Do you know what you’ll be buying next week? Or what you’ll be eating in a year’s time? Or what the packaging of your favourite products will look like in ten years? Andreas Steinle does. It’s because he lives and works in the future. Andreas Steinle, who has a degree in business communications, and his team at the future research institute Workshop GmbH have spent the last 20 years studying the trends we can expect to see on the market.
He talked to us about tomorrow’s packaging trends, the characteristics of the next packaging generation and the future role of smart packaging.
Mr Steinle, it’s been part of your job for many years now to take a close look at developments. How has our approach to packaging changed over the last few years?
What’s been getting increasingly more prominent is the aesthetic – and therefore emotive – aspect of packaging. This is becoming more and more decisive in consumer goods, especially in today’s complex world where people can save time if they base their decisions on gut feelings, rather than on rational considerations.
What does this mean for tomorrow’s packaging, in particular, and what are the challenges?
Packaging will have to enter into dialogue with the customer at the point of sale, and it’ll have to do so without being pushy, but by arousing our interest. To achieve this, packaging will have to develop more communicative intelligence.
One example of communicative intelligence is so-called smart packages which respond to their environment through sensors and microchips. Which industry do you think is the most promising one for that kind of packaging?
The most reasonable application can undoubtedly be found in medicine. A large number of drugs are taken wrongly because patients forget to take them at the right time and in the right quantities. This is something which packaging will be monitoring in the future. Moreover, warning signals can be issued if there are two incompatible drugs in a person’s medicine cabinet.
One decisive development we’ve seen in recent years is that more and more products are consumed on the go. What are the challenges that can be derived for tomorrow’s packaging?
Products need to be available wherever we go, 24 hours a day. In the future a major role will be played by delivery services, and we will see deliveries performed by drones. This also means that the stability of the packaging will become more important, particularly if products are dropped from a low height. Furthermore, products and therefore the packaging will get smaller and will be optimised for quick, single use.
You mentioned the kind of strain that packaging will have to withstand in the future. Does it mean we’ll have to touch packaging with kid gloves?
Well, obviously, you shouldn’t throw a glass bottle out of a first-floor window. And it’ll be similar with packaging that has built-in sensors. However, this kind of technology can cope quite well with normal everyday use. Just think of the things that today’s smartphones have to put up with.
Improved robustness is something which B2B customers, in particular, can expect to see in packaging. Consumers, on the other hand, are increasingly keen to keep their carbon footprint as small as possible. How can companies benefit from this trend?
This will benefit above all companies that take a comprehensive approach towards production and consumption and which follow a cradle-to-cradle policy. It means designing packaging in such a way that the material can be used along a comprehensive, cyclical path – from “cradle to cradle”, as it were. It will also boost the image of packaging.
That takes us to the question of sustainability: what kind of packaging material will the industry be using in the future?
One of the most promising raw materials is seaweed, which is a cost-effective and renewable resource. It doesn’t require space on land, because it occurs in all the world’s regions and it can be used both as a fuel and as a raw material for packaging.
Mr Steinle, we’ve been talking about developments that can be expected on the market. How innovative do you think the packaging industry is in general?
I’d say very innovative! The packaging industry is both global and technology-driven. This means it forms a tough competitive environment and is therefore forced to be innovative. As a result, the packaging sector is far more innovative than other industries.
Which industry can expect to see the greatest changes in terms of packaging?
There will be a major impact on the food industry. New ideas will be required to meet the customer’s demand for ultra-fresh food in extremely convenient and aesthetically pleasant packaging.
Are there any developments at the moment which will continue to prevail in the packaging industry in the future?
Yes, particularly developments in artificial intelligence. They will certainly increase in significance. If machines are capable of learning and if they can autonomously forecast demand cycles, then this will have enormous efficiency benefits.
When we consider future trends, it may be worthwhile looking at the past. What were the trends with the greatest impact on the packaging industry in the last few years?
One trend that has occupied the industry in recent years is the megatrend towards neo-ecology which I mentioned earlier. The debate on climate change and our awareness of limited resources have been forcing us to rethink. We’ll have to sever the link between consumption and production, on the one hand, and increasing carbon emissions, on the other.
Has there been any lesson over the last few years that is set to influence the next generation of packaging?
People are saying that the environment is important to them. However, it doesn’t follow at all that they are therefore prepared to spend more money on suitable products or that they will want to do without convenience.
Finally, we would like to know what is the goal that the packaging industry and its companies should be setting for themselves between now and 2025.
The goal should be “zero waste” – in other words - no waste at all. Everything should end up in a cycle.
Thank you very much, Mr Steinle, for spending time with us.