Food packaging - past, present and future

* 3 min read

When I first started at Sun Branding Solutions I had little experience of packaging. In order to better integrate with my new environment, I knew that I must understand the history of packaging and how its evolved throughout time. I was curious as to who the first real brands were and what forms of packaging they used. In learning more about the history of packaging, I hoped it might provide insights into some of the modern day trends.

A look to the past

Once I began my research I was amazed at just how far back you can trace the history of packaging. Hundreds of thousands of years ago hunter gatherers would use leaves to wrap their surplus food in order to protect it from contamination. Leaves were also used alongside twine to create bags in which to carry food. Locally sourced and biodegradable, these packaging solutions would be well received by today’s environmentally conscious consumers.

As humans evolved, more advanced packaging systems were devised, including the use of glass and clay. Such containers were used not only to store food and drink, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to transport them. This helped facilitate trade and played a large role in civilisations becoming more complex.

Over time the advancements in packaging form have meant that its function has evolved from preserving food to feed a few mouths locally, to feeding the 9bn people that now populate the world.

Understanding behavioural drivers

Although the behavioural drivers that surround packaging today, such as lifestyle, loyalty and provenance are less primal - they're still instinctual. Modern day consumers wish to align with these drivers and thus with society. Through the creation of functional packaging that brings together these drivers, brands are able to achieve solutions that appeal inherently to consumers. It's essential that packaging's not only eye catching, but also serves to engage the emotions.

The impact of digital

The most recent packaging innovation that allows us to achieve this goal is digital. Through the use of digitised packaging, brands are able to drive more modern themes and thus build relationships with consumers. There's no limit to the scope of digital and brands are able to offer valued content, from sustainability to provenance. It's even possible to offer promotions that change dependant on what time of day it is, or based on the weather conditions.

With online retail continuing to grow, some question whether the requirement for great packaging remains. Without doubt, the answer to that question is yes. We do still need great packaging. Through innovation and design, brands should look to engage consumers and utilise their packaging as a gateway to their digital world. By introducing consumers to their website, social media channels and other content, brands can achieve greater buy-in, whilst ideally providing a harmonious experience that ties in with their packaging.

When it comes to food packaging, omni-channel brands and retailers should pay close attention to packaging content, which covers brand, informative and legal. These three areas of content must be as readily available and digestible across all channels to ensure it’s consistent at every consumer touch point. If, for example, the legal content changes on pack, these changes must be reflected on other channels at the same time.

Looking ahead

The influence of digital actually makes the future of food packaging more exciting. Augmented reality adds a new level of innovation, allowing brands to interact with consumers in a positive, informative and immersive way. The right packaging design can also serve to not only influence in-store purchases, but also drive digital engagement.

Whilst packaging has come a long way, digital offers a link to the locally sourced leaves and twine once used - the growing popularity of the local click and collect retail outlet is a prime example of this.