It’s been a year since a nasty virus came along and messed up business, forcing us to face circumstances beyond our control. But the global pandemic also presented an unprecedented opportunity for brands to pivot, refresh and reconnect with consumers in a whole new way.

Post-COVID-19, consumers will gravitate towards trusted brands that remind them they’re part of something bigger and provide a sense of community. Likewise, expect consumers also to respond to messaging that highlights key themes of comfort, safety, stability and practicality.

Here are four packaging trends poised to transform brands across all industries in the “new normal.”


Color Me Happy

After long periods of isolation and grim COVID-19 news, people are craving positivity. New for 2021 is an emphasis on bright, bold, feel-good colors that rejuvenate and uplift as designers experiment with unexpected and sometimes unconventional color choices. It’s a refreshing shift from whites and neutrals, and the result is stand-out packaging that’s difficult to ignore. 

The trend is reflected in The Pantone Color Institute’s choice of deep gray and vibrant yellow as two colors that best reflect the upcoming year. Experts identified yellow because it expresses joy; and gray for its “feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.” We’ll also see cheerful oranges, magentas and corals incorporated into designs that pop.

Some companies are experimenting with colorful, dream-like designs that invoke a sense of escape, allowing consumers to find comfort and temporarily forget about current challenges. In one case, Smelted Wood Fired Pizza, Marquette, Mich., chose a design direction that uses whimsy and bold orange to convey mouth-watering pizza sauce. It opts for a more playful, edgier vibe that maximizes on-shelf attention and creates a sense of fun.


Going Even Greener

With the green packaging market expected to grow 5.7% year-over-year to 2025, emerging sustainable packaging options already were a top consideration prior to the pandemic. Now “green” is poised to take on an even greater focus in the year ahead.

With fewer places to go inside, people are spending more time outdoors and the result is a greater appreciation for the environment. More than ever, consumers are resonating with better-for-you and better-for-the-environment messaging, and are making choices based on sustainable packaging.

We’ll see more emphasis on reusable, zero-waste, plant-based, edible, biodegradable and compostable designs. Enterprising companies are starting to experiment with the concept of “upcycling” by introducing packaging that has a secondary purpose, such as seed-infused boxes that can be planted, packaging that serves as home decor, or containers that double as planters or storage cases.

Controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) leader Local Bounti, Hamilton, Mont., for example, is disrupting the fresh greens and herbs market. It is presenting its non-GMO, pesticide- and herbicide-free line in colorful, eco-friendly paper potted planters. Others are incorporating leading-edge augmented reality and connected packaging solutions that promote a “touchless” shopping experience—with the added benefit of helping to curb disease spread.


Back to Basics

It’s no longer just Millennials who want to see the “story-behind-the-scenes” about how their food is produced and what’s inside. The more time we spent cooking in our kitchens in 2020, the more discerning we became about what we’re eating, where it comes from, what’s in it and who’s making it.

According to Innova Market Insights, COVID-19 transformed consumer shopping and eating habits, shifting the focus from nutrition and enjoyment to overall health and wellbeing. The result is indie-inspired packaging that conveys practicality, promotes wellness and tells a compelling story about a secret family recipe or a company’s rich history.

"Covid-19 transformed consumer shopping and eating habits ... The result is indie-inspired packaging that conveys practicality, promotes wellness and tells a compelling story."

Brands continue to embrace their heritage in new ways, reviving vintage logo marks and introducing limited edition packages that evoke memories of a more wholesome time. Even young companies who don’t have a rich history to share but want to convey a healthy sense of stability are creating nostalgic designs that feel old even though the product is new—a trend that has been dubbed “newstalgia.”

Brands such Francesco Rinaldi pasta sauce and Jack Daniel’s whiskey are putting a modern twist on communicating their history, embedding interactive augmented reality features into their packaging. At the scan of a label, each brand’s story comes to life in an engaging way.


Emotional Connection

More than ever, brands are using emotion to connect with consumers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our need for shared connections has been increasing and brands are finding unique ways to engage us.

Brands are building allegiance by taking a stand. They’re sponsoring campaigns that highlight and pay tribute to frontline workers, using new messaging to emphasize support for COVID-19 relief programs and they’re taking more steps to ensure the health and safety of their own employees. 

Brands also are finding their ways into our homes. For instance, Greek yogurt giant Chobani launched an interactive app to keep children amused during the pandemic and shift their focus away from the uncertainty around them.

In 2019, Forbes already was suggesting that businesses participate with their audiences on a deeper, more emotional level. Post-pandemic, it will be essential as we emerge more mindful of what consumers have shown is important to them: their health, family and home.