The Impact of Covid-19 on the Development Trend of Food Packaging

The Impact of Covid-19 on the Development Trend of Food Packaging

Julia Wang(China Productivity Center Agricultural Innovation Department)

Food and its packaging are inseparable. Packaging not only ensures the freshness and safety of food, but also builds instant connection with the consumers, enhances the charm of products, and serves as a determining factor of the consumers’ decision to make the purchase.

With the outbreak of Covid-19 and the demand for minimum physical contact, food safety has become a focus of discussion among consumers, industry operators, and experts, especially in areas stricken most by the pandemic. The changes in social life patterns and the reactions taken by business operators all indicate the future trend of food packaging design and the consumers' demand for food packaging. An analysis report by Tetra Pak in 2020 shows the important development aspects of food packaging, including hygiene and safety, long-term storage, environmental sustainability, and so on.


The 2020 Tetra Pak survey indicates the top choices of consumers on the packaging innovation list include extended shelf life, health and safety, followed by environmental protection and information transparency. (Image source: Tetra Pak's website)

This article summarizes several development trends of food packaging:

1. Innovative packaging techniques to extend the shelf life and maintain nutrition

According to the China MONITOR survey of Kantar, consumers faced with the threat of the pandemic care more about their health management with the hope to raise their immunity. Data from Google Trends shows that searches for immune foods and beverages have increased by about 500%. During the JD 618 Mid-year Global Shopping Festival held in China in June 2020, the turnover of a number of nutritional and health food products increased by 100%~350%. This shows that the pandemic has contributed to the market of health food, especially products that can enhance immunity. The use of packaging design for functional foods to solve the problems of low stability and reduced activity of the raw materials due to external environmental influences, so as to extend the shelf life and maintain the freshness of the products, will be the niche of competitiveness in the market.

2. Optimized product packaging for online shopping and delivery sales

The otaku economy triggered by Covid-19 has prompted a surge in demand for online shopping, especially for food items. Many business operators are taking this opportunity to develop online marketing. On the other hand, companies like Amazon and Alibaba have raised their requirements on food products in order to ensure that their products are not damaged or contaminated. Therefore, in addition to changes in marketing channels and strategies, tests and modification should be performed on food packaging in terms of logistics models of online shopping and delivery.

It is important to enhance the firmness of the packaging and adjust the specifications, especially for fresh fruits and vegetables and beverage products, so as to meet the needs during product collection and distribution and to reduce the chance of collision damage during the process.

Through data collection and digital analysis, consumer preferences for online consumption are referred to for adjustment of packaging design. For example, the storage period of products can be extended and freshness of products maintained by using packaging techniques in response to consumers' large purchases and higher demand for food quality. On the other hand, it helps coping with inventory pressure and costs caused by unsalable products.

3. Under the premise of ensuring hygiene and safety, continued development of environmentally friendly and sustainable packaging materials

The pursuit of environmental protection and sustainability with food packaging materials is a major goal of green development for the food industry. However, the large number of orders for delivery and online shopping means a huge amount of disposable containers and packaging waste, which undoubtedly imposes a greater impact on the ecology. The development of environmentally friendly, recyclable, reusable, biodegradable, or weight-reducing packaging materials has become an even more urgent issue.

On the other hand, the raised awareness on the importance of food hygiene and safety due to the pandemic is now an important prerequisite for products to meet the requirements of environmental protection and sustainability. In designing packaging and selecting materials, the incorporation of ideals of both sustainable environmental protection and hygiene and safety, while maintaining reasonable production costs, will always be a challenge.

4. The enhanced information transparency through packaging increases consumer trust in products

In addition to its basic protective functions, packaging also plays a role in communicating with consumers. Many food industry operators have noticed the interactive experience of packaging. They convey brand values through special designs, and make production processes and supply chain information open and transparent to increase consumers' trust. This is particularly important in the post-pandemic market, because consumers, when making the purchase, now pay more attention to information of food hygiene and safety, manufacturing processes, and nutritional values.

The packaging safety on the market is indeed already quite high. It is the brands that actively engage in strategic communication with consumers to guarantee product quality that will gain higher trust and stickiness. What needs to be considered includes: what information should be disclosed, how to deliver the information in a simple and easy-to-understand manner, how to reduce the difficulty for consumers to access information, and what technologies and tools can be used to help achieve the above goals. There are many application cases of existing technologies, such as blockchain that ensures transparency of supply chain information and two-dimensional barcodes which consumers can scan to link to product information pages.

The industry should re-examine and position its own packaging to respond to market demand and enhance competitiveness

Covid-19 has greatly increased global concern with issues of food safety and hygiene and the environmental protection of packaging materials. This means more responsibilities and pressure on the food industry operators. They can also take this opportunity to follow the above-mentioned food packaging market trends and re-evaluate and adjust their packaging strategies, accelerate changes and innovation, and then enhance their competitiveness and achieve differentiation in the market.

Finally, it is necessary to emphasize that the new trends of food packaging mentioned here may become the norm in the future. Besides working hard to seek breakthroughs on the packaging techniques and cost management, the fundamental aspect is the product itself. To own and continue presenting new products of high quality is the key to a firm foothold in the market. Food packaging that closely responds to market trends is a helping hand in product marketing.