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Consumers are grabbing for some very different things in 2021 than they were in 2020, 2019 or 2018. As anyone in the consumer-goods industry knows, packaging strongly influences buying decisions. In a consumer poll conducted by the Paper and Packaging Board, 72 percent of consumers agreed that packaging design influences their purchasing decisions. The poll also provides some insights into the impressions that specific packaging choices create among consumers. Here’s a look:

  • 67 percent agree they’re often influenced by the materials products are packaged in.
  • 71 percent were more likely to buy brands that package their products in paper or cardboard.
  • 63 percent were more likely to buy products packaged in paper or cardboard because they can reuse the packaging.
  • 63 percent feel paper and cardboard packaging makes a product seem like a premium or high-quality product.
  • 83 percent agree that paper and cardboard packaging can be innovative.
  • 69 percent feel that products packaged in paper or cardboard seem more artisanal or handcrafted.

It’s pretty clear that customer attitudes have been shifting in favor of artisanal, homespun packaging that replaces plastics with paper-based materials in recent years. This is a trend that continues to pick up speed as consumers seek authentic brands offering quality, unique products. The search for authenticity is especially strong in the food industry. Our brains link the quality of exterior packaging with the quality contained within that packaging. This is one of the reasons why packaging with a homespun, artisanal look is in high demand. For consumer brands, this is welcome news due to the fact that paper-based packaging materials tend to be both less expensive and better for the environment. Next, take a look at some specific trends that are emerging for food packaging in 2021.

Food Packaging Trends to Know in 2021 - 2

1. Protective Packaging Is Appreciated

It’s fair to say that the pandemic has left shoppers feeling guarded. They don’t necessarily have confidence in products that seem exposed. Just think about the process of grocery shopping in 2021 versus 2019. In 2021, shoppers are conscious about reducing contact by wiping down grocery carts, maintaining distance from other shoppers and avoiding contact with surfaces that have been used by others. There’s a hesitancy to place items directly in contact with the checkout counter. To cater to this need for reduced exposure, food brands need to focus on providing protective packaging that creates an additional barrier between the product and exposure to surfaces. This can take the form of everything from paper wrapping to cardboard sleeves.

2. Bright Colors

People are ready to be in a good mood again! When bringing home everything from essentials to “goodies” from the store, consumers want to feel like they are about to engage in a positive experience. This is why cheerful colors and playful fonts are so appreciated in 2021.

3. Artistry

After spending a year being robbed of art, culture and experiences, many people are finding that they appreciate “beauty” far more than they ever did before. Expect this to drive an increase in “beautiful” design. For brands, there is an opportunity to feed this hunger for beauty through beautiful package design featuring unique artwork. This includes highly detailed designs and sketches depicting landscapes, animals, nature scenes and more. In 2021, it’s not uncommon to see brands with big followings use “cover art” for their products that looks like it belongs in a graphic novel!

4. Positive, Reassuring Messaging

If people are looking for some food for thought when buying food products, they want those thoughts to be positive ones! When branding packaging in 2021 and 2022, food producers need to focus on reassuring, encouraging messaging that echoes the “we’re all in this together” sentiment without directly referencing anything stressful.

5. Strong Typography With Product Names Clearly Displayed

For 2021, brands aren’t taking any chances with mysterious typography! It’s important for packaging to clearly display brand names due to the big online shift in shopping habits. Brands simply can’t “chance” having people not be able to recognize or remember their names when they go to search for products that they’ve seen or tasted in person when shopping for groceries online. This is why you’re seeing tons of large, clear lettering for brand names on packaging this year.

6. More Durable, Reusable Packaging for Frozen Food

In the frozen-foods niche, consumers have gotten pickier. The truth is that things like frozen pizzas, burritos and wings have replaced the “restaurant nights” that many people used to build into their weeks. As a result, consumers are paying more attention to packaging for frozen foods. Demand for flexible packaging has grown as more people are trying to do fewer shopping trips by stocking up on more freezer items when the do go out. Anything with “a little give” is preferred!

Food Packaging Trends You Should Know in 2021 - 3

7. Symmetry

While this may seem like an oddly specific shift, it’s actually quite logical once you consider consumer behaviors in 2021. During the past year, consumers have spent much more time at home than usual. In fact, the only routine “excursions” taken by many were to the grocery store. As people slowed down, many began to focus on the way that they store and organize their food for the first time. The simple truth is that people are simply more intimate with their pantries than ever before. When consumers provide symmetrical, easily stackable product packaging, they’re building satisfaction into the entire procurement-to-usage life cycle. What’s more, symmetrical and beautifully designed packaging simply creates a positive visual experience every time a consumer reaches into the pantry for an item.

8. Damage Resistance

Online grocery sales boomed during the pandemic. According to some sources, post-pandemic e-grocery sales are expected to climb from $35 billion to $250 billion. By 2025, more than 21 percent of all grocery purchases will be done online. Of course, this change in shopping habits also represents a shift in the way that consumers bring their groceries home. The days of putting your groceries in your own trunk are increasingly becoming part of a bygone era. This creates a complex situation for food brands because there is now a “step” between the store shelves and the consumer where the delivery person is ultimately responsible for the appearance and condition of product. This takes quite a bit of control out of the hands of the brand. It also creates a need to fortify product packaging for an extra step of handling and transportation before it becomes the “responsibility” of the end customer. Here are some things to keep in mind about order fulfillment:

  • For direct shipping, the built-in quality control measure of the person stocking shelves noticing damaged or outdated products is gone.
  • “Personal shoppers” and other people filling orders are often very pressed for time because they are paid by order. This can cause them to rush when getting items from the store to their cars.
  • With third-party delivery drivers, there isn’t usually any uniform protocol for how groceries are stored in the car during transport. Due to the fact that drivers often use their own vehicles, there are no uniform standards regarding interior temperature or grocery placement. Unlike delivery trucks, personal vehicles often expose food products to more sunlight if the trunk is not used.
  • The person delivering the food doesn’t represent a single food brand. There is no incentive to provide good presentation of your product because the focus is only sourcing the correct product within a specific window of time.

All of these points leave food products vulnerable. The “rushed” nature of a crowd-sourced delivery system can pose challenges in terms of product packaging because it’s generally a “wild card” situation regarding how gingerly a delivery person will actually handle groceries. This is why food brands are increasingly restructuring product packaging to have greater resiliency for worst-case scenarios.

In an era of food and grocery deliveries, food brands also need to focus on the security angle. According to a survey done by US Foods, nearly 30 percent of drivers admit to snacking from the food they’re responsible for delivering. In addition to raising health and safety concerns, this trend also means that customers are getting much flimsier portions than they paid for once the final product is delivered by a third-party driver. As a result, consumer perception of the food brand is much lower than it should be.

With food products passing through extra hands amid the food-delivery trend, food brands need to take steps to make packaging impenetrable. This goes beyond just protective packaging that shields groceries and food items from potential contamination with surfaces. It really means accountability packaging. Ideally, this means packaging that provides evidence of tampering or breaches using breakable seals.

Is Your Brand Rethinking Food Packaging for 2021?

If it’s time to adjust your packaging for 2021, you’ll want to check out the live event being held in May by the Specialty Food Association (SFA). A proud member of the SFA, Mid-Atlantic Packaging offers a complete line of food and gourmet packaging items that allow you to customize any food item for peak freshness and presentation. We have retail, to-go and dine-in packaging and supplies for specialty brands, cafés, restaurants, bakeries, food trucks and more.