Packaging 4.0

The world is changing rapidly. People's attitudes and expectations are evolving as we enter a new era of technological development. We're seeing changes in the way we interact with brands — and we're demanding greater transparency and ethical practices from those who create the products we buy and support.

We are facing a crisis which is as significant as the shift from an agricultural to industrial society — that of climate change. Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns threaten large cities and small communities alike, and we must take the necessary steps to ensure our very survival.

The packaging industry is rapidly evolving but struggling to keep up with quickly-shifting consumer demands, environmental concerns, supply chain snafus and technological advancement. This blog post looks at looks at the challenges and opportunities for brands in general and the packaging industry.

Technology driving change

We are surrounded by technology, but it’s only in recent years that we have started to truly understand how to harness its power. It’s no surprise, then, that innovation is being delivered at a rapid rate.

Throughout our history, we have advanced technology to create tools that make our lives better. We went from a world without internet to a world where we can access information from anywhere on any device. We used machine learning to automate repetitive tasks and give us more free time. And as we push forward into the future, many of the greatest innovations are still being made by us, humans — from cell phones that double as computers to smart homes that monitor our health.

To understand the positive impact of this shift, it’s useful to look at the past. During the first Industrial Revolution (1750-1900), there was a shift from an agrarian society into an industrialized one, affecting the production systems of the time. The second revolution (1870-1914) saw similar changes in transportation and energy systems. Following these transformations were social revolutions in which cultural values were reflected through new technologies.

Today we're experiencing the convergence of digital and physical worlds — this is commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the change in our world when everything is faster, cheaper, and more accessible than ever before.

Embracing the fourth revolution

For many companies, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will mean radical transformation, the likes of which has not been seen before. Applications and technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and Internet of Things will dramatically change what we do in the future, and how we do it. The future of packaging will be challenged and redesigned. It will open up new possibilities that will challenge the very semantics of the name. 

Evolution of packaging

The packaging industry has evolved over three ages to reach its present form. Each age has served a different need, and each one has built on the needs of the previous one. Let’s take a look at how we got here — with an eye to where we might be going next;

Packaging 1.0 – age of functionality

The Functional Age was the first generation of products — the late 1800s to the 1940s — developed and built on consumer demand and mechanical engineering and not on aesthetic and decorative design.

In this period, mass manufacturing and transportation were the dominant forces pushing package development. The focus of packaging preceded on safety and structural reliability of packages to ship products further afield. Material choices had to be light-weight and easily stacked for mass shipping.

Packaging 2.0 – age of promotion

This could be described as The Promotional Age and spanned the 1950s to the 2000s — the golden age of advertising and low-cost consumerism. This was a time when advertisers had begun to understand consumerism and how it influenced society. It was a time when television advertising was its most effective and companies like McDonalds were raking in billions.

This age was an important time in the evolution of packaging. Large brands and corporations flourished, and many took advantage of opportunities to grow strong and stable through strong product promotion and loyalty programmes. Large companies like Unilever and P&G used this time to create branded packaging and market their large product lines. As a result, extended product ranges became very important as it allowed consumers to pick and choose from a variety of products.

Own-label products began to make advances on supermarket shelves, and consumers found themselves at the mercy of pricing promotions by larger retailers.

Packaging 3.0 – age of experiences

The Age of Experiences is here. While this pivotal moment in consumerism has been taking place since the early 2000s, it continues to evolve as brands compete to provide higher quality and more unique experiences as a way to stand out.

Experiential packaging is more than just a pretty box — it's an experience for your customer that goes beyond its utilitarian function of housing and protecting your product. It's something tactile, something beautiful and something you want to own. A good experiential package can be sustainable; it can make someone feel like they're part of the process, like they've interacted with the brand and had a positive experience.

As consumers became more educated, they want to see changes in the world. They believe that brands had the power to improve society. They’re growing more aware of sustainability and environmental challenges, and they expect brands to act proactively.

With the environmental impact of products a growing concern, low consumer loyalty, marginal product differentiation and growth slowdowns touted by analysts as a global trend, a new era in packaging was always bound to happen.

Packaging 4.0 the exceptional age

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a time of unparalleled technological change, and will affect every aspect of our lives. It's a period of mass customisation as well as mass adoption of advanced technology — from artificial intelligence to Industry 4.0 to blockchain — and these technologies are evolving quicker than ever before. It's a time where businesses must show the world that they're agile and ready for change, as well as stand out as leaders in sustainability and corporate responsibility.

With Industry 4.0 upon us, the world is in the middle of a seismic shift from mass production to mass-customisation. Organisations are striving for efficiency and product differentiation through innovation. Traditional manufacturers have a wide range of competing demands: they must be flexible enough to produce a large volume of products to meet high demand, while being able to meet customer orders with a low volume of products.

Consumers tend to see packaging as a necessary evil — the annoying but necessary part of a product's journey from factory to consumer. In the Fourth Age, however, consumers will begin to view packaging as a product in its own right. Companies will start crafting packaging with an eye toward maximizing customer experience and inspiring word-of-mouth evangelism. Each piece of packaging is like an entry point into the brand universe.

What does the future hold for packaging?

By 2030, even the most steadfast brands will have revamped their packaging to make it more adaptive, immersive, and interactive. Gone are the days of simple designs and functional packaging; in their place will be designs that allow products to be tailored to specific needs. Packaging will feature "smart" materials that can change colour or texture based on temperature, humidity, or external stimuli like barcodes or QR codes that tell the packages what sort of product is inside.

The 4th Industrial revolution is happening now and the only way to stay relevant is to embrace modern technology — smart manufacturing, sensors, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing.

Packaging 4.0 is the new vision for product packaging that is here to stay. One thing’s for sure, the future of packaging is going to be completely re-imagined through new technology, and companies will need to understand how these technological advances will change their business strategies in order to stay relevant and survive.