Packaging 2020: Top Trends for a New Decade

February 17, 2020 by Zach Adams

Our global society, and the changes and challenges it faces, evolved significantly last decade and, as we enter a new one, analysts believe three key megatrends will influence how packaging develops throughout the 2020s. These are sustainability, technology and changing demographics and lifestyles as the world’s ageing population grows and people live more and more on the go.

With these huge changes in mind, what will this decade bring, in practical terms, for companies throughout the packaging value chain and might there be some interesting surprises in store for consumers?

Sustainability Takes Center Stage

In 2019 millennials and Generation Z took center stage with some of the biggest climate protests ever seen, campaigns around the loss of biodiversity, and increased advocacy on the challenge of plastic pollution. And, as these generations begin entering the workforce increasing their purchasing power, it’s unlikely that these three key environmental issues are going anywhere. Yet they are complex challenges and are going to require collaboration across the packaging industry.

Technology to produce packaging that reduces CO2 emissions is already a major trend and is expected to grow in 2020. Milliken’s industry leading Millad® NX® 8000 clarifier for PP resin enables converters to process the material at a lower temperature, resulting in energy savings for injection molders, ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The drive for 100% recyclable, and recycled, packaging is another major sustainability trend. Minimalism in packaging is also growing with the focus on simplicity in order to have less impact on the environment.

New regulations on single use plastics in the European Union – the EU Single Plastics Directive1 adopted in 2019 – will certainly have an impact on packaging in 2020. The Directive bans selected single-use plastic products, including some food and beverage containers, includes measures to reduce the consumption of food containers and beverage cups made of plastic and introduces stricter recycling targets for plastic bottles. Whilst there will clearly be challenges in implementing changes to packaging rules, they have broadly been welcomed by the packaging industry to help tackle marine and other plastic waste.

Contributing to these efforts, Milliken has formed a cutting-edge partnership with PureCycle Technologies to advance a proof of concept - recycling process for polypropylene (PP) resin, to restore it to 'virgin-like' quality. This will enable the recycled material to become truly circular and be reused in its original application, as opposed to having to be downcycled into lower-value products.

Technology Serving up a 2020s Twist

Growing numbers of us are shopping online, which means e-commerce is booming, making it hard to ignore the growth of companies like Amazon or Alibaba. It’s estimated that around 15% of all global sales are now digital and that will only continue to rise. E-commerce companies are becoming much more specific in their packaging requirements. Amazon, for example, has new criteria for packages shipped from its warehouses, including for liquids2.

Smart packaging is another area forecast to grow significantly in 2020 particularly with embedded technologies that can tell consumers the product story, help with product traceability and transparency and solidify loyalty, all through a smart phone. These technologies include tracking, embedded anti-counterfeiting measures for products like pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and augmented reality features often accessed through a simple QR code to offer consumers elements that can’t be seen at first glance, including immersive story-telling, additional facts, contact details, quirky trivia or loyalty messaging.

Older and More Mobile Consumers Want Different Packaging

As a global population we are becoming older. Over 65’s currently make up just under 10% of people but by 2050 this is expected to jump to 17%, or 1.6-billion3, and this will present unique packaging challenges for healthcare products, medications and food products and supplements important in senior care. Designers are beginning to think about the packaging solutions required for this rapidly growing older demographic with its own specific needs.

And, we are not just growing older, overall our global population is booming, so another trend unlikely to disappear is the continued growth in demand for packaged products, particularly in emerging markets where consumers aspire to a more western lifestyle.

As well as changing demographics, most of us are increasingly living in more mobile ways, being increasingly ‘on the go’. 2020 is expected to see the continued trend for more portable, convenience packaging for food, drinks and other products.

Finally, it’s expected that packaging innovation linked to these key consumer trends will continue to be enhanced by the use of vibrant color, for brand differentiation, a premium experience and to tell a product story. Milliken produces a wide range of high-purity, vibrant colorants in its KeyPlast and ClearTint ranges to help brands enhance their products and image.


1 https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/05/21/council-adopts-ban-on-single-use-plastics
2 https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/help/external/200141500?language=en-US&ref=mpbc_200243250_cont_200141500
3 https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/worlds-older-population-grows-dramatically