According to a market analysis conducted by Data Bridge, the rigid packaging containers market is expected to grow at a rate of 4.05% in the forecast period of 2021 to 2028. One reason for that growth can be directly attributed to the shift in consumer tendencies during the COVID pandemic.

For example, with “working remote” becoming the norm and people spending more time at home, consumers are ordering in more and going out less. And home cooking is stirring the pot. A recent report from the Food Industry Association (FMI) titled the “Power of Produce 2021” revealed that grocery shoppers are buying 8.9% more fresh fruit and 14.2% more fresh vegetables compared to their pre-pandemic produce purchases.

Both of the above trends reflect a push to provide consumers with the convenience, practicality, and durability in packaging that serves their evolving needs — fresh produce packaging and takeaways being among the top. So, what can we expect in 2021? Consumers are looking for rigid packaging that offers convenience, ease-of-use, optimum performance and a long shelf life. They are also demanding eco-friendly options.

Here are the trends we’re seeing in 2021:

Rigid Plastic Containers Outpacing Other Options

With takeout and takeaway dominating the current climate, sales of plastic containers have skyrocketed, and they are expected to increase further, far outpacing all other types of produce and RTE (ready to eat) containers. The explanation is simple: Rigid plastic containers provide superior protection and desirble display properties. (Think specifically of the RTE salads and prepared hot food and pre-cut/pre-sliced fruits and vegetables bought at mega giant grocers and restaurants on a daily basis.) And consumers are demanding that plastic containers be recyclable because they are caring more about how their buying affects the environment.

Alternatives on the Rise

Due to this increased awareness, there is not only a push for recyclability, but also a surge in demand for reusable, refillable, and returnable packaging, as well as bio-based alternatives to plastic.

Refillable and Reusable Rigid Containers

In line with the values of the Zero Waste initiatives, is the push for refillable rigid containers. The premise is simple: The store provides product in bulk, then allows customers to bring in their own empty refillable containers to fill, thus eliminating the “middle man” waste factor. Certain brands, like Sprouts, Whole Foods, and other co-ops, are already incorporating this strategy with their products ranging from dry cereals, pastas, and nuts to beauty care essentials and more — all of which have received a warm reception. Not only does this use of refillable rigids decrease transportation and manufacturing costs for the supplier, it also satisfies the public’s demand for eco-friendly options. There are presently two potential problems that still need to be solved: additional costs along the supply chain and possible low availability of bulk containers in large quantities for vendors.

Other retailers are taking this one step further. They are providing reusable rigid containers onsite for customers to ‘takeaway’ their products. When the customers  return at a later date, they use the rigid container to refill their next purchase (all for some recompense, discount, or reward incentive). One example is The Body Shop, which has been testing and rolling out this concept since 2019. They plan to extend the reusable concept to 400 stores worldwide by the end of 2021, and, by 2026, use the reusable packaging concept in every one of their stores. Customers are provided a 250ml aluminum bottle, then given their choice among a selection of the brand´s products (shower gels, shampoos, conditioners and soaps) to fill it and take it home. After the product is used, the customer then cleans the vessel and returns to the Body Shop for a refill. Yet another example? Starbucks, with its “Borrow a Cup” campaign.

Bioplastics Deemed Better

Bioplastics, created from biodegradable and renewable resources like starch, proteins, and polylactic acid (PLA) are fast becoming the preferred material in commercial markets worldwide. In particular, Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) — which has the highest recycling rate of all the plastics used for packaging — is a bio-based alternative to traditional packaging. Big brands such as Nestlé, which features PET in the company’s 100% renewable plastic bottles for mineral water, have chosen it for the balance it offers between cost-effectiveness and eco-friendliness.

PCR Now Preferred

Post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin — a recycled plastic that can be used for making packages like water bottles other rigid containers — is currently trending in the market, especially in the niches of electronics, retail, pharmaceutical, and medical packaging. Stephanie Baker of KW Plastics, the world’s largest plastic recycler, explains the process:  “We purchase recyclable plastics from the surrounding areas and create recycled packaging material. Over 90% of our raw material comes from bottles used in kitchens and bathrooms. Beyond bottles, we produce caps, tubs, tubes, and other disposable types of items.”

Collapsible Is Cutting Edge

Collapsible rigid containers can effectively decrease repositioning and handling costs. The fact that collapsible containers also save storage space can’t be downplayed. Hard data presented regarding collapsible rigid containers offers undeniable proof that this trend is sizzling: In 2018, the collapsible rigid containers market was valued at 490 Million USD, and expert analysis projects it will soar to 670 Million USD by 2025.

More Mono-Materials

As mentioned previously, consumers are demanding that their rigid container purchases be more eco-friendly. Recyclability is especially valued. However, consumers need to do their homework. Some company may claim their products to be ecofriendly, that that they are indeed recyclable, but sometimes this is not wholly accurate. Why? Packaging incorporates many different components, not all of which are recyclable or reusable, thus making it difficult for brands attempting to make their packaging truly sustainable.

The great news is that in 2021, manufacturers have found a remedy: Rather than a mixture of components, they are creating sustainable packaging materials that consist of a single substrate (mono-materials). While there is a lot to consider with the single substrate industry trend (packaging this way can currently be more heavy or bulky than alternatives due to the need to add additives for shape maintenance), it is a promising start and is constantly evolving… as is the entire rigid container market itself.

Need help with your packaging? RSN helps companies make their packaging more sustainable. Learn more about our sustainable packaging services here.

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