Millennials are continuing to shape the current consumer landscape in today’s digital world. According to a recent GlobalWebIndex report, 68 percent of millennials use smartphones to access the internet, and they spend an average of nearly four hours online each day. This creates hyper-connected consumers with the ability to research brands at their fingertips. While they expect premium perks or features, this age group also wants to continue to pay the same price. As brands are tasked with meeting the needs of this consumer group, they often ask themselves, “What can we do to keep up?”

This is where packaging can help. The right package can disrupt store shelves and e-commerce sites, and it can make a brand stand out not only with millennials but all consumers. 2019 will prove to be a year when more brands work to connect with consumers by accelerating change with their packaged offerings. Brands should look closely at utilizing some of the latest packaging solutions as they introduce product extensions that incorporate e-commerce and sustainability solutions.

Consider the switch: transitioning from rigid to flexible

Flexible packaging continues to be a fan favorite, and, if they haven’t already, it’s time for brands using rigid products to consider a flexible alternative. In fact, Smithers Pira predicts consumer flexible packaging will continue to grow at an annual rate of 4.1 percent through 2022. While food products such as cheese have used flexible packaging for years, products in other areas of the supermarket, such as household cleaners and pharmaceuticals, are poised to make the switch to flexible packaging. By becoming an early adopter in their niche market, brands can create differentiation with the added benefits of pouches, such as cost to entry, reclosability, product barrier and improved portability. 

However, brands need to remember that it isn’t enough to simply switch from a can or box to a pouch. They need to think about the holistic package, because a brand’s packaging shouldn’t be a single item on the product development checklist. As consumers demand a better experience and improved functionality, packaging serves as an important point of interaction, making it even more essential to consider each individual part of the package and the role it plays.

For example, saying you want to add reclosability isn’t enough because it doesn’t take the consumer’s expectations into account. Zippers and sliders serve as the package “doorway” to your product and are often overlooked as an important part of the consumer experience. Brands need to consider how consumers will interact with the closures and take advantage of specialty solutions such as new, reduced-scale sliders for small-width pouches, child-resistant closures for products that require safer packaging, and zippers that provide audible, tactile or easy grab features for improved functionality. By selecting the closure that meets consumer expectations, brands create a positive user experience and, in turn, another reason for a repeat purchase. 


Pick up the pace: bringing new products to market

We live in a fast-paced, digital-driven world. This means that consumers expect new products, features and flavors to be introduced at a more rapid rate as well. New advancements in packaging production, such as digital printing, continue to disrupt the traditional packaging industry and offer brands greater versatility in flexible packaging design. This allows product managers to introduce newer innovations and features, such as matte finish films or premium closure options, and continuously generate consumer excitement and shelf appeal through enhanced graphics and billboarding opportunities.

Because digital printing accelerates production of multiple items at lower quantities, it enables brands to deliver new products to market in a shorter timeframe. With the frequent introduction of product extensions or new packaging features, brands create buzz around these new offerings not only in-person, but also online. I’ve found that millennials are more likely to share product experiences that come across as new or meaningful to them on their social media channels, helping create online advocates that promote your brand.

Secure the online sale: making an impact with e-commerce

As we see consumers become even more comfortable in a digital market place, we also expect a rise in online grocery purchases. In fact, a 2018 report from FMI and Nielsen shows that 70 percent of consumers will be grocery shopping online by 2024.  

As we see this growth in online grocery purchases, we can expect to see an increase in smaller products often found on one shopping list. Items such as bathroom products or cooking ingredients are being “bundled” or “added on” and shipped in the same package. While this offers consumer convenience, it also creates an environment for product cross-contamination. At the final moment of truth when the consumer opens the package, will they be satisfied with the quality or disappointed that products were ruined because packaging didn’t hold up?

Because of this, it is again important to consider the holistic package design. Will this package qualify for omni-channel distribution, so it’s ready for both retail and e-commerce sales? How it can help meet consumer expectations in e-commerce? When designing packaging for the online supply chain, functionality and damage elimination are king over the cosmetic look. Brands should consider what individual products require to maintain functionality during and after their e-commerce commute.

For example, dish soap has vastly different packaging needs than tomatoes or cookies. With the rise of flexible packaging and custom closures, numerous films, fitments and zippers have been developed for different products and offer effective and efficient solutions for e-commerce.

E-commerce also allows consumers to take part in social sharing because it provides the platform to offer their thoughts and product reviews. Consumers have great influence over each other’s purchasing decisions, meaning brands will need to proactively incorporate features that help products receive positive feedback rather than negative experiences causing shoppers to turn elsewhere. One example is Amazon’s pledge toward “Frustration Free Packaging.” By considering the entire package and the special requirements of e-commerce, brands can help to boost positive reviews and recommendations on social media.

Adopt the millennial mindset: focusing on sustainability

As brands make decisions to implement packaging changes, it is important that they consider what they can also do to enhance the product’s sustainability. Not only do millennials care about sustainability, they are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly packaging, despite being budget-conscious in other areas. According to a study conducted by Nielsen, 73 percent of global millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings. Consumers recognize the value of green packaging, and brands that incorporate these features will also be able to take advantage of these benefits. 

From a flexible packaging standpoint, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to enhancing sustainability. I believe packaging is in the early phases of a “renaissance” as it pertains to developments targeted toward material reclamation and reuse as opposed to waste. The circular economy in packaging will advance, and we are seeing global commitments from governments, brands, retailers and NGOs toward this effort. 

While 2019 may be a year of change, it doesn’t have to be a year of headaches for brand managers. As consumer trend changes continue, brands that proactively look to create disruption with the help of flexible packaging will be poised to capture the millennial market and help guarantee success in the new year.