Packaging innovation - what's on the horizon?

* 4 min read

Brands are always competing to introduce that next big idea, but spotting a gap in the market is no easy feat. Both technology and consumer behaviour change quickly, so speed is of the essence when it comes to creating an innovation that will have legs.

Plus, not every idea works. What looks brilliant on paper can pose difficulties in practical terms. Ultimately, innovation comes at a price, with the majority of great concepts having to prove economic viability through potential for mass production. In reality, the items we see in supermarkets have gone through various iterations and a great deal of research and development.

This week, we run through some of most exciting concepts on the horizon. Ranging from the distant future to only several years away, they all share a common thread – emotion. Have a read below for the pros and cons of three of the best new ideas, their emotional power and how likely it is we’ll see them implemented.

#1. Taste – the next stage of interactive packaging

Interactivity is a powerful tool – and not just restricted to flashy campaigns like the McDonald’s VR headset or Pizza Hut's pizza box projector. If brands can appeal to our sense of wonder in any way they’ll have real staying power.

An interesting, slightly off-the-wall development in this area is packaging you can taste. Taking the lead from Heston Blumenthal’s experiments with taste, having different flavours on the packaging to complement the product itself would work especially well. There’s already a history of this in chocolate, where customers are familiar with the nuanced flavour combinations salted caramel and chilli can achieve.

An idea like this brings a whole new meaning to interactivity and for the more adventurous customer there’s certainly an opportunity here. But tasteable packaging does have its drawbacks. Although there are ways to make it more hygienic, there’s a sense children would want to lick the packaging and risk tainting an entire shop’s supplies.

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#2. Texture and feel – the power of tactility

Touch-sensitive packaging is a bit further away from being widely available. It would work from the warmth of your hand – either generating a heat sensitive response or revealing the product underneath.

Ultimately, tactility has strong emotional resonance. Ever traced a Kit Kat bar to emboss its logo onto the foil covering? Feel and texture play a massive part in our experience of the products we buy. The entire process is connected with our visual senses too. When transparent packaging comes to food, the effect will of course work best if the product looks appetizing underneath.

Products with eye-catching inclusions like nuts or marshmallows, popping candy etc. would be great here. “Touch and reveal” is a concept that would attract customers by showcasing a product’s distinctiveness. If a product bears a striking element it should flaunt it. There’s a “pick-it-up-and-look” factor and as soon as you’ve got a pack in your hand you’re more likely to purchase.  

For brands, however, cost is king and if used across an entire design this technology would be too expensive. The best solution here would be to do it across small area, such as the branding or brand marque.  

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 #3. Aroma encapsulation and the future of resealables

As we have seen packaging is closely connected to our senses. Opening a product can be a powerful ritual – but whether it’s a brand-new Apple product or a jar of coffee, that first unpackaging experience is generally a one-time deal.

Savvier brands are figuring out a way to recreate the sensory and emotional connection unpackaging entails. Reseals are nothing new, neither are they fool proof. With many products, there’s a chance to create an all-round reseal that fits around more awkwardly shaped products, no matter how much you’ve eaten.

Even more exciting is that resealing can be combined with aroma encapsulation, which is only several years away. This works through a scent that’s in the adhesive, recreating the aroma released when you open a product for the first time. When you get that first burst of fragrance, it ignites the desire to want more so it’s a brilliant way to create a connection with consumers.

If brands can tap into our emotional and sensory faculties, they’re much more likely to generate repeat purchases. More importantly, if they can ensure that experience doesn’t diminish after we return home, the customer’s experience will be even more memorable. For brands to stay relevant they will have to instill emotion into their packaging designs, communicating with us on a human level.