understood by busy, time constrained consumers. Bold serif typography in logomark design—once considered a design industry taboo—is making a comeback as a way to catch people’s eyes and deliver a loud, strong message.

Unified Expression: Consumers are choosing products that match their lifestyle and dietary choices, and it comes down to a matter of trusting your brand. The best way to build that trust is by defining a brand territory and ensuring it shows up in all brand assets, starting with packaging.

A leading producer of grass-fed, organic dairy products is enjoying exponential growth after rebranding its product line, incorporating a bed of meadow grasses across all product SKUs to underscore its “grass-fed” message.

Another example involves a first-of-its-kind “sleep-friendly” ice cream brand. It’s building a loyal following by imparting a unified expression across its line, sending a clear message that it’s okay to give in to nighttime cravings. The company’s packaging includes a series of custom-illustrated, lovable characters, one for each unique ice cream flavor, that echo the same message and ensure the brand story is both recognizable and consistent.

Disruptive Concepts: 2020 promises to be a game-changing year. Packaging that historically has been frowned upon will be flipped on its head to change the conversation, and in some cases, start a revolution on store shelves.

We’re already seeing the medical marijuana consumer experience an elevated difference. This occurs as traditional, bland nug (marijuana) jars are replaced by beautiful glass orbs and stylized packaging.

A similar trend is underway with leafy garden greens. Companies are replacing plastic blister packs with sustainable packaging. Innovative concepts are combining unique uses of paper with bright colors and exciting logomarks. This is completely transforming the way greens are presented in grocery stores. The more you aspire to elevate your brand, the more you start to change the playing field of an entire industry.


Packaging News & Notes

Oatly Inc., New York, N.Y., said it switched to fully renewable ice cream board packaging for Oatly Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert (using oat milk instead of cow’s milk). Oatly officials noted that the packaging comes from Evergreen Packaging and a converting partner, Stanpac Packaging. Officials say the coating on Evergreen’s Sentinel Ice Cream Board is sugarcane-based polyethylene. That makes the board fully renewable, since both the paper and the coating come from sources that can be regenerated.

“We were so glad to learn that Evergreen and Stanpac are committed to furthering their own sustainable offerings and that they came to Oatly as a partner to get those options into the world,” said Oatly US General Manager Mike Messersmith. “As a company committed to developing new food options for sustainably-minded consumers, it’s great to have packaging partners equally committed to lowering their footprints.”

GoGo squeeZ, a brand of healthy portable fruit pouches for kids, said it will unveil 100% recyclable packaging in the market by 2022. In doing so, GoGo squeeZ will be among the earliest brands to address the implications of its pouch packaging and offer sustainable options to customers, officials said.

The result of three years of research and development, the company’s final recyclable packaging will have no aluminum layer in the pouch, the amount of plastic in the iconic GoGo squeeZ helicopter cap will have been reduced by 40% (which is 80% overall less plastic compared to competitive pouch caps), and the recyclable, squeezable packaging will be made from a single type of BPA free plastic- polyethylene. The outer packaging on most of the GoGo squeeZ varieties is currently made from 100% recycled paper that has been sourced responsibly and sustainably.

“Developing packaging that reduces our environmental footprint is a critical step in the evolution of our brand and its values,” said Michel Larroche, CEO of MOM Group, the French company that owns GoGo squeeZ. “We understand that every item we sell impacts the environment. Businesses can and should play a critical role in the effort to mitigate climate change and reduce the plastic waste problem,” says Larroche.  “We are on a journey to address and improve our impact on the world around us and our community through continued investments in recyclability and operational improvements.”

Conagra Brands Inc., Chicago, said it it will strive toward making 100% of its current plastic packaging renewable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. This goal accompanies current efforts to reduce the overall use of plastic and is part of the company’s broader commitment to shaping a Better Planet, one of the four pillars of Conagra’s corporate social responsibility and ESG efforts.

Conagra has already made progress against its sustainable packaging goal with the introduction of plant-based bowls used in Healthy Choice Power Bowls products. Made from fiber, these bowls have helped Conagra avoid the use of more than 2.1 million pounds of plastic packaging since being introduced in 2017.

Over the next few years, the company aims to avoid the use of an additional 33 million pounds of plastic through further development of plant-based packaging options and other packaging innovations. Conagra also plans to ensure all packaging features a How2Recycle label to provide clarity to consumers, so that more materials are put into recycling bins.