Has Covid changed the long-established consumer trends on packaging?

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COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we live and work. As some economies start to re-emerge from the immediate effects of the pandemic, leaders in Consumer Goods companies and their procurement departments should now be evaluating whether established consumer trends, which were altered during the pandemic, will be re-established or whether we have seen permanent change in how, and what, we buy.

This article is written by Kevin Moore from 4C Associates who has worked on several projects focussing on the Food & Beverage market who gives his views on COVID-19 impact on some of the key long term packaging trends.


A major driver in the packaging value chain over recent years for FMCG and retail companies has been to respond to consumer concerns on sustainability by committing to actions and targets on improving the recycling potential of their packaging.

In the early stages of the pandemic, there were indications that concerns on hygiene and food safety had become a higher priority while the sustainability performance of different packaging substrates could become a lower priority—at least for the short term. This was highlighted by research led by Ipsos in mid-2020, which determined that one in three consumers believed that COVID-19 can be spread by boxes and packages received from other countries.

However, with the release of studies showing that transmission of COVID-19 to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus had not been documented, and that touching a contaminated surface was not thought to be the way the virus spread, meant that these concerns, although still present, became less important in determining purchasing priorities.

In discussions with clients, we are seeing that most companies are continuing to work to improve recyclability with businesses once again responding to consumer expectations, NGOs, and regulatory pressure. Research by Ipsos concludes that “whilst habits may have changed, attitudes (to sustainability) have not, and it is these attitudes which continue to evolve”.

However, David Bateman at Mintec outlines “The demand for single-use paper packaging materials saw a boost throughout 2020, led by the rapid expansion of the e-commerce industry. At the same time, supply was scarce, especially for recovered corrugated materials, due to the lockdown measures for most of 2020, which led to low collection volumes and reduced wastepaper from the retail sector”

Move to “Clean Product Labelling”

Another of the megatrends in the Food & Beverage sector in recent years was the move to fresh, preservative-free foods supported by “Clean Product Labelling” with accompanying reductions in UK diets of salt, sugar, and red and processed meat. However, during the pandemic research from Mintel has suggested a reversal of that trend and that consumers who have reduced consumption of canned and overly processed foods during the past few years are more comfortable justifying the purchase of these products as they are “safe to eat”. Post-pandemic, most companies we talk to would expect consumers to recognise that wellbeing is a vital concern and as the focus of COVID-19 transmission fades, people will continue to reduce the health risks associated with unhealthy eating.

Traditionally consumers have used package labeling as a primary source of health information with most consumers saying they always read labels on packaged food before buying, prioritising the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list first. However, research again from Ipsos reports that 68% (of people surveyed) agree that since the COVID-19 pandemic, they now ‘try to spend as little time in-store as possible’ with half claiming they are actively trying to complete shopping trips as quickly as possible.

The challenge for the future is that packaging may need to alter to communicate the health information consumers want with the shorter time spent instore.

Use of Refillable packaging

Refillable packaging was a significantly growing trend pre-pandemic, pulling together consumer desires to reduce single-use packaging and concerns on the ‘throwaway society”. Coffee shops were actively using price as a mechanism to promote the use of re-usable cups and retailer trials of packaging-free, refillable products proved popular with shoppers simultaneously reducing the supermarket’s plastic footprint.

After COVID-19, most retailers paused their in-store refill offerings over hygiene, social distancing concerns and desire by consumers and retailers to reduce time spent in-store ,with many people forecasting that there would be a long-term reduction in consumer enthusiasm for refill/reuse packaging systems.

However, as we have progressed, we see that most UK coffee shops are now accepting refillable cups again. In addition, fast-food giants McDonald’s and Burger King will be introducing reusable cups in the coming months, while Procter & Gamble (P&G) has confirmed plans for refillable shampoo bottles.

Additionally, Waitrose has confirmed plans to begin a trial of integrating refillable options – previously all kept together in a separate aisle – alongside pre-packaged versions of the same products with other retailers trialing a “sustainability store” with refillable formats of more than 30 products.

It, therefore, looks as if this trend is continuing with both customers and retailers still interested despite challenges from COVID-19 behaviour changes.


From 4C’s discussions with contacts in the Food Industry and recent company announcements, we are confident that Sustainable Packaging initiatives will continue to be a priority in the Food & Beverage Industry, and that post COVID-19 consumers will continue to prioritise sustainability in their purchase decisions.

Our team at 4C Associates combines extensive knowledge and experience with the latest process and technology innovations to provide our clients with transformative solutions and sustainable commercial outcomes. To find out more about how we can help you to transform your procurement, contact Kevin Moore at 4C Associates at kevin.moore@4cassociates.com to arrange a complimentary consultation

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