As Innova Market Insights tracks new product launches around the world, we likewise see how global macro trends drive and shape new packaging.

It’s certainly a challenging time. Consumers and their household budgets face economic uncertainty from pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions, a threatening energy crisis and inflationary pressures. Many consumers also are speaking up and asking media, government and industry to address climate change. Of course, these same consumers are exercising their own power and taking packaging into greater consideration at the grocery store shelf. That’s when and where they decide between various new products. 

In addition to monitoring food, beverage, and personal care trends, Innova Market Insights also monitors packaging. And it’s clear that today’s packaging is a hot spot for innovation with greater overall interest in resource efficiency, cleaner materials, and less waste within renewable and/or circular economies.

Innova fields a Top Packaging Trends report to review factors influencing consumer packaged goods packaging. Here are a few key highlights from Innova’s 2022 report.

Food Waste Fighters

The climate crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, and political upheavals all have elevated concerns involving food waste. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted and this accounts for approximately 1.3 billion tons of food. FAO suggests that this costs the global economy close to US$940 billion each year. FAO also estimates that greenhouse gases from food waste exceed the greenhouse emissions of all countries except China and the US.

Extending the shelf life of food and beverage products—and communicating this to consumers—could be one way to reduce food waste. In fact, according to the Innova Packaging Survey 2022, 40% of consumers surveyed globally from 11 countries agree that shelf life has a strong influence on their purchasing decisions.

Innova Market Insights wanted to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced consumer attitudes toward packaging—especially as it relates to protecting food from contamination, damage, or spoilage. More than half of consumers surveyed globally agree or strongly agree that the protective function of product packaging has become more important due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innova monitors global packaging innovation related to food waste. Here a just a few suppliers’ new technologies.

*An Israeli supplier offers recyclable, easy-peel film that’s sealed onto produce trays or containers. The film includes modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) condensation control technology to slow respiration inside the packaging.

*One Spanish supplier offers antibacterial mono-material trays for fresh food applications. It says it used a wide range of special additives that are completely safe for food contact. The new trays increase shelf life from seven to 12 days depending on the producer’s initial hygiene and food safety conditions. 

*One US supplier offers an antimicrobial additive that reduces bacterial, fungal, and viral growth on the surface of packaging. It can be applied to plastic, textile, and paper packaging. Packaging and products treated with this product benefit from lower microbial cross-contamination, making them safe for re-use and thereby reducing waste. 

*One supplier offers coated film that reduces bacteria present on packaging by 95%. 

*One European packaging supplier created a MAP sandwich “skillet” package. When packed using a gas-flush process, the tight seal retains control of pack atmosphere over the lifecycle of the product, extending shelf life significantly beyond the four days most standard in the industry. With increased product shelf life, sandwiches stay fresher for longer, supporting food waste reduction.

Overall, it’s clear that these companies (and many more) are balancing sustainability trade-offs between material choices and impact on shelf life and food waste.

As companies move away from “use by” dates, QR codes present new opportunities. For example, in addition to information on shelf life, QR codes could communicate with smart refrigerators and remind consumers about particular items nearing the end of their shelf life.

Mono-material Mastery

The rise in mono-material innovation across different types of packaging represents an industry shift to recycle-by-design packaging amid increasingly stringent circular economy targets. Innova Market Insights has observed an industry-wide transition away from multi-layer packaging and toward mono-material solutions as a strategy to improve recyclability within existing infrastructures.

We see consumer support growing for recycling and recyclable packaging. Our surveys have discovered that 39% of global consumers say they recycle more than before the pandemic. Moreover, 52% perceive that recyclable packaging is environmentally sustainable and 41% say that packaging is an important environmental sustainability issue. One-third of consumers surveyed globally in the Innova Packaging Survey 2022 say that reduced amount of raw material used to make the packaging positively influences their product choice.

Industry suppliers continue to innovate to overcome the challenges of incorporating recyclable content into packaging. One company developed a recyclable toothpaste tube that uses polyethylene (PE)-based technology to eliminate aluminum while it matches the performance requirements of traditional multilayer tubes.

One supplier’s full PP laminated pouches utilize mono-material solutions to improve plastic recyclability. One European company’s mono-material meat tray seals by using a series of raised teeth that run around the sealing flange—in place of a layer of polyethylene or adhesive. The raised teeth maintain the seal's integrity even if the flange becomes contaminated by animal fat.

One European supplier says it has proven that its mono polypropylene (PP) pouches are designed for recycling, can be identified during the recycling process and sent to the correct recycling stream.

Another supplier says it is testing a fiber-based barrier to replace an aluminum layer within shelf stable packages. Its goal is an aseptic package that is fully renewable, fully recyclable and carbon-neutral.

We also expect innovation in paper-based barrier solutions – Kraft Heinz is partnering with Pulpex to develop a paper-based, renewable, and recyclable bottle made entirely from responsibly sourced wood pulp.

Bioplastic Boosters

Demand is rising for renewable alternatives to fossil-fuel based plastics. In tracking new product launches, we see advances in coating technologies and film solutions, as well as a steady switch toward bio-based filler materials (particularly in e-commerce). Moreover, an increase in production capacity from existing facilities and greater capital investment bodes well for the future of bioplastics.

In December 2021, Japan’s Suntory Holdings Ltd., took a key step to use 100% sustainable PET bottles globally by 2030 and eliminate all petroleum-based virgin plastic from its global PET supply. The company unveiled a prototype PET bottle made from 100% plant-based materials. The prototype has been produced for the company’s iconic Orangina brand in Europe, along with its best-selling bottled mineral water brand in Japan, Suntory Tennensui.

PET is produced using two raw materials, 70% terephthalic acid (PTA) and 30% mono ethylene glycol (MEG). Suntory’s prototype plant-based bottle is made by combining a supplier’s new technology—a  plant-based paraxylene derived from wood chips, that has been converted to plant-based PTA—and  pre-existing plant-based MEG made from molasses.

Last fall saw an Israeli company introduce a home-compostable, highly transparent laminate. It runs on most conventional plastic packaging machinery and possesses a good oxygen and moisture barrier for extended shelf life for various packed goods, especially dry food, the supplier says. The clear laminate is printable, sealable, and available nuts, granola, grains, powders, supplements, energy bars, dry pasta, spices, cookies, dried fruit snacks, as well as frozen or chilled foods.

Labels Unleashed

Labels are vital to consumer packaging. They provide product information, brand differentiation and even evidence of tampering. They also are notorious for hindering packaging recyclability because they remain attached during material sorting. However, Innova Market Insights has observed an industry shift toward easily-separable labels and recyclable or renewable label materials.

Suppliers and manufacturers have developed a range of labeling solutions to improve the recyclability of plastics such as PET, PP, and PE. Coca-Cola launched a label-free PET bottle in South Korea to align with the government’s mandate to enhance plastic recyclability by eradicating labels. One supplier’s wash-off adhesive labels enable greater recycling efficiency for PET. PET bottles also can eliminate conventional inks and adhesives by switching to glue-free neck labels that are made from paper and printed with vegetable inks.  

Internet of Things (IoT) technology can bring labels to life by facilitating easier sorting and recyclability. Ultimately, this could translate to greater consumer engagement. More than one-third of consumers globally indicate that disposability and end of lifecycle information positively influences their product choice. The financial impetus for easily recyclable packaging is increasingly apparent, with half of global consumers agreeing or strongly agreeing they would pay more for more environmentally sustainable packaging. Moreover, 55% agree they would be willing to switch their usual brand for a brand with more environmentally sustainable packaging.

One interesting development has a supplier developing animal-free, self-adhesive labels as demand for vegan products move beyond diet. 

Caps Uncovered

Anticipated legislative changes regarding recyclability of caps is driving innovations in tethered bottle caps. Leading carton manufacturers unveiled their tethered cap solutions in the second quarter of 2021 in response to European Union’s single-use plastics directive, which comes into effect in July 2024.

Coca-Cola Great Britain and Coca-Cola Europacific Partners recently announced PET bottles with new neck design and tethered caps that are recyclable with the bottle. Coca-Cola Europacific Partners plans to make its lightweight design an open-source industry standard that is available for any beverage maker to use in their own bottle designs. Innova also is monitoring developments in connective closures and recycled/recyclable caps.

Looking Ahead

US manufacturers face challenges around plastic recyclability. In late May 2020, the Consumer Brands Association proposed a fee on virgin resin in the US. The objective was to help the recycled plastics industry and fund improvements in the recycling infrastructure. In the US, companies in the consumer goods sector are committed to using more recycled plastics but currently are being held back because of low rates of recycling.

Circular economy targets also loom on the horizon. These could spark developments in technologies that facilitate enhanced recyclability. However, Innova predicts challenges ahead with costs, regulations, the recycling infrastructure, and consumer education.

The global packaging community is gearing up for the circular economy at an unprecedented rate, and a governing principle for the adoption of circular economy within global markets is the need for collaborative approaches. The adoption of similar principles, a common language, and nomenclature will facilitate greater cooperation across the globe.

Lu Ann Williams is Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights, provider of market research services including the Innova Database. With more than 25 years’ experience in the food industry, Lu Ann is a trend expert and frequent public speaker at events worldwide. She leads a team of analysts and works with global clients. Contact her at