Nobody can measure with any real accuracy what impact Covid-19 will have on packaging. But what packaging professional wouldn’t value a glimpse into how things might look post-pandemic, especially if that glimpse comes from an experienced veteran?
Pat Reynolds May 21st, 2020
One such veteran is consultant Mike Ferrari of Ferrari Innovation Solutions LLC, who spent 32 years at P&G and completed his tenure there as Global R&D Packaging Associate Director. After substantial in-store research, he’s come up with some ideas about what he calls “packaging post-pandemic,” and he shared some of those ideas with me in a recent phone call.
“By forcing us all out of our comfort zones as we look for ways to protect our families and stay safe, this pandemic has caused some re-balancing in four key areas,” says Ferrari. “One is the accelerated adoption of e-commerce. According to Brick Meets Click, a consultancy specializing in food retailing and marketing, 13% of the U.S. population engaged in online shopping prior to the pandemic. Now it’s 40%. Sure, it may dip a little as things settle out, but we certainly won’t see 13% again. How might this change packaging? Think about the packaging of fresh eggs. If an Instacart shopper is now dropping them off on your doorstep, should the packaging be reevaluated to help ensure the eggs aren’t cracked now that they’re reaching the home under such different circumstances?”
Should anyone need confirmation that this e-comm acceleration is indeed underway, look no further than Walmart. It just announced that its e-comm sales grew 74% in the first quarter (13 weeks ending May 1).
A second rebalancing Ferrari sees is the reversal of a trend that’s been developing steadily over the past 10 years in the hand soap, detergent, and surface cleaner category. Pre-pandemic, consumers were making it abundantly clear that they did not want bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol in such products, so plenty of companies introduced products whose packaging touted the absence of such “unnatural” ingredients. But now in the thick of the pandemic, those “natural” products are the ones often remaining on the shelf as consumers scoop up any package saying things like “kills 99.9% of germs, bacteria, and virus.” Says Ferrari, “People want that kind of certainty, and packaging will have to deliver.
Be sure to check out the PMMI Covid-19 Resource Page for information that can prove valuable in these trying times.
Third on Ferrari’s list is a thorough re-evaluation of single-use packaging as people realize that it has a role to play. “Look no further than Starbucks,” says Ferrari. “They do not want you to bring your reusable coffee mug into the store. We see the same thing at the supermarket, where reusable grocery bags that had become so popular in recent years are now, in many cases, forbidden.”
He emphasizes that this re-evaluation of single-use packaging doesn’t diminish the importance of efforts toward reaching a circular economy. But it will require greater ingenuity in how we approach a package’s end of life. “We need to look deeper and come together if we’re going to transform how we handle packaging at its end of life,” says Ferrari. “It’s not that plastics or folding cartons are bad, it’s how we process them that is inadequate. At this time, the industry needs to come together to fix this.” Ferrari suggests people have a good look at the potential of syngas, described here by Dr. Bruce Welt, PhD University of Florida Packaging Engineering:
Finally, packaging professionals post-pandemic will have to redouble their efforts where production and supply chain agility is concerned. “In times of uncertainty, where unexpected change is the new normal, those with digital assets are way ahead of those without. Quick turnaround, small quantities, and the ability to react quickly with very little lead time—this is what digital assets bring. Converters and brands alike will now need to ask themselves if their investment in digital assets is adequate.”
Ferrari encourages all stakeholders in the packaging space to give serious consideration to what these four areas of post-pandemic re-evaluation and re-balancing will mean to their business. “It’s a matter of going back to your fundamental business strategy to understand how are you going react to these four trends in a way that propels you forward,” says Ferrari. “Change can overwhelm you or lead you to opportunity. In a time of change like this, it’s no time to go back to business as usual.”