How packaging is evolving in the UK

18 June 2024, 09:00 AM
  • Soaring interest in sustainability and technological innovations are driving the industry into an exciting new era
How packaging is evolving in the UK

Remember the days when packaging was purely functional? A vehicle to get products from A to B. A protective vessel to shield food and drink from bugs, bacteria and nasties.

Those days are gone.

Yes, of course, packaging continues to serve all of the purposes above, but it has also become more versatile, increasingly eco-friendly and, dare we say it…fun!

Whether you’re a retailer, or a brand selling artisan ready meals, biscuits, crisps or perhaps cheese, the way you package and label your product matters increasingly to consumers.

It is a window into your world, informing the very first (and most important) impression they make of you and your products. Getting it right, then, really does matter.

And ‘getting it right’ in 2024 means paying attention to key trends, the biggest being sustainability and interactivity.

What is interactive packaging?

Want to make an impact? To build a relationship with new and existing customers? To drive social engagement? Or, maybe, to inject a bit of excitement into your category? It could be time to consider whether interactive packaging might work for you.

This device is being used more and more across multiple sectors, and for myriad reasons, anecdotally to huge success. Use a QR code on pack for consumers to scan in store. It could take them to the fields where the cows who produce milk for your cheese are grazing, or to a recipe landing page, where a celebrity chef can be seen whipping up a quick supper using your ingredients. 

Augmented reality (AR) makes products come alive on the shelf. And you can even link to playlists on your packaging, bringing a creative, musical touch to your brand.

Barilla, for example, joined forces with Spotify to market branded playlists on the platform – each one acting as a timer for one of its pastas. An 11-minute set for fusilli, and a nine-minute one for spaghetti, for example.

ASDA introduced sandwich boxes for its lunch deals which folded out into plates (complete with plate image inside) to encourage more mindful eating. Brands are building puzzles and board games inside their food and drink gifting packaging. And some clever cafes have worked with design experts to manufacture interactive takeaway coffee cups which change colour or pattern as they cool, indicating the perfect drinking temperature. 

Interactive packaging gives food and drink businesses the capability to inform, excite and educate their customers, gather data, and constantly update and improve their offering on the back of engagement. It’s the (packaged) gift that keeps on giving.

In addition to QR and AR, both of which work via smartphones, Lauryn Hall, marketing manager at packaging specialist Springfield Solutions (an All4Labels Global Packaging Group company) says NFC (near field communication) is also taking root.

“NFC chips embedded in packaging can be tapped with a smartphone to open a webpage or app,” Lauryn explains. “As well as the security advantages of this technology, it can help food and drink businesses to engage with their customers by creating unique, memorable experiences.

“In today’s competitive landscape, customer interaction is crucial for fostering brand loyalty and driving sales.”

Lauryn points to storytelling, gamification, and relaying sustainability information and product use as the most prominent examples of interacitivty in the marketplace at the moment.

These touchpoints for consumers represent “a significant advancement”, she adds. “By leveraging digital technologies, companies can create richer, more informative moments, improving transparency, and gaining valuable consumer insights.”

Springfield Solutions, which is helping businesses to navigate interactive options, thinks that as the technology becomes more accessible, and more recognised, its adoption will shift firmly into the mainstream “offering numerous benefits to both them, and their customers”, Lauryn adds.

Minimalism is out and boldness is in

Using interactivity to leverage your business is an exciting step to take. But, says WBC’s in-house designer, Noah White, being bold in the design of your packaging and labelling, and ringing the changes to become more dynamic, can also have the desired effect on your bottom line.

“We know that in order to stand out, you’ve got to do something different,” Noah explains. “In a market oversaturated with competitors promising on price but often falling short on quality, we always strive to compete in both aspects.”

The detail is in the retail, he adds, saying that minimalism has dominated speciality food packaging design for years and it’s time to “embrace maximalism”, using strong colours, typography and imagery.

“There has been a steady increase in brands using brighter, bolder visuals and colours in their bespoke packaging in the past year. Many of our incoming design briefs are highlighting a desire to stand out and ‘pop’. Humorous, engaging and tongue-in-cheek informality seems to be on the rise.”

It’s crucial, Noah adds, to stay relevant. “It’s interesting to see how many previously outdated/traditional brands have made strenuous efforts to pull their socks up. In order to stay on the scene, it’s evident that innovation is a must.”

Meeting demands and driving products that might have once been considered unconventional or risky in the market, taking a leap, can be the start of setting a trend, Noah reflects. “At WBC we know that in order to stand out you’ve got to do something different.”

Sustainability remains important in packaging

In our recent Green Issue, it was clear that sustainability matters across the entire chain, from the production of ingredients, through manufacturing, packaging and delivery.

The analysts at FMCG Gurus say shoppers are “aware of the environmental implications associated with food and beverage packaging” in particular and this “heightened consciousness” has resulted in more individuals actively engaging in recycling.

Their data shows 82% of global consumers consistently recycle soft drink packaging, while 78% recycle food packaging most or all of the time.

FMCG Gurus’ Kate Kehoe says the only drawbacks to their endeavours are limited access to recyclable items, limited awareness, and their lifestyle. Kate adds their concerns put emphasis on the significance of designing packaging that has a minimal impact, integrating sustainable practices throughout its life cycle.

The Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) recently pushed back by the UK government to 2027, is hoped to further drive change in packaging within the drinks sector, with the deadline moved to enable manufacturers whose products are out of scope, to make a difference.

The consumer, Kate says, has to be factored in here too, as, she adds, they have limited time to consider how and what they will be recycling.

They “prioritise sustainable packaging claims they are familiar and confident with, and that’s something both producers and retailers must consider”.

Further data from FMCG Gurus reveals 82% of global consumers consider it important for packaging to be recyclable at least once.

The team at Future Market Insights agree, saying the industry is seeing a surge of research and development in packaging, aimed at developing new sustainable materials and solutions.

It estimates the sustainable packaging market value to be $285.3 billion in 2024, with an expected CAGR of 5.8% over the next 10 years. Germany, it says, is leading the way, followed by the UK, where there’s a higher consumption of eco-packaging materials – especially paper and paperboard, which are estimated to account for 38.2% of global packaging sales in 2024.

“The forecasted steady rise in market value, coupled with the surge in adoption of sustainable materials underscores a promising trajectory for the sector,” a spokesperson says. With continuous R&D efforts and growing awareness, “the coming years are likely to witness a notable shift towards bio-plastic, paper-based packaging, and reusable solutions.”

Amongst these solutions is the new Hydropol product from Aquapak, which was used by The British Crisp Co with Evopak to produce a new paper crisp packet, unveiled in March. Hydropol is a polymer which performs like plastic but, with its solubility, allows for 100% paper fibre recovery through recycling mills. It can be composted, is compatible with anaerobic digestion, and is non-toxic and marine safe.

The product was developed following a study by the business which showed 62% of those asked wanted to see increased investment in new packaging materials. Chief technology officer, Dr John Williams, says the study shows the “FMCG sector is highly cognisant of the need to move away from conventional plastics to more environmentally friendly materials which offer better end-of-life outcomes.”

He adds it’s important there’s “an acceleration in the use of materials which are available at scale, offer the required functionality, run down existing conversion lines, and have a viable end-of-life solution to the consumer”.

Eve Reid, commercial director at WBC, says it’s the job of packaging manufacturers to keep up to date with the latest materials available, creating products that not only attract attention for customers, but reflect those business’ core beliefs too. “Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of misleading marketing tactics and facetious claims,” she explains. “Eco doesn’t always mean eco. Fat free doesn’t always mean calorie free or nutritious.” In order to survive and thrive, brands are being forced, she says, to think, be honest, be transparent, and make the right decisions, so their customers can make informed decisions. 

“Everything new coming into the market has sustainability ingrained into its core design, and everyone along the line will be looking to see if these product standards are aligned with their sustainability efforts,” Eve continues.

“Therefore brands are having to take accountability, make actionable change, and be incredibly transparent with what they are offering – from what’s in the packaging, to the food and drink contents inside. Consumers in the 18 to 24 age bracket are 59% more likely to pay up to 10% more for eco-friendly types of packaging according to Fess Group’s research.”

WBC has recently launched its new Food-to-Go range, made using a by-product of the sugar industry. The sugarcane pulp takeaway containers are one of the most sustainable solutions on the market for eliminating single-use plastic. “After use they can be rinsed and popped into the compost bin at home, making them the perfect alternative to plastic containers,” Eve says.


more like this
close stay up-to-date with our free newsletter | expert intel | tailored industry news | new-to-know trend analysis | sign up | speciality food daily briefing