This month I had the opportunity to attend interpack, the world’s largest packaging exhibition, held in Düsseldorf, Germany. Following a six-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the show came back with a bang, with a record-breaking number of exhibitors – over 2700 to be precise, from over 60 countries.
It was my first time at a major global exhibition and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Although I had been informed of the scale of such exhibitions, I couldn’t quite get my head around how it would be – until I was there in person. Equivalent to the size of 43 football pitches, it really is humungous! As soon as the show opened, I felt an immediate buzz around me. It was truly fascinating to see entire halls dedicated to varying sectors within the packaging industry, with some exhibitors having not just a stand, but their own hall!
Aside from quickly learning first-hand the importance of a comfortable pair of ‘exhibition shoes’, I also picked up on a few key current trends within the industry:
One of the latest trends that has been everywhere this past year is the increased demand for special effects.
Packaging that features metallic, reflective, thermochromic special effects or embellishments enables packaging to reach a new level of shelf appeal within the competitive retail space, heightening the consumer experience.
This is backed by research from Clemson University’s Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design & Graphics, which found that reflective packaging attracts attention faster—by roughly 1.5 seconds—than non-reflective and retains visual contact longer. (1)
Taking this a step further, it was interesting to see examples of packaging that not just stands out visually, but incorporates the additional senses of touch, smell and even sound, via textured or scented packaging.
Encouraging consumers to touch packaging enhances the emotional connection with the consumer and decreases the likelihood of the product being put back on the shelf. The science behind it may relate to what behavioural psychology experts refer to as the “Endowment Effect,” which is triggered by a sense of ownership. Research has shown that just picking something up can trigger this effect. (2) As a communications specialist with a Psychology degree, I find this particularly interesting!
Personalised solutions may include packaging that can be customised with a consumer’s name or other personal information, or packaging that is designed to appeal to specific demographic groups.
One of the earliest campaigns that made use of personalised packaging was Coca-Cola’s infamous ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, when they printed names on individual Coke cans. This new strategy was born when the company realised that while the brand itself is iconic, the younger generation had failed to relate to it personally. According to Coca-Cola, printing names on cans led to a 2.5% increase in sales, single-handedly demonstrating the power of personalisation in one campaign.
This trend is not going anywhere, with many brands offering personalised products and consumer demand for this increasing. With digital print technology advancing, the possibilities to quickly turn around personalised products are growing.
It’s no secret that Industry 4.0 is on the increase. With AI bots, and more recently PI (personal intelligence) chatbots being the latest crazes, along with automated cars and not to forget self-hoovering robots, automation is everywhere we turn today.
The packaging industry is no different. Robotics make product lines more efficient, reliable and cost-effective, and packaging robotics are on the rise. At interpack, this was demonstrated by an entire hall dedicated to robotics.
Currently, packaging robots are most often used at the end of a packaging line, for palletising. However, with the increasing diversity of modern packaging robots, the range of applications for them is also diversifying. Image processing systems and machine learning technology permit these automatons to evaluate data and make targeted decisions that are far beyond the scope of simply shifting products.
In addition, the increasing implementation of packaging robots in packaging processes enables the production sites to be constructed or to remain near customers instead of being transferred abroad, where labour is cheaper. This results in a sleeker and faster supply chain, which is particularly useful in the current era of stringent requirements for smaller orders with a higher level of personalisation.
Smart packaging refers to packaging that incorporates technology to provide additional functionality or information to consumers. This may include packaging that can track the temperature or humidity of its contents, or packaging that can interact with a consumer’s smartphone to provide additional information or promotions. Packaging that incorporates AI for example (as I previously blogged about here) – takes users to a whole other dimension and is still a strong theme within packaging.
In line with this, is a continued focus on convenience. Consumers are increasingly looking for packaging that is easy to use and transport that minimises waste. This may include packaging that is designed to be more compact or that can be easily opened and closed, as well as packaging that is designed to be more lightweight and easy to transport.
And last – but certainly not least, sustainability was of course a key trend at interpack 2023. It’s been a major talking point within the industry for many years now, and that only seems to be growing. It was a dominant theme on almost every stand, with buzzwords such as ‘circular economy’, ‘sustainability’, and ‘carbon footprint’ at every corner I turned.
Surveys show that almost 60% of consumers would forego packaging which serves their own convenience for the sake of the environment. It’s therefore no surprise that companies in the packaging industry regard sustainability as one of the most important trends in Europe. (3)
From paper packaging to recyclable materials and bio-renewably sourced materials, it’s clear that sustainability remains front of mind for brands, and companies are constantly revisiting not only their product lines but their own internal processes to see how they can be more sustainable.
Overall, I’m grateful to have had the chance to attend interpack. Not only did it give me great insight into the trends I’ve outlined here, but it enabled me to connect with so many people within the industry from around the globe – from clients, to journalists, to partners – some of whom I’ve been liaising with for many years but not yet had the opportunity to meet in person. The buzz of in-person exhibitions is not something that can be replicated by any online medium, in my opinion. Hopefully it won’t be such a long wait until the next one!
1 Consumer engagement trends in cosmetics packaging with special effects, com
2 Endowment effect: Definition, what causes it, and example, Investopedia
3 Survey shows consumers want legislation on sustainable packaging, Packaging News