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The Future of Flexible Plastic Packaging: Key Insights from Global Pouch Forum 2020

As part of our mission to provide converters with unrivaled customer experiences, Shell Polymers is committed to keeping a pulse on trends and highlighting advancements by attending key industry events such as Global Pouch Forum.

By Shell Polymers on Sep 17, 2020

As a plastics thought leader that is committed to educating customers during the COVID-19 crisis, Shell Polymers virtually attended Global Pouch Forum 2020. Instead of hosting their signature three-day event in Rosemont, Illinois, the Global Pouch Forum pivoted to a 100% virtual format to share keynotes and technical presentations with attendees in a safe, at-home environment.

With a focus on flexible packaging, the sessions unpacked the latest innovations in flexible plastic packaging across industries and applications. Keep reading for four insights our team of experts gleaned from this year’s presentations:

1. The Popularity of Flexible Plastic Packaging is Rising Rapidly

If there is one thing these sessions reinforced, it’s that flexible packaging isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the presenting experts at Global Pouch Forum report that its popularity is on the rise due to a variety of factors.

For example, COVID-19 is encouraging consumers to sanitize packages when they bring them home from the store. This cultural shift is inspiring changes to the composition of flexible packaging, so it's easier to disinfect and dispose of after use. These improvements contribute to global health initiatives and enhance consumer confidence in packaged products.

Vice Chairman of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA), Kathy Bolhous, shared in her keynote presentation “State of the Flexible Packaging Industry and Where it’s Headed,” that the pandemic has caused a surge in demand for packaged foods because individuals and families are eating in the house and stockpiling supplies in preparation for quarantines.

Because of the stay-at-home orders and quarantines, consumers are heavily focused on staying in control of their emotional, mental and physical health. In a technical presentation hosted by market intelligence agency, Mintel shared intriguing data that revealed new consumer sentiment affecting the future of packaging. According to Mintel’s Global COVID-19 Tracker1, during the week of May 28 – June 4, 2020, nearly half of US adults placed greater emphasis on their mental wellbeing, taking time to prioritize tension-relieving activities such as exercise, talking with friends or family, and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.

What does Mintel’s data mean for flexible packaging? This reveals that packaging plays a critical role in consumer well being. Consumers benefit from the physical and emotional safety of packaging that prevents outside contaminates and withstands sanitization processes, so they can enjoy the things they love with peace of mind.

Explore the Future of the Manufacturing Industry: Helping Converters Plan for a Post-Coronavirus World

2. Flexible Plastic Packaging Helps Enhance Product Marketability

Flexible packaging provides brand owners with a variety of benefits such as an enhanced product shelf life, product protection, and lower shipping costs due to lighter weights. In fact, the American Chemistry Council states that just two pounds of plastic can deliver 10 gallons of a beverage. To move the same amount with other common packaging materials, brands would need three pounds of aluminum, eight pounds of steel, or over forty pounds of glass.2

Outside of benefitting brand owners’ bottom lines, flexible polymer packaging offers consumers benefits that increase the value and marketability of everyday products. Consider a common household nemesis – the peanut butter jar. It’s a staple in almost every household, yet it’s universally accepted that scraping it clean is nearly impossible without a hand covered in sticky peanut butter.

On June 1, 2020, J.M. Smuckers Company released its latest innovation - squeeze peanut butter. In their press release, they advertised it saying “peanut butter lovers everywhere will be able to enjoy their beloved Jif peanut butter in a new squeezable pouch, making it easier for kids to serve themselves a yummy treat, measuring accurate amounts in recipes, or precise spreading for that perfect ‘ants on a log’ snack… all without needing a knife or other utensil!”3

That’s a lot of previously-inaccessible consumer benefits that were gained just by switching the packaging. Flexible packaging may reduce product waste, is easy for consumers of all ages to handle, and may eliminate the need to use and clean extra utensils. As the trend towards enhanced consumer experiences grows, we expect products in all aisles of the grocery store to be available in flexible plastic packaging.

3. Abundant Opportunities Outside Food and Beverage

According to the FPA, the largest market for flexible packaging is food, which accounts for about 59% of shipments. While food and beverage currently uses the highest amount of flexible packaging, it’s not the only applicable market segment. Other markets include:

  • Retail (non-food) at 12%
  • Medical and pharmaceutical at 9%
  • Consumer products at 8%
  • Industrial applications at 7%
  • Institutional non-food at 3%4

Based on the data, we’re starting to see flexible packaging penetrating consumer products such as hand soap or refills, laundry detergent5, bug repellents6, and more. These packaging designs are revolutionizing how people consume products and encouraging innovation for plastic converters.

4. Ship-to-Home Is Prompting Packaging Innovation

It's no surprise that regional quarantines have temporarily boosted consumer reliance on product delivery, but research firm Kantar expects there to be permanent behavior changes as well. For example, their research shows that post-COVID 19, U.S. shoppers say they will continue to use curbside pickup (64%), in-store pickup (59%), and home delivery (37%). As home delivery becomes more popular, limiting shipping costs and making it an accessible option for consumers will be essential. With that end goal in mind, innovations in flexible polyethylene packaging can play a major role in creating a more efficient and inclusive logistics structure.

While consumers look for creative ways to cook without exposing themselves to grocery stores, meal kits are experiencing a surge in popularity as well.7 To meet demand and keep shipping costs down, these services are turning to flexible packaging.8

For example, a Brooklyn-based business pivoted from storing jam in 1.5-ounce glass jars to single-use flexible packs, which allowed them to expand into home delivery meal kits without weighing down boxes and taking up additional space.9

As the nation navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, meal kits and other forms of home delivery will be a lifeline for many people; and innovations in flexible plastic packaging is crucial for continued success.

A virtual conference is still new territory for a lot of companies, but the opportunity to learn from our colleagues in the flexible plastic packaging industry from the safety of our home offices has been a worthwhile experience. As the conferences pick back up, we’re looking forward to joining more presentations and providing more insights into what is happening in our industry.

As COVID-19 is changing our social and economic landscape on a daily basis, our goal continues to be to support you and your business. While customer collaboration may look different as we find the “new normal,” our focus will remain on your continued success. Our team of Polymer Pioneers and Pros are committed to doing things differently and developing new ways of doing business to deliver an unrivaled customer experience. If Shell Polymers can be of service to you in any way, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.

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1 https://www.mintel.com/blog/personal-care-market-news/the-next-normal-of-covid-19-amplifies-basic-wellness-needs

2 https://www.plasticpackagingfacts.org/plastic-packaging/resins-types-of-packaging/

3 prnewswire.com/news-releases/jif-launches-newest-product-innovation-jif-squeeze-peanut-butter-301068505.html

4 https://www.flexpack.org/facts-and-figures

5 https://www.packagingdigest.com/smart-packaging/refill-pouch-sitting-pretty

6 http://mosquitopaq.com/product/gardenpaq-outdoor-zone-pouch/

7 https://www.grocerydive.com/news/meal-kit-makers-continue-to-evolve-amid-sales-surge/583453/

8 https://plasticsinpackaging.com/online/plastics-finds-a-role-in-soaring-meal-kit-demand/

9 https://www.mhnetwork.com/t-h-e-m-flexible-packaging-company-helps-gourmet-food-industry-meet-surging-demand-for-home-delivery-meal-kits/