Gary Flynn, Managing Director at packaging design specialist, Equator Design, gives Libby White a key insight into the latest design trends.

Can you tell me about the latest packaging design trends that stand out to you in the marketplace?

Environmentally-conscious consumers are driving innovation in the packaging sector. From instagrammers lying in boxes that contained a single lipstick, to social sharing of plastic waste on the coastline, consumers are beginning to understand that packaging can have a massive impact on the reduction of food and product waste.

Looking at reducing packaging volumes and utilising recycled content are key considerations in our design process.

The UN estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted across the globe (Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN 2018) and consumers want their packaging to keep food fresher and communicate sell by, use by and best before dates more effectively. We are constantly looking for and driving innovation in our offer by working with suppliers and keeping ahead of any solutions emerging in both materials and manufacturing.

As well as choice, consumers are looking for clarity. ‘Clean labels’ providing honest and informative content on packs will improve brand perception in the mind of the purchaser. Individuals are more informed than ever so simple, uncluttered design that delivers clear communication with the customer builds trust.

Personalisation is another developing trend and reflects the growth in online retailing where retailers create an environment that reflects lifestyle choices based on data and purchasing habits. Packaging that reflects personality and values is a challenge for mass market brands but the likes of Coca-Cola and Marmite are literally putting names on jars and niche online sellers allow you to personalise your own label for wine, chutney, cheese or candles, fuelling demand.

What are the recent demands and requirements from your clients/ brand owners, and in turn from consumers?

Demonstrating strategy and design that understands how the market is moving and meets customers’ needs is an essential requirement. It is no longer enough to deliver beautiful design; our packaging has to be eye catching and reflect the expertise we have in understanding the purchasing behaviour of target markets.

Clients want swift solutions. They are looking for fast turnaround and the ability to move rapidly in the market and offering new products to their customers is essential. An advantage of holding all the creative processes under one roof, is that it allows us to the drive efficiencies in both cost and speed to market, which are increasing demands for the business.

As a consequence, we are always looking at cost efficiencies, from packaging rationalisation to reduction in print ink, without compromising on quality or creativity.

How has a changing marketplace affected the design of a package? For example the rise of e-commerce, social media, digital/physical identities of a brand?

The media would have us believe that bricks and mortar grocery retail is facing a serious challenge from internet grocery shopping, with Amazon Pantry now offering two hour delivery slots on store cupboard essentials. That suits some shoppers, but it’s a channel that’s ideal for purchases of brands that consumers already know and trust, and impulse purchases.

It can’t offer the experiential approach to discovering new products and mixing brands and own label products that shoppers enjoy in store. Nor is it always the most convenient way to shop – a two hour wait is not as fast as a two minute walk to the local small format store or a five minute drive to a larger supermarket, where shoppers can mix and match brands with fresh produce, side step delivery charges and swerve the ubiquitous over-sized and excessive packaging that inevitably comes with their e-commerce order.

In fact, there is massive potential for conventional retailers to drive sales with creative approaches to packaging if they are agile enough to combine a mix of store formats with a credible online presence and an ability to capitalise on trends with rapid product development and range extension.

The digital era has given us tools to add value and capture consumer data through creative packaging ideas. For example, a pack of vitamins can offer enhanced nutritional information to the consumer with a scannable QR code on pack.

The ‘in-store’ experience is becoming more and more relevant as it reflects a retailer’s brand identity and helps communicate values to a consumer. An example would be convenience stores; once perceived as the to go-to location for distress purchases and last minute store cupboard basics, they have reinvented themselves as a destination for choice, value and quality, leveraging the convenience of being small, accessible and local. Building on a reputation for basics, they have created a brand experience that attracts customers for impulse purchases like wines and sweet treats. They are also ideally placed to benefit from changes in consumer buying patterns, as shoppers move away from the weekly ‘big shop’ to selecting the ingredients for their meal in the local store on the way home from work and relying on a series of top up shops during the week.

Large format stores are also rising to the digital challenge by considering how they maximise the value of their space with concessions or experiential offers, for example, to encourage footfall. Good packaging design builds the brand and we often wrap exciting, creative ideas that bring the brand to life in an in-store experience – from a taste testing with a difference to in store brand experience.

Innovative packaging plays a vital role in retail strategies designed to drive sales and encourage customer trial across multiple platforms. A well-designed product portfolio that communicates the essence of a brand and constantly evolves to offer customers variety and exciting new experiences continues to connect the in-store and online offer.

And how are brands addressing the multichannel presence of their products? How does the design of the physical package tie into this brand entity?

Brands are simplifying pack graphics to create stand-out online as well as on shelf. Creative and stand-out design that appeals to the consumer visually creates clickability and ultimately purchase so pushing the design boundaries and ensuring the brand comes through loud and clear is key.

Focusing on packaging design hierarchy and ensuring clear, consistent messaging helps to communicate key selling points to potential purchasers and is also vital in establishing brand loyalty in an increasingly fast-paced grocery retail environment. Speed to shelf is a vital component in remaining relevant to consumers in the face of rapidly changing trends and maintaining a competitive edge in a retail environment where consumers are increasingly willing and able to shop around (both in store and online). Clarity of design style, branding and strategy ensures that packaging design partners like Equator Design can respond quickly to client briefs and actively contribute ideas, enabling that agile approach to capturing market share.

I think there’s a bit of a myth that retail stores will become mainly showrooms in the future. For the majority, the bricks and mortar store will remain at the heart of the consumer journey. However, retailers need to think about how best to drive purchase across all of their channels – both physically and digitally.

Packaging has a huge part to play in leveraging brand loyalty across channels, particularly in the face of reduced aisle dwell times both in store and online.

Are there any particular material or technological innovations that are helping to drive packaging design forward?

Digital presses are getting faster, better quality and reducing their individual unit cost year on year, which allows consumers to be targeted more personally through shorter, cost effective print runs.

Limited or special editions tap into fast changing trends, e.g. rose gold, green tea, salted caramel or key events. Watch out for Royal Wedding and World Cup variants in the coming months.

A pretty inspired project that we saw land this year was the fusion of augmented reality and packaging with the launch of a wine called 19 Crimes. It’s a creative and edgy brand and the innovation in its augmented reality packaging design really emphasises its quirkiness.

Consumers can download the free app (iOS or Android), and hold their phone or portable device up to the animated label on the bottle to make the image come alive. The character on the bottle literally comes alive, providing some theatre and an experiential edge to the product that actually adds value to the product through the packaging.

It’s a great example of how packaging can harness new technology and add a branded experience within the confines of the home, upgrading the product from a simple bottle of wine to a complete wine drinking experience.

Would you say there are any other general trends driving innovation in packaging design- such as a call for more sustainable packaging?

Sustainability and waste has moved on from being the subject of eco campaigns to being a mainstream concern of every consumer. Shoppers no longer simply want to see that the food they buy comes in recyclable packaging, they want to see progress on reducing the amount of single-use plastic in their shop, increasing the amount of recycled materials used and genuine efforts to minimise packaging and waste.

Plastic is a key issue for consumers at the moment and the sector is looking for a suitable replacement. Recycled sea or beach plastic has featured in limited edition ‘eco’ variants of some haircare and household products. Coca-Cola pledged last year to increase the amount of recycled plastic in its bottles to 50 per cent by 2050.

It’s not all about avoiding the use of plastic, however, there are also some high-tech solutions making waves across the entire packaging industry. Bio-degradable plastic is generally poor when it comes to creating a barrier to the outside environment but when nano-additives are added something pretty unique happens. By loading micro-sensors with nanoparticles into the mix, the technology prompts a reaction in the colour of the packaging when it detects two percent of oxygen inside the container. Being able to see that food has passed its sell by date would be a huge time saver for retailers and manufacturers.

The idea of creating re-useable packaging is also gaining credence. The possibility of a deposit and return system for plastic bottles has recently been mooted and that concept will create new packaging design challenges as we consider the lifespan of the creative treatment relative to the re-useable item.

Graphene is also being touted as the next big thing when it comes to packaging innovation. A carbon-based material made up of planar sheets arranged in a honey-comb shaped lattice the material is stronger than steel but is ultra-thin. Given its properties, Graphene is the top contender to replace silicon, where transparency and resistance are prerequisites for the end result; making it perfect for flexible packaging.

The packaging sector must look at combing varied sustainability strategies as we all face the challenges of reducing waste. That includes everything from the embedded carbon of material production, the chemicals used in printing processes and transportation of packaging materials to pack designs that minimise packaging materials, reduce the need for plastics and solvent-based glues and provide a genuinely environmentally responsible product cycle through manufacture, use, re-use and recycling.