The Top 5 Packaging Trends That 2020 Has Showed Us

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By Mariana Costa, Marketing Specialist at PackIOT

Packaging is essential to so many industries such as pharmaceutical, food processing, manufacturing industry, fast-moving consumer goods, among others. This aligned with the increasing development of packaging in emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and some other eastern European countries are the main factors driving the packaging industry.

Throughout the last years we have experienced the growth of global trade, urbanization and population growth, with an increased pressure on exports and imports as well as packaging for the safety of goods. This faster pace of life was also translated into consumption “on the go” which increased the need for food service packaging.

The packaging industry has been coming up with different technological innovations such as safe closures, flexible handling or easy portioning. All these assets help extending the packaging portfolio of this industry.

Looking back to 2020 we all can agree that this was a crazy year that was not part of anyone’s worst dreams (or nightmares!). Nevertheless, so many other positive things happened! 2020 is coming to an end and what a better time to look back at some of the best trends we have seen happening so far!

 1_Environmentally Friendly Packaging Materials

Sustainability, recycling and environmental issues will continue to be at the centre of the discussion while millennials and generation Z keep expanding into the workforce and become considerable consumers.

We can confirm this reality by doing a retrospective of big campaigns done by big brands urging the need for sustainable packaging. Take Coca-Cola and its sustainability goals as a perfect example!

The famous expression “reduce, reuse, recycle” will grow louder and louder as there is a spreading awareness of the environmental impacts of packaging supplies on the planet. The vast problems associated with plastics and other diverse waste materials present in the oceans is an added pressure to companies to offer environmental friendly alternatives and to build strategies to reduce waste.

2_Smart Packaging

If you immediately thought about augmented reality, QR codes or chip technologies, then you’re right! These are all related with smart packaging as we see technological innovations keep evolving. Its evolution is a synonym of higher interactivity and multimedia applications for augmented reality.

Another very interesting thing about this trend we have experienced in 2020 is the fact that smart packaging enables superior tracking capabilities and it will change the way consumers are interacting with products and their packaging. This is a big way to elevate transparency and engagement.

We will likely keep seeing the merge of traditional printing being integrated with digital technologies.


Digital printing is a computer generated mechanism to design and create the images or graphics into the physical packaging product which influences its appearance. This is a trend that kept strong throughout 2020.

Digital printing facilitates more options in personalization and customization when compared to other techniques, such as typesetting. Until today, we have seen many companies going from analog to digital and today just a few are not using digital printing.

In this decade, the packaging industry has reached a new landing mark by becoming more competitive through the gradual rejection of traditional methods. The use of digital presses increased while the conventional presses declined. This recent digital technology allows all colours to be printed in a single pass which enables to “print on-demand”, something that has now become a trend in the industry.

4_Personalized Packaging

Digital printing makes it easier to customize packaging and add personalization to products. This technique helps the company to promote their name and brand in a persuasive way that stands out from the competition. Some examples are Coca-Cola with the printing of customer’s names oh the soft drinks containers, Frito Lay printing faces of the potato chip packages and Bud Light printing football teams on their beer cans.

Gradually, packaging is becoming a great means to target very specific consumer groups. This is an advantageous technique as it makes possible for individuals to identify with a brand’s product, turning it into a desired item the consumer must try or have with him.

5_Transparency and Clean Labels

We can’t talk about 2020 without mentioning the growing need and trend for higher transparency and clean labels. Providing a product information in a clear and transparent way has been on the spotlight of things brands should be doing. It’s about trust and honesty. The easy access to information worldwide makes it easier for the consumer to educate himself on a various range of subjects. This will certainly influence their product choices and the packaging methods used.

The packaging of the product should provide clear, concise and open information which, consequently, will bring trust in the company’s brand name to the customers.

Brands have also been implementing business strategy according to the clean and transparent trend in 2020 with application of Smart Label. The label code directly connects consumers to a landing page with information about the product. Take this campaign video from Vodafone as a great example of what we mean:

2020 has also forced the surge of new developments within the packaging industry due to the Covid-19 outbreak. For example, many companies specialized on food delivery have experienced a surge in demand. Many food companies have changed their policies during this period and stopped charging delivery fee to further encourage people to stay at home, for example. This brings up new dilemmas for brands that have on their DNA the commitment to sustainable practices according to consumer preferences.

During the last years, it’s been visible a growing awareness towards sustainable packaging but, somehow, this pandemic has changed the course of the shift, at least temporarily. In times of a pandemic, safety concerns are at the centre of priorities. For this reason, plastic bags and packaging have been the preferred choices over reusable bags, containers and mugs. The need for social distancing has made consumers rely more on food delivery services, increasing demand for disposable food packaging, linked to food safety and quality.

The way businesses are managing the Covid-19 pandemic is the centre of the consumer’s attention. Consequently, food packaging industry is now more focused on meeting these demands – as preserving food quality, protection from contamination and providing customer convenience.

This somehow presents itself as a contradiction for one of the main trends in 2020 to opt for more sustainable and environmentally responsible packaging solutions. As the surge for food delivery continues, the packaging industry is focused on innovating to help food brands meet consumer demands for both sustainable standards and mass consumption.

To finish off this post on a great note, take a look at this McKinsey & Company’s video with a close look to what experts expect tomorrow’s packaging to be like. Think smart, personalized and reusable!