Each year, we look to Leo for the latest packaging trends. While we usually take his notes as a guide for further research, we have a hunch his packaging prescience will continue (just like last year). So this time around: no revisions, no editing, just Leo.

1. Using the Entire Canvas

Influencer packaging for Hally Hair.

The ultra-minimal aesthetic that started mostly by brands who wanted to be more “Apple”, I think has officially ended. Why? The rise of direct-to-consumer brands during the pandemic has created too many look-alike brands that use enlarged sans serifs. As things started coming back to retail, people wanted to be stimulated with more colors, contrast, and curves, which is partly why the Y2K trend is making a comeback.

We will still see minimal design aesthetics, but I think the wave is going towards to a louder visual. I hope we’ll see more refined work that embraces real minimalism, not merely copying the Apple look. On the other end, I think we’re going to see some noisy and overly decorated designs that hopefully will quickly find their way to becoming something new. As providers of top-quality packaging design services, we are always on the lookout for emerging trends and ideas that can help our clients stand out from the crowd.

2. Sustainable Is the New Luxury

cambio paper pulp packaging with paper label
Sustainable packaging for Cambio.

This may feel like old news, but it’s not cool to be wasteful. That’s been one of the recurring packaging trends for years now, but the luxury brands are now embracing the corrugated look. Kraft is the new black, so to speak. I think this is one of those packaging trends we’re going to see developing over the next few years. I think brands are rushing to find the next recycled ocean plastic material. While I think brands’ intentions aren’t purely green, the drive can help new startups gravitate towards more sustainable material. I predict an explosion of all kinds of bio-materials coming to the scene.

3. Omni-channel Packaging Is Back

ocean plastic fabric bag
Tend Anywhere Travel Kit made with Zenpack ocean plastic fabric.

A trend that might be less noticeable is omni-channel packaging. This topic was on the rise pre-pandemic, and obviously abruptly ended. DTC brands are realizing they can’t be online only, and most of the retail-only brands that survived likely found their way into online channels. As their growth depends on how well they can adapt to the other channels previously absent, their packaging will need to merge, rebrand, and reinvent to perform well both online and offline.

4. Everything E-commerce

true marker packaging
E-commerce packaging for True Marker.

Recently I’ve been surprised, and impressed, by some of the products making it to e-commerce. Zenpack has received some strange requests in the past, but as consumers become more and more accustomed to e-commerce, these requests don’t seem so strange.

For example, with the rise of e-commerce DNA testing kits, medical and wellness brands are rolling out all kinds of services that were previously restricted to the doctor’s office. We worked with True Marker, a home medical testing company, to develop a packaging system to send a variety of easy-to-administer tests to patients across the country.

5. Custom But Not Costly

diane von furstenberg dress in custom box
Custom influencer box for Diane Von Furstenberg.

Most people think that small-run influencer packaging costs thousands of dollars per unit. The truth is that influencer marketing campaigns can be quite affordable, especially considering the potential reach. From big brands to startups, companies are devoting modest budgets to custom packaging runs as part of the overall strategy.

Last year, the renowned fashion brand Diane Von Furstenberg approached Zenpack to create a one-of-a-kind packaging design for the reissue of their iconic 1973 wrap dress. Only 25 packaging sets were produced, but we leveraged structure and materials to keep costs low. Crafted entirely from paper, the book-style box can lay flat for easy assembly and cost-efficient shipping.

Want to see how packaging trends have evolved? Check out our trends from past years:

We examined our favorite projects from 2021, including a few of our own and a selection from all over the packaging world.

Projects range from cosmetics and skincare to at-home education and food. When we predict packaging trends, we tend to let our optimism take over. One theme continues to run through every one of these trends: design with a purpose. Whether that’s sustainable materials or intelligent structural engineering, we noticed the packaging world really stepping up when it comes to multifaceted design thinking.

  1. Sustainable Design
  2. The Evolution of E-commerce
  3. Every Package Tells a Story
  4. Paperboard Over Plastic
  5. Inclusive Packaging Design
  6. Say Goodbye to Single-Use
  7. Minimal Packaging for Maximum Protection

Sustainable Design

It seems that every year, industry experts list sustainable design as one of the next packaging trends. At a certain point, the trend becomes the standard. Unfortunately, we’re still in a long-term relationship with plastic that doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon. It’s complicated. But year after year, designers continue to come up with innovative sustainable packaging solutions that give us hope.

There’s no denying that plastic packaging has in many ways improved our lives. We use it to preserve food, protect people from harmful substances, and deliver life-saving medication. For example, the ubiquitous orange and white pill bottle. It’s hard to imagine this everyday object being made from some material other than plastic. But we use 5 billion bottles per year (that’s just the United States!), and most of them don’t get recycled. If the packaging helps the user but harms our planet, how effective is the overall design?

The Prescription Paper Pill Bottle

A team of designers decided to answer this question with the first ever Prescription Paper Pill Bottle. Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and Tikkan Olam Makers collaborated to create a bottle and lid made from 100% compostable and biodegradable paper. The design not only meets FDA regulations for child resistance, labeling, water, and light, but the firm has also released their work as a free, open-source design toolkit for pharmacies to use all over the world.

In 2022, design studios, packaging manufacturers, and hopefully brands will continue the slow march to sustainability. They must accept the difficult challenges. They must rethink our old ways to transform previously unsustainable products into quantifiable eco-friendly alternatives. Learn more about Zenpack’s sustainable packaging design services.

The Evolution of E-commerce

crown affair cardboard boxes on purple background
Shipping packaging for Crown Affair.

This may feel like old news, but e-commerce continues to evolve, forcing businesses to keep up. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, constrained supply chains and increased demand cause major problems for business of every size. As customers increasingly rely on e-commerce, brands are realizing the power of packaging.

Online shopping increased by about 80% during the pandemic. Companies quickly realized that without the right e-commerce strategy, returns poured in and their brand suffered. Maybe the product was damaged in transit, or perhaps it didn’t live up to the image presented online. Essentially, retailers underestimated the full experience. It doesn’t end when the customer clicks “Complete Order”; instead, it extends all the way to the customer’s home where they get their first interaction with the product.

As brands realize the that the physical experience doesn’t always—and sometimes can’t—take place at the mall, they will use the package as a canvas to tell their brand story. Even a raw cardboard box can serve as the backdrop for layers of rich storytelling. Brand ambassadors, also known as influencers, can help to be your narrators, reaching a whole new online audience. In the end, the unboxing experience lights the way, from the shipper messaging all the way to the squeeze of a bottle dropper. And, if this is something your brand is investing on, we also specialized in influencer packaging.

Every Package Tells a Story

orange boxes and assembled robots for brooklyn robot foundry
Narrative packaging for Brooklyn Robot Foundry.

All sides of the package are printable surfaces. Yes, that includes the inside, under the lid, even the flaps. And there’s a reason to take advantage of modern printing capabilities (other than it’s fun): connecting with consumers through narrative. Just like writers crafting a compelling story, designers pour untold hours and energy into product and packaging design. Through packaging, brands can use materials and the product or service itself as a medium to share their company values and mission. The customer can even become a character in the story.

Brooklyn Robot Foundry took this approach to another level with their recent rebrand. As the name suggests, Brooklyn Robot Foundry started in Brooklyn where they teach kids basic STEAM concepts through hands-on robot-building. They were first an after-school and weekend program, but once the pandemic hit, they shifted to an online platform. Using kits sent from Brooklyn, students learn to build from teachers over Zoom. This new model required better packaging to hold the parts, tools, and activities required for each class.

The new packages are bright orange boxes of fun that tell the story of the Brooklyn Robot Foundry family of robots. Each side of the box tells a chapter in the story, and each layer provides a new activity or directions. The robots are working together—outside on the Brooklyn streets and inside the Foundry—to build a sign with the BRF tagline, “Building fun together.” When it’s time to start class, kids can transform the box into a laptop stand.

Paperboard Over Plastic

When you’re in the grocery store, do you ever wonder why so many fruits and vegetables are packaged in plastic? Tomatoes in clamshells, cucumbers glistening with plastic wrap, apples in a clear plastic bag. The short answer: Plastic is the perfect combination effective and cheap. The more complicated answer: The petroleum and plastics industry has an endless supply of money for marketing and lobbyists to ensure plastic remains king.

We often forget about the everyday packaging of produce, snacks, and beverages, but these categories comprise a large part of the market. As America’s plastic recycling problem comes to light, many produce suppliers are turning to paperboard and cardboard containers. These materials are clearly more sustainable, and they offer more space to print branding and nutritional information. According to the North American Paperboard Packaging Council, they predict that both large manufacturers and small family farms will begin choosing paper-based containers over plastic.

Inclusive Packaging Design

Throughout the past few years, major brands have been focusing long overdue research and energy on inclusive packaging design. Universal design considers all genders and abilities, with the goal of achieving accessibility for all. In the cannabis industry, the law requires CBD and THC products are sealed in child-resistant packaging. These mechanisms protect children, but they cannot be too difficult for people living with disabilities or the elderly who also need to access the products inside. Zenpack has been focused on creating awesome cannabis packaging designs.

In spring 2021, Unilever released “the world’s first deodorant designed for people with disabilities.” Degree Inclusive is an adaptive deodorant intended for one-handed usage.  Designed for customers with limited sight or mobility, there’s a magnetic closure and modified grip. The product will officially launch soon after Degree incorporates usability study feedback.

When it comes to inclusiveness, even something as simple as changing packaging color can go a long way. Cosmetics and skincare companies are ditching outdated gender stereotypes, opting for more neutral colors. Since their products are intended for more than just women, Fenty Skin uses earthy green containers rather than pink. This year, expect this trend to continue as brands attempt to reach a wider audience with more inclusive colors, textures, and packaging designs.

Say Goodbye to Single-Use

In response to consumer demands, retail and e-commerce brands are figuring out ways to replace single-use plastic. Many companies are guilty of greenwashing and dubious claims of carbon neutrality, yet there’s a growing trend of refillable products that may result in measurable sustainability.

The direct-to-consumer brand Wild Refill Deodorant sends an aluminum and recycled plastic applicator, and the deodorant refills come wrapped in a biodegradable bamboo paper. Subscribers are sent refills in simple corrugated cardboard packages. Rihanna’s Fenty Skin also uses refillable containers, helping to eliminate single-use plastic in an industry that relies on it.

For an even bigger step to plastic-free living, Loop delivers a wide selection of products—from cosmetics and household goods to baking essentials and ice cream—in refillable zero-waste containers. It’s sort of like buying at the neighborhood grocery co-op using your own glass and metal containers, but Loop picks up, washes, and reuses the empties. In the past few years, this model has resprouted on a local level. In most major US cities, you can find stores—sometimes called “refill stations”—that only offer refillable products.

Minimal Packaging for Maximum Protection

olive oil jones cardboard packaging
All-cardboard packaging for Olive Oil Jones.

We’ve been trained to believe the only way to protect fragile products is styrofoam and packing peanuts. In an increasingly competitive market, every cost-saving measure could be the difference between making a profit, breaking even, or worse. In other words, plastic-based protection can be cheaper. But two factors are challenging this reality.

First, many sustainable packing peanut alternatives are widely available, including some made from corn. An expertly engineered structure is perhaps more sustainable. While it may cost more design money up front, the long-term savings for your company and the planet are worth it. Rather than a large box filled with air cushions, styrofoam, or packing peanuts, packaging engineers can design a much smaller—and significantly stronger—structure using only cardboard. Many brands are turning to home appliances packaging and cosmetic packaging designs made from cardboard rather than styrofoam.

Olive Oil Jones, purveyors of ultra-fresh, geographically specific olive oil, did just that. Bottle-shaped cardboard layers and strategic cardboard air pockets cradle olive oil and vinegar all over the world. The company now fulfills their orders faster and saves money with more compact shipments with a significant reduction in breakage. As brands shift to e-commerce, they will allocate more resources to efficient and sustainable packaging design. This means it’s becoming increasingly important to focus on putting together e-commerce packaging solutions that prioritize long-term sustainability.

The packaging industry has boomed in the 21st century to become an impressive economic powerhouse. And considering recent research into its market forecast, there is no slowing down for this growing industry. In 2019, the global packaging industry was valued at $917 billion and is expected to grow steadily at 2.8% to reach $1.05 trillion by 2024. Consumer purchasing trends are driving this growth, with an increased demand for more functional and aesthetically pleasing packaging across many industries.

Packaging has become an integral part of marketing efforts for businesses, especially those that only have e-commerce stores and ship all of their products. For leading manufacturers, the packaging that houses their products is just as important as the product inside. And to stay competitive in the packaging industry, it’s important to be aware of any upcoming trends.

Personalized Packaging

One of the most successful personalized packaging campaigns comes from Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign, where the bottle labels had common first names on them. It suddenly seemed impossible to pass up purchasing a bottle if you saw your own name on it, even if you didn’t really have a craving to drink it.

This campaign grew Coca-Cola sales for the first time in 10 years when it rolled out, increasing sales by more than 2% overall. This packaging strategy makes people feel more connected to a brand and its product, giving them a customized product rather than a globally branded one. We all like to feel special—and Coca-Cola struck gold by realizing it.

More marketers and brands are utilizing this strategy in their campaigns to increase sales, including Anheuser-Busch, who partnered with the NFL to put team logos on cans in its corresponding cities. While this isn’t a specific name, it’s still a personal touch—Ravens fans can purchase Ravens beer in Baltimore and the Maryland area, for example.

The recent boom in personalized packaging has occurred in part due to the rise of digital printing, which happens to be our next trend.

Digital Printing 

Digital printing allows packagers to utilize computer generation in their printing processes. In 2020, digital printing will monopolize the packaging market now that technology has built digital printers capable of producing high-quality final products similar to the quality of offset printing, at a fraction of the setup cost. Notably, digital printing is a cost-effective way to personalize your products and complete shorter runs.

Conventional presses will still have their place for a while, especially for large-volume print jobs, but digital printing opens up a whole new world of printing possibilities. Studies have shown that the demand for digital printing will continue to grow as the underlying technologies improve. Digital printing may be an initial investment for brands wanting to produce packaging in-house with new machinery, but those outsourcing to packaging experts will find digital printing to be more cost effective than traditional methods.

Using Recycled Materials

Reducing plastic waste and our reliance on non-biodegradable materials is on the top of everyone’s mind as we all work to reduce our collective carbon footprint. The packaging industry is no exception to this trend; previously excessive and careless packaging practices were often seen as an enemy of the sustainability movement. Now, the ability to utilize recycled materials—and build packaging with fewer resources in general—has allowed the packaging industry to join the sustainability movement as a friend, not a foe.

E-commerce giants like Amazon are actively working toward meeting waste-efficient packaging standards in 2020 and coming years. Reduce, reuse, and recycle is a mantra that many people live by—it’s become a key part of the global responsibility to improve our environment. As governments roll out new regulations and set new standards for reducing waste, recycled materials will become the new norm for the global packaging industry.

Creative Colors and Designs

There will always be a place for the simpler, one- or two-colored packaging designs. If your brand’s style will remain minimal, then this trend may not suit you perfectly. However, for many others, building more creative and colorful designs and styles has become increasingly popular over the last decade. 

Marketers have noted that strong colors are more likely to quickly attract a person’s interest. This can make a sale for a product that’s packaged more minimally if it’s placed next to a brightly colored and uniquely shaped package on the shelf. We anticipate that 2020 will see more bold and colorful packaging trends that go hand-in-hand with playful graphics and eye-catching designs. From new logo designs to simple labels directly on a package, this trend is proving that bolder is better.

Getting Started

Not every trend is going to work for your business. In fact, careless experimentation could do more damage to your brand if it doesn’t quite fit your niche. It’s more important to take note of all these 2020 packaging trends and find the right one for you—something that will help your products and brand jump off the shelves in a way that communicates your mission and voice.

If you’re interested in learning more about the future of packaging or getting started on your next packaging concept, contact our team of experts. We’re eager to guide you in the right direction—from the dream board to production and your customer’s front steps, the Zenpack team can build the ultimate in 2020 packaging for your brand.

If you want to know more about Zenpack’s services


Let our packaging consultants help you turn your idea into reality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like