Does packaging need to be adapted to the new distribution channels?
The changes to the distribution channels go hand-in-hand with our evolving social, economic and environmental contexts. This 2018 Alter’Native Food conference lecture explains how packaging needs to adapt to these changes.
How have the modes of consumption evolved?
Today, our modes of consumption are changing and evolving. For hundreds of years, goods were put in packages that were stitched up again and reused, with the problems of hygiene and traceability this implies. Packaging back then already had a financial value and was always recycled.
Changes to this situation came late, to accompany the 19th-century advent of industrialisation, and the gradual appearance of large stores and mail-order sales. Cheese began to be wrapped in tinfoil, and wooden crates came into use. Packaging became increasingly commonplace, and was used as a communication medium, progressively dubbed the “silent salesman”, as it bore information previously communicated by the salesman himself.
It subsequently acquired more and more functions, particularly in terms of providing information. The biggest changes in retail and distribution modes took place in the 20th century, with the advent of self-service, supermarkets and, subsequently, of automatic checkouts and “drives”. Packagings today are safer and comply with strict environmental and food regulations.
Paradoxically, fears surrounding packaging, in terms of safety issues and environmental questions, are intense as never before. Packaging is ubiquitous, but do we really need one and the same type of packaging to address all these distribution and retail modes? Can we content ourselves today with relying on a single type of packaging as sent to a supermarket, a distribution platform, or straight to the consumer?
What is the point of packaging?
Packaging serves to contain, protect and communicate. Yet for each distribution channel, the packagings must be compatible. Today we can find active packaging, smart packaging, connected packaging: offering traceability and security. We are seeing the emergence of different solutions for the different types of business:
- Online sales: visibility on the interface, packaging for grouped purchases or for shipments are today's priorities.
- Local stores: the problems of transport, weight, volume and handling are key.
- Short supply chains and direct sales: the objective is to underpin the consumer experience, explain the absence of chemical products and create a link with the producer.
- Bulk: traceability and contamination are the main issues.
From omnichannel packaging to dedicated packagings: what is needed, what are the solutions?
Consumers today are always on the lookout for something new, because their interest tends to wane more and more quickly. Brands are able to invest in short production runs to create an event and communicate quickly on a story specific to the company or in response to the latest news, although this is a lot easier for online stores than for high-street chains.
It is also possible to push the notion of hyper-personalized packaging even further, in order to restore the link with the customer and generate a feeling of brand intimacy. Digital technologies today make this possible by printing on all types of materials.
To keep packaging to a minimum, equipment suppliers have worked on reducing the number of shipment box references and adapting them to precise volumes. Other solutions make it possible to resize and fold up boxes to reduce the volumes for transport. In addition to this, more and more green or organic packaging is emerging.
There is also a need for regulation and traceability, adding a further layer of complexity to packagings and increasing the volume of information that they need to provide. Lastly, there are public or professional mobile apps associated with web links, along with smart packaging and labels. Information is presented simply to the consumer without complicating the industrial process.
Read also: Decoding the future of food
The packaging “drivers” of tomorrow
The supply chain today is more complex and faster moving, the consumer experience is different, and invisible waste is constituted by the wasted and empty space in packaging. The future for packaging will be driven by the following factors:
- Sustainable development: wasted space must be eliminated, and our resources must be recycled.
- Instantaneous communication: we need to come up with a certification system to verify the reliability of the packaging and whether it complies with our expectations.
- New technologies: innovations such as 3D printing or robotics to facilitate the handling of products are having a growing influence on packaging.
- Next financial crisis: this crisis will surely come, and so we will have to adapt packaging to the new breed of consumers emerging from this.
- Climate change and population increase: human beings cannot go without breathing for more than 3 minutes, drinking for more than 3 days and eating for more than 3 months. We therefore need to produce packaging that meets these primary needs, while avoiding the use of pollutants, excessive water or the overuse of arable land.
- Legislation: it is important to monitor what is happening in terms of the regulations, and hear what the packaging industry has to say to avoid future prohibitions.
- Protectionism: we are moving toward ever shorter supply chains, and so food and packaging need to move in this direction too.
- Safety and transparency: the blockchain ensures the traceability of products from creation to their arrival on the consumer's plate. This should enable a product's origins and its packaging to be controlled.
- Social and employment: will we need to create new trades and adapt the employability of jobseekers on the jobs market in order to adapt to our new ways of producing and consuming food?
- Customer satisfaction: ordering a product should offer a form of gratification in the ease of use and easy opening of its packaging.
For Jocelyne Ehret, there is no such thing as: “… good or bad material, […] but there is good and bad packaging,” and this is something on which the brands need to work.
Speakers: Blandine Lagain, BREIZPACK and Jocelyne Ehret, THE RIGHT PACKAGING