Technology genius and marketing mastermind Steve Jobs knew the importance of good packaging. He was once quoted as saying, “Packaging can be theater; it can create a story.” So, as we move through 2021 and beyond, one has to wonder how that story will read, and who will be the main characters driving, or in this case, packaging the plot?

According to a recent report from the researchers at Smithers (smithers.com), the demand for corrugated packaging material has increased each year (beginning in 2018) by roughly 3.5%. And this upward trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. The report predicts a 4% growth in corrugated packaging, reaching nearly 200 million tons by 2025.

These gains contradict those who had predicted a slight global slowdown in corrugated consumption just a year or so ago. Why were the “experts” mistaken? They didn’t foresee the explosion in e-commerce trade and the forward-thinking in the digital-print technologies. The result: an increased demand for corrugated packaging.

So, what story can we expect corrugated packaging to create in 2021 and beyond? Here are some story lines to expect and the future main “characters”:

Igniting the Industry

E-commerce will continue to be “on fire”. With retail sales heating up across the globe, online sales world-wide will continue to greatly impact the packaging demand. And corrugated packaging options will make up as much as 80% of all e-commerce.

Along with increased e-commerce sales, comes the heightened pressure to develop protective packaging. It has been estimated that one e-commerce package is handled, on average, 20 times before reaching the consumer, which poses a plethora of pitfalls that can damage a package.

Because of the above risks, many brands are seeking affordable, secondary packaging, consisting mostly of corrugated board. This presents a two-fold opportunity: Not only does the need for secondary packaging increase demand for affordable, good quality corrugated packaging options, it also encourages image-conscious packaging. Brand owners care about how their product is packaged and presented to the consumer. A new demand for converters to produce high-quality graphic designs on the shippers themselves has emerged. In this story, the illustrations really do matter.

Adoption of Digital Print Advancements

The digital print market continues to grow, and the corrugated packaging market is adapting.

Digital printing allows for greater flexibility of run-lengths, the promise of impressive savings in set-up costs, and the opportunity for greater personalization and higher quality inherent in the latest technologies. By taking advantage of the digital printing innovations, industry leaders are beginning to see a whole new range of growth opportunities, creating further demand for qualified converters and printers.

Sustainability Will Rule

No longer an added thought or an eco-friendly gesture, sustainable packaging is now expected by today’s consumers. It is the gold standard.

This increased awareness and demand for eco-friendly options is great news for the corrugated packaging industry. Corrugated board is easily recyclable and repurposed (the pulp and paper industry have been converting corrugated materials into revamped versions of container board for years). Moving into and beyond 2021, the earth-friendly phenomena will give corrugated packaging an edge over other alternatives like polymer-based products.

The Weight Debate

Lightweighting is not a new concept in the corrugated industry. The lighter the package, the lower the shipping fee. But it is not that simple anymore. With the need for the most efficient packaging, and, more specifically, to help navigate the new dimensional weight (DIM) pricing, a new concept has emerged: rightweighting.

Rightweighting is all its name implies. Sometimes, for example, utilizing a heavier board can actually save money by eliminating the need for costly added protective features. Sometimes it is “right” to minimize the volume of air in packaging, especially when being charged based on dimensions. This fit-to-product concept, made popular by e-commerce sellers like Amazon, will continue to be state of the art. This remarkable technology can now produce customized secondary packaging to fit the exact size of the product being packed. This is excellent news for those seeking to send that unicorn bust to their niece overseas.

Ready to Retail

Fashion conscious consumers are familiar with the term Prêt-à-Porter (ready to wear). In 2021, corrugated packing professionals have a fashion trend of their own: ready to retail. Retail-ready packaging is not only a cost-saver, it also reduces unnecessary labor by reducing restocking and handling costs. Walmart is just one of the mega-brands using the ready-to-retail concept as a packaging option. Other companies are following their lead, especially in the grocery and home meal delivery sector. Amid the pandemic, for example, the subscription box and meal kit services sector is flourishing, taking advantage of the new corrugated packing capabilities.

Stay tuned with more updates from RSN as the corrugated packaging story continues to unfold. We´ll keep you posted and in the know. You might also find our sustainable packaging article to be of interest here.

This article first appeared in Producers&ProcurersiQ is here.