The real effects on the packaging industry from the present virus crisis is hard to comprehend. But regarding food packaging in the short to medium term we will see online grocery shopping grow, more focus on hygiene and price without losing the grip of sustainable solutions.
The long-term consequences of a pandemic like this one is hard to have a strong view on at this stage. Likely short-term results appear to be a downturn in the overall economy with double digit declines of GDP’s and increased unemployment. Some of the hardest hit industries, so far, seem to be the hotel and restaurant industry, the travel and event industries and retail.
When it comes to retailing it is not anything like a general decline, the grocery retailing is in a much better position than capital goods retailing. Right now, people obviously stay more at home for eating and socializing. Going out is rarely an option and food and beverages are bought from stores rather than restaurants. Also, pharmacies are open for business selling medicines as well as personal care products.
Where is this possibly going then?
As a result, the pandemic is speeding up trends like remote working but also online grocery shopping and possibly other retail technologies. The effects of this pandemic for the retail industry could be an increased e-commerce business as well as growing interest in cashless stores, automated replenishment and cashier free self-checkouts.
And for food packaging?
Demand for food packaging as such will be up as people will eat more at home. Now when many restaurants and food-service outlets are closed this is obvious, but as the crisis opens for new behavior patterns some will stay, also when things get a bit more normal. There might also be some stockpiling and a new normal can very well be to have more than a few days of preserved food in the larder. This also goes for personal care and healthcare products.
Grocery e-commerce has so far been developing at very different paces in Europe. The UK is still in the lead according to Forbes (2018) followed by Czech Rep. and Estonia. As a result of the virus pandemic the habit of ordering online and receiving, or picking up, your shopping is fast developing and will get a boost from the extreme situation we are now experiencing. This is a clear step in consumer acceptance and adoption of the channel. New and better packaging solutions are being developed and innovative delivery methods are created.
I don’t think that sustainability will go away because of the shifted focus. The consumer demand is too strong, and the concept of sustainable packaging solutions has gotten ingrained in product and company positioning. Demand might temporary go down but if so, it will rapidly bounce back. It could however mean a changed view on initiatives such as the reusable cups introduced at certain coffee chains. People are also probably less interested in the packaging-free shops where you fill loose product in a bag of your own.
Sustainability is also related to the expected increase in general demand for hygiene. Packaging might even become appreciated by the consumers. It is visibly protecting and guaranteeing the freshness of the product. This could also be supporting the introduction of track and trace systems to a broader use. Blockchain technology is available, among other solutions, and is implemented as a useful tool in the distribution chain. This crisis could be a catalyst for increased use of technology for tracking and to guarantee the product origin and what it has experienced before consumption. An increased cost is hard to get around and can, in particular now, be a disadvantage.
It will take a while for the world to get back on track and increased unemployment and uncertain employments will make the average consumer more price sensitive than usual. The result comes as a shift towards a consumer demand for more value-products and private labels will have a field day. Converters and others in the packaging industry will not be spared the requirements for lower prices.
The future is right now not bright, but it is not a dark abyss either. We will have to adopt and be as agile as we can to survive and succeed also in the new tomorrow.