Top Four Trends Shaping Global Consumer Packaging

April 2023

This briefing explores the key trends defining the future of the packaging industry. Costs are keenly in focus given the inflationary environment; right-pricing and right-sizing the retail pack are essential to balance consumer affordability with brand profitability. Digital’s influence goes wide, from e-commerce to operating efficiencies to engaging with consumers. Sustainability remains the strongest and most enduring trend, underpinned by new regulatory interventions to mitigate climate risk.

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This report comes in PPT.

Key findings

Pricing and right-sizing strategies to address inflationary pressures

Financial pressures continue in 2023 as high inflation increases packager and brand operating costs and equate to higher prices for consumers’ groceries. Pricing right remains important within the current realm of inflated input costs, hence brands’ strategic use of economy lines, private label and adapted pack sizing across categories and channels, to balance consumer affordability with brand profitability. Some stabilisation to current levels of volatility is expected as prices of key commodities fall, as seen in energy, after the 2022 price shocks.

The 4Es of digital packaging innovation: E-commerce, Efficiency, Environment and Engagement

Digitalisation will get more embedded across the packaging supply chain. The acceleration in e-commerce is here to stay, thanks to the consumer convenience and value for money it brings. E-commerce however poses a sustainability question about more packaging, an opportunity for innovation while avoiding in-transit damage/leakage. The efficiency afforded by digital tools from prototype work to production planning and remote-servicing will amplify their use. There is onward potential for QR codes, blockchain, NFTs and the like, from tracking recycling to bringing brands closer to consumers, in the metaverse.

Regulation adds impetus to sustainable packaging push

Sustainability is the strongest driver of packaging change, evidenced by continuing redesigns with recyclability, recycled content and refill at their core. Refill is a hot topic, from retailer trials to regulations specifying use. Scaling is best to happen only where it makes sense, to avoid the unintended consequence of increasing footprint. Plastic, most used-material, is most targeted by regulators, to improve its circularity, requiring investment in recycling and re-use, to lose the material’s association with waste. Europe leads packaging’s regulatory charge. Far-reaching climate laws, global plastic treaties as well as corporate and consumer recognition of the imperative to tackle climate-related risks, will ensure unabating pressure on packaging.

Crisis-resilient nature of packaging in the consumer goods marketplace
Inflation however keeps consumers at home with groceries and value in focus
Plastic to hold top spot as most-used packaging, and continues to work on its sustainability
Paper is buoyed by brands wanting to reduce their dependency on plastic
The many drivers of inflation in consumer packaging supply
2022: year of exorbitant peaks in material/energy costs, some stabilisation expected in 2023
Crown Holdings on the damaging impact of inflation on consumer demand
Elevated energy prices remain a key concern (especially in Europe)
Global packaging production and selling prices are all up: the US picture
Higher operating costs mean higher unit prices for consumers
Latin America hyperinflation meets shrinkflation: Rise of smaller “daily affordable” packs
Consumers exert more care in their spending: Rise of private label and search for savings
Food and drink pack sizes: rightsizing – both up-and down-sizing strategies are in action
Beauty/Home care: fewer promotions mean higher prices, adapted sizes, more compaction
Digitalisation of packaging: e-commerce, efficiency, the environment and engagement
The transformative rise of e-commerce is here to stay
US and China, largest suppliers of e-com board, also lead in unmet e-commerce potential
Opportunity to optimise e-commerce packaging: Consumers and regulators want this
Packaging needs to answer on function and on sustainability for better unboxing experience
Boox re-commerce packaging: eliminate waste with reusable shipping
Digitalisation for operational efficiency: a priority in era of high costs, for sustainability too
Digital innovation brings benefits to businesses, consumers and the environment
Engage via QR codes and NFC to address new digital realities
Digimarc Recycle pilot in Canada: digital watermarks improve the sorting of flexible packaging
In 2023, the call to act on packaging and waste is high
Sustainability progress is crucial to brand reputation and to avoid future packaging bans
Consumer goods industry leaders unite in their commitment to circularity in packaging
“Recyclable” resonates as most trusted and sustainable feature among consumers
Key pathways to progress circularity in packaging
Redesigns aplenty: Material efficiency, recyclability, recycled content and re-use
Packaging’s power to communicate sustainability credentials
Two thirds of businesses are focusing on sustainable packaging, retailers lead the charge
Sustainable plastic? Plastic is forecast growth but will be more renewable in composition
rPET supply: Shortage of food-grade recyclate threatens targets, investment is essential
Flexible Plastic Fund’s (FPF) FlexCollect: UK kerbside pilot for flexible plastic recycling
Packaging regulation will further climate action and impact manufacturers
Key legislative tools
Regulation will redefine future packaging specification; plastic a key target
EU PPWR: Proposes significant updates on waste, recyclability, recycling and re-use/refill
Collection targets drive DRS uptake; implementing can be a challenge as UK demonstrates
PPWR’s re-use/refill targets challenge change, especially for drinks and horeca operators
Pricing, digitalisation and sustainability are all key to packaging’s future


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