What’s Next in Consumer-Packaged Goods?

With economic uncertainty on the horizon, reducing costs while still prioritizing sustainability will be of paramount importance in 2024.
© Piman Khrutmuang – stock.adobe.com

Looking Ahead

By Austin Given, Director of Packaging Design & Development for Veritiv US/Asia

Consumer packaged goods companies have faced significant headwinds in recent years to maintain consistency and strong performance in an ever-changing economy. Companies are faced with having to reduce costs while reaching their sustainability goals, navigating regulatory requirements to meet their customers’ needs, and of course ensure their products are safe and protected. Throughout 2024, we expect to see companies prioritize their focus on reducing overall operations costs while increasing sustainability efforts and innovating in automation and cold chain solutions.

Sustainable alternatives to plastics

Over the past five years, there has been a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods globally, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. Europe continues to be focused on regulation to ensure reduction, recyclability, or reuse of plastics in packaging. As consumers look to buy goods with sustainable attributes, companies are working to materialize their sustainability goals. Some 66% of respondents to a McKinsey U.S. cohort survey (and 75% of millennial respondents) say they consider sustainability when making a luxury purchase according to the McKinsey New Age of the Consumer US Survey in 2019. As people spend money for more sustainable options, businesses are investing in sustainable alternatives.

In particular, companies are focused on how they can remove plastic from packaging – especially single-use plastic. Fiber-based solutions are a popular alternative to plastic packaging and can be easily recycled at homes or in facilities. Innovation in sustainability is not only replacing plastic and expanded polystyrene (EPS) trays with molded pulp, but also in replacing plastic handles with sustainable fiber-based packaging handles, enabling recyclability without disassembly from the fiber-based carton.

In addition to replacing materials with more sustainable ones, companies should also investigate the overall packaging design. By reducing the size and number of materials used in packaging, you can reduce each product’s weight, which decreases transportation and supply chain impacts. Ultimately, the holistic packaging system should be considered while driving sustainability and performance targets. Rushing to eliminate all polymer options with perceived sustainable alternatives, without partnering with experts in material innovation and validation, may have unintended negative environmental consequences. A significant impact to the sustainability of a product is requiring it to be shipped twice due to damage incurred during transit. Experts can identify alternative ways in which to detect material impact to the environment such as life cycle analysis (LCA), and experts can test for solution validation. These tools can be leveraged to guide the best holistic solution that meets sustainability, cost, and performance goals. The goal is to reduce the negative impact of packaging material choices while delivering a quality experience to the end-user.

Innovations in automation

As labor constraints continue to be an issue this year and next, automation is an answer to help keep operations running smoothly. Understandably, a larger up-front investment can be daunting. However, automation investments can deliver efficient and effective solutions to your facility’s packaging, warehousing, and logistic needs. When integrated with precision, you can improve manufacturing throughput and yield, reducing redundant labor, to optimize operations workflow. Automatically erect and tape your cartons. Seamlessly stack and wrap your pallets for outbound shipments. Robotically pick your e-commerce shipment. Feed your trays and bottles for line filling. All of this is possible while limiting downtime.

By partnering with an equipment specialist, they can walk the line to uncover inefficiencies that can save money. There has been an increase in demand for packaging equipment specialists as companies are looking to automate their operations. By customizing a solution for each company’s product line, equipment specialists determine the most effective way to take your product from concept to delivery.

Partner with a specialist who can take a holistic view from design, materials, testing, equipment, and automating processes to boost efficiencies, cut costs, and support sustainability goals.

Increased cold chain solutions

Food, beverage, and pharma brands are booming as they ship their products direct to consumer and leverage e-commerce distribution. As a byproduct of pandemic quarantines, consumer purchase behavior has continued to trend in both in-person and home delivery of climate-sensitive and perishable products. As the industry continues to grow, consumers are searching for packaging that delivers quality product while offering environmentally friendly disposal options. Sellers are looking for methods to reduce warehouse bulk (such as EPS coolers), ensuring the target temperatures of food, beverage, and pharma while also meeting sustainability goals. Sustainability can be achieved through material choice and optimization of size. Insulation made from plant-based materials offer an alternative to polymer-based insulative options (e.g., foam). Flexible insulative mailers also offer bulk-friendly alternatives to molded EPS forms.

Reduce spoilage, damage, and loss

Validate your solutions with ISTA-certified package testing labs where experts can analyze your packaging performance under various environmental conditions. Whether you need ISTA 7E Summer and/or Winter profile, build confidence and regulatory compliance in your package system. With new material innovations that offer sustainable alternatives to addressing R-value and cooling systems, environmental testing has become table stakes as part of your solution-vetting process. It is possible to save on operational and delivery costs, and build confidence in your solutions by partnering with experts.

With economic uncertainty on the horizon, reducing costs while still prioritizing sustainability will be of paramount importance in 2024. The market will continue to demand growth in solutions that drive delivery speed, quality, and environmental benefit. Stay ahead of the curve by working with experts who know how to turn your problems into opportunities.

About the Author:

Austin Given is the Director of Packaging Design and Development USA and Asia at Veritiv. He has 16 years of experience as a packaging engineer, designer, and department manager with a focus on retail channel markets and global operations. Learn more at www.veritiv.com.

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