The judging of the Paperboard Packaging Council’s (PPC) 73rd North American Paperboard Packaging Competition took place in mid July. While the winning designs will be revealed at the association’s upcoming Fall Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, the competition reveled upcoming trends that carton converters and packaging executives should take into consideration today.
Playful, Consumer-Focused
In today’s cluttered retail environment, brands are reaching out to consumers at a personal level, so many of the cartons entered into this year’s competition spoke directly to end users with playful, colorful design and casual messaging. Although cartons are still successfully protecting products and allowing for efficient shipping and stacking, it seems clear that their marketing capabilities are being leveraged most today—the plain brown box is long gone. Cartons are becoming more brand forward and personally relevant to the consumer, and with that they’re making a big splash on the retail shelf.
Complex Finishing Combos 
Just a few years ago, the use of high-end finishings may have merited special recognition in the competition. Fast-forward to 2016 and nearly every entry featured stunning coatings and exquisite tactile elements. New this year, however, was the use of multiple finishing effects on the same carton. For example, an entry might have had lush vat dyed board, soft touch coating and embossing. These finishing combinations made for stunning, complex cartons that amped up the “wow” factor. With all the attention to aesthetics, the distinction between packaging and art was smaller than ever in the 2016 competition.
Mobile Interactivity
This year’s competition entries rose to meet the demands of our mobile world. Several cartons creatively incorporated a paperboard viewer that harnessed Google’s Cardboard mobile app to give consumers a virtual reality experience. With the app running, consumers slide their phones into the viewer, and upon looking in, are transported into stunning virtual worlds. This allows for a level of interactivity between paperboard and the consumer never quite seen before, and also provides a great secondary use that keeps materials out of the waste stream.
More Digital 
Ever advancing digital printing technology is finally having an impact on the competition, as this year’s submissions included more short runs and packaging for smaller organizations like microbreweries. As digital continues to expand the kinds of work that carton converters can profitably take on, PPC is excited to see how submissions will continue to change and grow.
For more information, or to see the winners after they are revealed this October, visit