Packaging trends to expect in 2024

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Where has the year gone? As 2023 ends, we’re looking to the year ahead and the packaging trends to expect in 2024.

It’s fair to say it’s been a mixed year for the UK.  We’ve had a Coronation, climate change protests, weather-based emergencies, and the highest inflation on record – not to mention a plethora of TV presenter scandals that kept us all guessing…

As usual, the year has passed in a blur and we can probably all agree that the cost-of-living crisis has made it one of the most challenging years for individuals and businesses alike. 

These challenges have impacted the way that companies have forecasted and managed their budgets. Much of our work this year has been to support our customers and help reduce the cost of their packaging, as well as the impact it can have on their operations.

In this article we’ll consider what happened during the packaging industry in 2023, as well as economic, legal and social factors that could impact the packaging trends we’ll see in the next year.  Plus, we’ll dive into the packaging trends our experts are predicting.

packaging trends 2024

A look back at Macfarlane Packaging in 2023

The packaging industry is always fast paced, and life here at Macfarlane is no exception. In the first half of the year we launched our second state-of-the-art Innovation Lab. The new facility, based just outside Manchester, features a host of leading equipment and machinery, like ePASS testing tech.

During summer, we launched our 8th annual unboxing survey. Over 1,000 consumers unpacked their opinions on the packaging used by internet retailers. Results highlighted that sustainable packaging – including recyclable and recycled content options – are still a high priority for consumers. Findings also emphasised the tricky balance retailers face making their supply chain as cost effective as possible, while continuing to enhance the unboxing experience for consumers.

At the end of 2023, we’ve seen more and more businesses beginning to prepare for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). The legislation will see the cost of household waste processing pass to “packaging producers”, so many businesses have been looking for ways to mitigate forthcoming fees.

packaging trends 2024

What will influence packaging in 2024?

There are several different factors that could influence packaging trends in 2024:

Economic uncertainty will continue to create cost stresses for businesses – while consumer confidence and spending is expected to grow moderately, it will be tempered by increases in interest rates and cost-of-living support being phased out (source). This will mean many households will still be cutting back.

On top of this, the National Minimum wage rise in April 2024 combined with labour supply shortages and low levels of investment in business present a challenge. Businesses will face higher production and labour costs, and increased competition for labour too.

Packaging legislation will influence business costs   – the abovementioned EPR regulations are expected to impact many businesses and many companies will incur increased costs as a direct result of packaging they put into the UK market. It is thought it could shift almost £1.4bn of expense over to producers. Plus, businesses are going to have to invest in improved reporting, training and staff to manage compliance.

Consumer and legislative pressure will continue to drive sustainability priorities – consumers are continuing to demand eco-friendly packaging materials. Our latest unboxing research confirms this. Plus, modulated fees from EPR regulations will drive businesses to rethink their packaging materials. For example, paper is expected to attract a lower fee vs. plastic.

In addition, the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting directive may also impact businesses in the UK if they have any significant European footholds. They’ll be required to provide more detailed sustainability data and report on the impact of their supply chain, further applying pressures around sustainability priorities.

packaging trends 2024

So, without further ado, here are the packaging trends that our experts are predicting for next year…

Granular packaging data

The first trend we’re predicting is the need for granular packaging data.

Earlier in this article, we mentioned EPR. The new regulations mean packaging producers will need to report on their packaging materials in more detail than ever before. A “packaging producer” can include all sorts of business, including distributors like us through to retailers and online marketplaces. Essentially, if any packaging you use, sell, make or distribute will end up in household waste, you could be eligible if you meet certain turnover and packaging weight requirements (learn more here).

So, what packaging data should you be tracking? You need to get granular and make sure you can identify:

  • Packaging material type (e.g. paper, plastic, wood, glass)
  • Packaging material weight (this should be by material type / category)
  • Packaging activity / how it was supplied (branded or unbranded, filled or empty, imported, hired or loaned)
  • Packaging class (whether it is primary, secondary, tertiary or shipment packaging)
  • Packaging by waste type (household, non-household, on the go, reusable or self-managed)

Advanced packaging optimisation

The second trend we’re predicting is advanced packaging optimisation.

The results of our latest unboxing survey highlighted the careful balance that retailers and their third-party logistics partners need to strike when balancing costs, sustainability and packaging function alongside consumer expectations. This careful balancing act won’t just apply in B2C markets either – they’ll apply for B2B companies too.  

In this instance “out of the box” packaging solutions are no longer cutting it for many companies. Highly optimised variants are becoming key for businesses looking to balance cost effectiveness alongside other priorities. Packaging optimisation allows businesses to customise their packing materials to meet their sustainability goals and the expectations of their customers. For example, a highly valuable product might need packaging that’s tamper evident – calling for a design with anti-theft features, as well as specialist sealing that a standard 0201 cardboard box might not offer.

Sustainable and recyclable packaging designs

The third trend we’re predicting is sustainable and recyclable packaging designs.

As EPR kicks in with modulated fees, we’ll see a drive from businesses to review their packaging based on the taxation charges and focus on re-engineering their pack weight, size and recyclability.  This is not only positive for consumers but, will also have a positive impact for businesses as packaging costs could decrease. 

It is likely that businesses will also look at the types of material they’re using for their packaging as well. For example, we are likely to see even more businesses be driven to paper-based packaging vs. plastic. Especially given the fact that plastics will be double taxed, when you take into account the Plastic Packaging Tax that was launched in 2022.

Cradle to grave design will be phased out and cradle to cradle design will become the new norm. For example, we already have customers using transit packaging that can then be repurposed as gift packaging!

Investment in reusable packaging

The final packaging trend we expect to see emerging in 2024 is businesses investing in reusable packaging.

Our 2023 unboxing results revealed that 86% of consumers would be willing to return packaging to retailers if it was reusable. And this can’t be ignored. It highlights a shift in thinking towards a more circular economy.

On top of this, reusable packaging will be exempt from EPR fees, so it’s likely that many businesses will start considering how they can factor it into their packaging strategies.

This trend will likely be a longer-term shift, as there are practicalities that will need to be considered, such as how packaging will be returned for reuse and how reusable packaging will be returned for reuse, cleaning and maintenance.  

packaging trends 2024

Support handling packaging trends in 2024

At Macfarlane Packaging, we have a wide range of products, services and facilities to help you handle the packaging trends that 2024 will throw your way. Tools like the Packaging Optimiser can show you the carbon and financial cost of your packaging, while our Innovation Labs can help you design and test your ideal packaging and our e-trading portal can generate packaging usage data at the click of a button.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch to see how we can help.