Packaging is a central part of the consumer experience
According to Anna, the biggest factor affecting food packaging is the consumer experience. "When you think of packaging, the experience is equally important for both online and physical sales; many companies want to implement an omnichannel strategy, which should create a seamless experience wherever consumers are buying their food," she says. However, Anna adds that there are certain opportunities that are unique to online sales. "Some brands are offering specialist products that can't be found on the high street, and the online process also allows them to collect information about the customer and then personalise the experience with exclusive product or packaging features."
The importance of sustainability and product protection
Sustainability is a primary concern for many consumers, and the type and amount of packaging will affect their impressions of a product or brand, especially as it's the first thing they see. Anna believes this creates a unique challenge for online sales. "In e-commerce, consumers put more value on recyclability, as online customers get more packaging material and are themselves responsible for disposing of it – in stores, employees take care of the majority of the secondary packaging," she says. This creates pressure to minimise packaging while still protecting the products effectively and avoiding wastage – another sustainability concern highlighted by Anna: "No matter how nice the packaging looks, the customer won't appreciate it if the product inside has been spoiled or lost its freshness. Concerns about freshness are a big part of the reason why online grocery shopping hasn't taken off quicker." Striking the balance between delivering a product in optimum condition and providing it in packaging that is light, durable and attractive is therefore a key challenge.
New opportunities to explore
Because many food products are perishable, any developments that allow them to be delivered in peak condition are always welcome, with many innovations coming to the market. These include boxes that offer improved temperature control and digitally printed tracking codes that cater for real-time location tracking. "Another area where digital printing is taking off is subscription boxes that contain meal kits consisting of fresh ingredients and recipes," adds Anna. "Sales of these boxes have fluctuated since they were introduced, but they've received a boost during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to restaurants being closed and consumers wanting to avoid going out to the shops, as well as the healthy eating trend that we're seeing." Anna says that this trend is in line with an overall rise in online food sales. "In the United States, we could see online shopping accounting for as much as 10% of all grocery sales by the end of the year – this is four years earlier than previously predicted, and it offers an opportunity to use delivery boxes for promotional messaging." With such innovations coming thick and fast, packaging for online food sales is well worth keeping an eye on.