Online shopping experienced significant growth in recent years as consumers become comfortable purchasing all sorts of products online, including temperature-sensitive and perishable goods such as food, wine and pharmaceuticals. 

For one, shopping online offers convenience and saves time compared to physically going to a store. It also allows consumers to easily compare prices and search for ratings and reviews. And, with new advancements in technology that allow for digital packaging, brands can customize their packaging with information consumers are looking for, such as coupons, personalized recommendations and instructions, and sustainability claims.

In addition, cold chain advancements are important for online shopping because they enable the safe and reliable delivery of temperature-sensitive products. Advancements such as improved refrigeration systems, temperature monitoring devices, and packaging materials can help ensure that products remain within their optimal temperature range throughout the entire supply chain, from the manufacturer to the end customer. This can help reduce the risk of product spoilage, improve product quality, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

As e-commerce platforms continue to improve and offer more convenience, flexibility, and faster delivery options, it is likely that the adoption of online shopping, including temperature sensitive items, will continue to grow in 2023 and beyond.

Digital grocery is here to stay 

In 2023, eMarketer predicts online grocery sales in the United States will hit $160.91 billion, accounting for 11% of total grocery sales. eMarketer expects a rise to more than $235 billion in U.S. online grocery sales by 2026, accounting for 15% of the massive U.S. grocery market.   

What’s more, today’s consumers have access to many options when ordering food online. In addition to everyday grocery items, specialty food and meal kit sales have also grown and will continue to do so. According to the Specialty Food Association’s 2022 survey, consumers reporting they purchased specialty food hit a record-breaking 76 percent .

In addition, a 2023 Grand View Research report states the global meal kit delivery services market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 15.3% from 2023 to 2030 to reach $64.3 billion by 2030.

With the growing popularity of online grocery shopping and meal kit delivery services, cold chain advancements as well as choosing the right types of packaging are becoming increasingly important for e-commerce companies that want to offer a wide range of fresh and perishable products to their customers. One way to differentiate your brand is to choose the right type of packaging to ensure e-commerce food items are the same quality and freshness that consumers would choose for themselves.

Look for food packaging with features like freezer or oven-ready, easy open and reclosable packaging as well as packaging that helps maximize shelf life, is damage resistant, and leak-proof. And you’ll need adequate protective packaging to prevent spoilage, maintain the product’s quality and ensure that it is safe for consumption. Options that are made for recycling and minimizing waste are also top of mind with consumers.

With so many choices available, it’s critical that packaging – both food packaging and transit packaging – work together to deliver the convenience and quality that consumers desire from digital grocery. 

Protecting the flavor and aroma of wine 

E-commerce wine sales are another area of tremendous growth opportunity. In the United States, the e-commerce share of wine sales went from only 0.3 percent in 2018 to nearly three percent in 2022 and is expected to continue to gain momentum.

The right type of protective packaging can have a significant impact on online wine shopping by ensuring that wine shipments are transported and stored at the correct temperature throughout the supply chain.

Wine is a delicate product that can be easily affected by temperature fluctuations. If wine is exposed to temperatures that are too high or too low for extended periods, it can spoil or lose its flavor and aroma. 

By improving the temperature control of wine shipments, cold chain advancements can help online wine retailers offer a wider range of products to their customers, including high-end and rare wines that require careful temperature control. This can also help to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, as customers are more likely to receive wines that are in good condition and taste as they are supposed to.

Convenience, affordability, and accessibility is driving ePharma growth

The convenience of online shopping also extends to pharmaceuticals with nearly 80% of the U.S. population connected to ePharmacy and the shifting trend toward the direct-to-patient model, according to 2022 Grand View Research.  

This is another area where temperature-controlled packaging is critical, as many medications, vaccines, and other pharmaceutical products are sensitive to temperature and can lose their effectiveness or even become dangerous if they are not stored and transported within a specific temperature range.

Packaging materials such as insulated box liners and vacuum-insulated panels protect temperature-sensitive medications and can provide the necessary protection needed to ensure the safe transportation and storage of pharmaceuticals during the entire supply chain, from the manufacturer to the end customer.

Unpacking the importance of packaging 

This new reality of online shopping requires a total packaging system approach to meet e-commerce needs... and it involves more than simply adding items to a corrugated cardboard box for shipping. 

Let’s start with primary or food packaging. It’s crucial for reducing damages during delivery, extending shelf life, and avoiding leakage. It’s all about brand appeal and creating a positive experience for customers. Choosing the right packaging solution could be the difference between a delighted customer who will shop e-commerce – or any of your channels again – and a disappointed customer who won’t. 

That brings us to protective packaging. It’s vital for reducing packaging waste and enhancing reusability. It also can guarantee your products arrive fresh and undamaged. This can be tricky because packaging requirements vary in different parts of the country. They can even change day to day based on weather and distance traveled. 

Finding the right type and balance of packaging materials – not too much and not too little – is one of the key challenges facing online retailers. 

Consider these factors when developing an e-commerce packaging strategy: 

  • Product protection – Using void fill and cushioning will protect your product during shipment, keep your package organized, improve its presentation, and contribute to a positive unpacking experience. 
  • Temperature protection – Cold chain packaging protects temperature-sensitive products, reduces void fill, and can minimize freight cost. 
  • Distribution Cost – Last-mile delivery is one of the most expensive and time-consuming parts of the shipping process. It represents 53% of the total shipping cost, including fulfillment. 
  • Cube optimization – Package density is another factor to consider with shipping costs using dimensional (DIM) weight, a pricing technique assigned to a shipment based on volume versus weight. Using smaller, reliable protective packaging and vacuum packaging for e-food can help combat rising dimensional weight fees. 
  • Opening experience – While the primary purposes of packaging are protection and preservation, it also provides a direct connection to the end consumer and an opportunity to create a memorable moment for your brand. 

Packaging is a critical component of e-commerce strategy 

Packaging for successful e-commerce is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it can be a daunting process. It takes a coordinated effort to ensure all your packaging solutions work together – both inside and out – all while meeting the most stringent requirements for regulatory safety and compliance. 

Based on the type of product being packaged, and considerations such as durability, temperature control and moisture resistance, experts can recommend the ideal packaging solution for your specific scenario. They will also consider the shipping distance and mode of transportation and will use testing procedures to ensure products are protected during the entire shipping process.

For example, when temperature control is a consideration, the thickness of TempGuard insulated box liners can be adjusted for targeted thermal performance, using thermal modeling to maintain temperatures for one- and two-day ground shipping. This curbside recyclable solution can be printed on one side for additional branding and is well suited for applications including pharmaceuticals and perishable foods.

Additionally, you’ll want to consider how packaging addresses sustainability goals, a growing concern among businesses and consumers alike. Choosing the best packaging to protect losses from product waste can have a significant impact on your carbon footprint when you consider the ripple effect of this waste – from the energy it takes to manufacture products to the greenhouse gases caused from waste in the landfill. 

With online competition heating up, brands can differentiate themselves through better packaging solutions that enhance consumer experiences, drive repeat business, increase loyalty, and build reputations.