I hope that 2024 is off to a great start for you. As we close the book on 2023 and begin anew in 2024, it will be interesting to see what lies in store for the printing and packaging industry in this New Year. Although nothing really changes when we move from one year into the next, it certainly feels like we’re stepping through the threshold into a new chapter every time the calendar switches from December to January. When I first sat down to write this first post of 2024, I thought about summarizing some of the prevailing trends and forecasts I could find in industry media. I decided it would be a bit bolder, and vulnerable, to prepare a list of my own expectations for the year ahead. When the calendar again reaches December and I’m out buying another Christmas tree, we can look back together and chalk up my hits and misses.
Sustainability to grow in importance.
I’ve been thinking and writing about sustainable packaging from some years now and the year 2025 always seemed like a distant time in the future when all sustainable dreams would come true. Now we’re on the doorstep of the fortuitous year when brand owner sustainability commitments become due. While some have already recognized the challenges and moved their deadlines back towards 2030, those more bold or more committed have stayed the course and have retained their original targets. We’ve seen some pockets where customers are adopting sustainable solutions based on bio-renewable sources or where carbon has been offset, however I expect this to become more widespread in the year ahead. With the current global macroeconomic environment, I expect that any sustainable packaging solution to be adopted will need to balance cost with performance. For those looking to further embrace this trend, take a look at our Joncryl BRC products which we can now offer across the globe.
Plastic to Paper Conversion will take hold.
Related but separate from the above, while sustainability in general will be a big trend in 2024, I also expect that the packaging substrate itself will be in focus further this year. With regulations implemented in several countries in the form of plastic taxes or outright bans, I expect that plastic packaging will be in negative focus and the industry will increasingly look to other substrates, like paper, to get the job done. While regulations will move the needle in some regions, there is also growing consumer desire to utilize less plastic even in areas where regulations have not yet been implemented. Those same brand owner commitments I mentioned earlier related to sustainable sourcing also focus on furthering the circular economy and expanding the recyclability of packaging. As one of the most widely and easily recycled packaging materials, paper stands to make gains into markets where it has not been traditionally adopted. Our range of functional packaging products in the Joncryl HPB and Joncryl HSL lines enable paper-based packaging to replace existing incumbents, providing improved sustainability without sacrificing performance.
Digital Interaction with package and products
In the printing ink industry, we have had a unique experience with the impact of a changing media landscape. It was not that long ago that the primary method for the transfer of information was in written and printed form: Newspapers, encyclopedia, letters, memos… The digital world we inhabit is constantly evolving and as new generations grow older and more influential, the media environment is growing and changing too. TikTok and YouTube are among the fastest growing social media sites, offering both content and connection. Consumer activity changes to embrace new trends and so I expect we’ll see a rise in digital interaction used in the printing of packages; QR codes, special digital content, interactive labels, eye-catching designs to illicit a particular unboxing experience, etc.… Brands will want to find ways to be part of the online conversation so they’ll seek their own viral moment by embracing unique packaging connectivity approaches.
A return to ‘normal’?
I remember writing a post during the height of the pandemic about something titled the ‘new normal’. Now some years on, it is tough to know what normal is anymore. Everything will be clearer perhaps when we are all looking back from 2030 but for now, we must live in the present. Over the last few years, we have seen waves of demand and supply impacting different facets of the printing and packaging space, for better and for worse. I wrote at the end of 2023 that I expect a return to consumer spending on goods vs. services to gradually get the industry back toward a ‘normal’ level of supply/demand and goods/services balance and I still believe that will occur. Different countries are facing unique macroeconomic environments; a recession in Germany, stubborn inflation in the UK, the potential for a ‘soft landing’ in the US. I do not expect a global one-size-fits-all market recovery, however, I think we’ll see printing ink and paper/board substrate demand that is higher than 2023.
Continued growth in e-commerce
The holiday shopping season was very strong in the US, still to be seen if that was a sign of resilience or the ‘last hurrah’ for the consumer. One of the outstanding trends that we saw during that recent period was the ongoing rise in e-commerce. What was once more novelty than convenience is now becoming an irreplaceable utility to many, including yours truly. Companies have made strides towards adapting their packaging to meet e-commerce requirements, in some cases releasing a completely different e-commerce package than their traditional shelf product, and I see this trend continuing. I think we’ll see ecommerce shipments rise further this year, after they’ve faltered In recent years in retreat from the pandemic peak. I already mentioned the interior of the package and its importance during unboxing, however, the exterior of packaging is becoming more frequently printed as well. As these packages navigate more challenging conditions, the inks and coatings used on them will need to remain resilient while also delivering an effective brand message.
Looking ahead, I think we will see some of the same trends continuing but with a few examples above that will make 2024 unique. Do you see things differently? Anything you would add or remove from the list? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Let’s see how the world develops in the months ahead and see where the world of packaging takes us. I wish you all the best as we wrap up the first month of 2024 and look forward to connecting again soon.