Top Packaging Trend Predictions for 2024
AI Generated Insights Can Guide Packaging Professionals
By Charles Haverfield, CEO, US Packaging & Wrapping
AI has become an integral tool across industries, and the packaging sector is no exception. This field continually adapts to changing consumer preferences, technological advancements, and environmental concerns. With the impending New Year, the industry anticipates new trends on the horizon.
To gauge the reliability of AI-generated insights, I asked ChatGPT to predict what it believed will be next year’s biggest trends in packaging to see what it got right and what it got wrong. Here’s what it had to say:
Sustainability will take center stage
Unsurprisingly, AI is expecting sustainability to remain a focal point in packaging trends:
“Brands are increasingly adopting eco-friendly materials such as bioplastics, compostable packaging, and recycled materials. In 2024, we can expect an even greater emphasis on circular design principles, encouraging reusability, recyclability, and reduced waste generation throughout the product lifecycle.”
There’s no denying shifting consumer behaviors and government pressures are changing the way businesses across all sectors are approaching sustainability, but none more than the packaging industry. In the UK, for example, a ban on free-of-charge disposable food and drink cups and containers for on-site consumption will be expanded into Wales from 1 January 2024 as part of the government’s single-use plastic ban. This ban has already been in effect for England since October 2023.
Similar changes are happening in the US, though admittedly at a much slower rate. A state-wide foam polystyrene and single-use plastic bag ban will be in effect from the beginning of the New Year for Colorado businesses. Several states have already implemented bans on single-use plastics but, for now, the changes are not being imposed at a federal level.
Although sustainability in packaging is of increasing importance, the reality is there is not always a clear-cut solution. Businesses need to balance maintaining product integrity, packaging manufacturing costs, infrastructure challenges and limited supplies of eco-friendly packaging materials before switching to sustainable packaging alternatives.
PCR (Post Consumer-Recycled) plastic, for example, is one of the most sought-after materials for packaging manufacturers looking to take a circular approach to packaging design. The use of PCR plastic holds substantial environmental advantages for mitigating plastic waste and carbon emissions.
However, it’s not without its limitations. It’s not suitable, for example, for packaging in the food industry due to contamination risks and packaging durability concerns. It’s also heavily in short supply thanks to increasing demand and inadequate recycling infrastructure.
While there is no one all-encompassing approach to sustainability in packaging, there’s no denying more emphasis will be placed on innovative sustainable packaging solutions for 2024.
Smart and interactive packaging
Integrating advanced technology for interactive packaging is going to be big in 2024, according to AI. In particular, it highlighted QR codes as becoming more widely adopted in offering consumers interactive experiences with packaging.
In theory, this trend will enable brands to provide detailed product information, personalized content and immersive experiences, enhancing consumer engagement and trust in the product.
Certainly, interactive packaging initiatives could be beneficial across some industries. The food industry, for example, may avoid food waste and spoilage by increasing consumer engagement in interactive technologies, such as scanning QR codes to provide more information on use-by dates and key nutritional information.
We’ve also seen brands engage in initiatives such as location-specific recycling checkers for product packaging through the use of QR codes, such as the Recycling Partnership’s Recycle Check.
However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that interactive technologies are only effective so long as they maintain consumer engagement.
While recent studies have found US consumers are increasingly receptive to QR codes, with 99.5 million US smartphone users expected to scan a QR code in 2025, an increase of 16.1 million people from 2022, otherstudies have found that, in practice, QR code usage decreased over time in a retail setting.
This is likely due to the technology not being able to enhance consumer convenience. After all, why go to the additional effort of scanning a QR code to get additional information for something that could ordinarily be found printed on the packaging? Businesses will therefore need to carefully consider what value this will realistically provide for consumers before investing in interactive packaging technologies.
Personalization and customization
Finally, AI expects that personalization will reach new heights in packaging in 2024:
“Brands will leverage data-driven insights to create tailor-made packaging experiences. Customized packaging not only resonates with individual consumer preferences but also fosters brand loyalty by making each product feel unique and exclusive.”
Leveraging consumer data to craft personalized packaging experiences presents a myriad of advantages for brands such as understanding specific preferences, buying behaviors and demographics, enabling them to create packaging that resonates deeply with their target audience.
This customization is intended to surpass the consumer’s expectations, with the aim of building a sense of connection and loyalty through memorable and personable packaging design tailored to an individual’s tastes.
The unboxing trend, for example, has proven to be a valuable marketing tactic that personalized packaging can play a part in. Back in 2013, studies found that one in four customers would post pictures to social media of an online delivery that came in unique packaging. It was therefore concluded that businesses would lose out by shipping products in ‘boring, brown packaging’.
But is this still true a decade on? Nowadays, consumers are far more switched on to environmental issues that come with overly designed packaging. Mixed materials, bright colors and excessive packaging components that hinder recyclability are more likely to dissuade the modern eco-conscious consumer, with63 percent less likely to buy products with packaging that is harmful to the environment.
It’s also worth considering that while personalization in packaging has long been a trend among small e-commerce businesses, this is not something that realistically can be implemented at scale. The logistics costs of redesigning, creating and distributing personalized packaging for large brands would be monumental, particularly if those businesses already operate within tight margins.