COVID-19 impacted virtually every aspect of our lives, forcing us to change the way we handle our daily activities and develop new norms. Packaging, specifically the flexible packaging industry, played a huge role in this change, from manufacturing across many industries, including food and healthcare resources, to consumers at home.
The widespread panic-buying of everything from packaged food to hand sanitizer to toilet paper caused immediate challenges throughout the flexible packaging industry, forcing manufacturers to become more efficient and creative with their packaging and shipping methods to overcome those challenges.
What set COVID-19 apart from other historical supply chain disruptions was its worldwide scope and prolonged duration. Supply chain interruption led to lead time delays, widespread unavailability, and price increases. Presumably, there was a tremendous spike in e-commerce which accounted for 21% of total retail sales, up from 15.8% in 20191. Manufacturing was directly impacted by families opting for online shopping and delivery of groceries, retail needs, and miscellaneous goods.
In the height of the pandemic, many consumers wavered between prioritizing hygiene, safety, and sustainability and oftentimes were forced to trade-off one for the other. Large retailers temporarily limited the use of reusable goods like bags for groceries and cups for coffee. Additionally, the concern of the virus surviving on packaging for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours resulted in a greater use of single-use packaging while reusable packaging declined in order to mitigate hygienic concerns.
During a time of scarcity, it is worth highlighting the contribution flexible packaging had on reducing food waste. Maintaining product freshness and limiting the amount of spoiled food, allowed consumers to keep their fridges and pantries stocked longer, and collectively benefited consumers. In fact, retail demand for packaged food surged by 10.5% according to Euromonitor International. Furthermore, since flexible packaging requires less energy and uses fewer resources to produce and transport, the spike in e-commerce led to a greater demand for space-saving, lighter-weight packaging in an effort to capitalize on delivery capacity.
The residual consequences of COVID-19 will collectively affect everyone who lived through it, and while we may be eager to forget, it is important that we take the challenges and lessons we learned to further educate consumers. Alison Keane, CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association remarks that looking forward, “COVID-19 will create a lasting change in how we shop, our buying habits, and the overall retail experience. Post-pandemic, consumers will choose food items, packaging types, and brands that, above all else, help them feel safe. Advantages like the sterility and technological integration of flexible packaging will certainly come to the forefront.”
To learn more about the advantages of flexible packaging, visit our resource page here.