The flexible packaging market has been growing at an average annual rate of 3.3% for the last five years. Advancements in technology fuelling the design, printing and manufacturing of flexible packaging are largely to thank for that, as well as the industry’s ability to innovate with products that meet the ever-changing needs of consumer lifestyles.
Like many industries, those of us working in flexible packaging had to contend with the various logistical challenges that came with a global pandemic: supply chain disruptions, fluctuating costs and poor access to essential materials, to name just a few. But the logistical challenges posed by COVID – some of which will linger for the foreseeable future – also highlighted the need for more economical and longer-lasting packaging, particularly in industries dealing with perishable goods.
COVID has changed how we go about our daily lives, which also affects the way we use and consume products. Coupled with rapidly rising CO2 emissions, consumers are now making more informed decisions about their purchasing of products. Factors such as sustainability, cost and shelf-life will determine which products make it from store shelves and into consumers cupboards and are behind the most prominent trends you can expect to see impacting the flexible packaging industry in 2022.
Functional packaging will help reduce food waste
Nobody likes food waste. The UK throws away 9.5 million tonnes of food waste every year, which means that billions of pounds are being thrown into the bin, too. While campaigners have been making progress by educating the public on waste, there’s no easy way of solving the food waste problem overnight – but flexible packaging can help by eliminating potential wastage and extending the shelf life of certain types of food.
There are plenty of reasons people throw away food, from finding products they’ve forgotten about at the back of cupboards to buying portion sizes that are simply too large for them or their household. We’re big believers that packaging can make a difference, and functional packaging, in particular, can help consumers with accurate portion sizes, while packaging with easy open-and-reclose functionality prevents the spoiling and unnecessary waste of food.
The pack design and artwork on flexible packaging also plays a crucial role in reducing food waste, especially refrigerated items. Clever artwork and branding that clearly outlines portion sizes can help customers make better choices in the aisles when determining the size of the products they purchase.
Sustainable packaging will continue to grow in popularity
Sustainable packaging has been on the rise for several years as consumers become more concerned about rising CO2 levels and the impact of single-use plastics. One 2020 study found 50% of 18–34-year-olds believe the pandemic has made environmentally packaging even more of a concern, with non-recyclable packaging the most significant of those concerns.
The flexible packaging industry has already made significant progress by adapting to the needs of environmentally conscious consumers. The demand for sustainable packaging will only grow in the years to come, especially as sustainable packaging is an essential determinator for the products that younger consumers pick up from store shelves.
Thankfully, future-proof packaging doesn’t have to come at the expense of performance or cost. Our clients have been growing interest in recyclable, renewable, reclosable and our popular compostable packaging solutions.
Many of these formats are suitable for vacuum packaging and freezer applications. For example, the bio-based paper and metalised Natureflex materials in Parkside’s compostable packaging provide excellent oxygen and moisture barriers, dispelling any misconceptions that this type of packaging might limit shelf life or compromise flavour in favour of sustainability.
The incoming Plastic Packaging Tax will shake up the industry
The Plastic Packaging Tax comes into effect from April 2022 and will impact UK plastic packaging producers, importers, business customers and consumers. Any packaging not containing at least 30% recycled plastic will be taxed at £200 per tonne. Still, as we previously discussed in our blog on the tax, numerous roadblocks and challenges throughout the packaging supply chain need to be addressed.
These include strengthening the UK’s recycling infrastructure to avoid brands absorbing the associated costs of producing new packaging that satisfy the high regulations of food packaging. Recycled materials cannot directly contact food due to contamination risks, so functional barriers such as foil must be used. While the flexible packaging industry will adapt to the Plastic Packaging Tax, it’s vital that other ends of the supply chain, such as the waste management industry, keep up.
At Parkside, we’re already adapting by introducing sustainable packaging such as our Recoflex products and compostable packaging, which are suitable for both industrial and home composting conditions. And to help businesses meet new legislative guidelines and Net-Zero targets, we have also created a range of solutions with >30% recycled content.
It’s vital that, as an industry, we do everything we can to help minimise CO2 levels, protecting the future of our planet and generations to come.