Sustainability, improving user experience, automation and packaging logistics are the four vectors that will dictate the development of the container and packaging industry, as we see it at Hispack.

Packaging is no longer an industry that simply makes containers for products, but a manufacturer of strategic communication elements that are central to the consumer’s purchasing decision, but also vital in production processes, brand innovation, supply chain operations and the digital transformation of the industry.

This paradigm shift has utterly transformed this sector that is present in practically all areas of business. Packaging is a multi-disciplinary issue that includes design, marketing, communication, sustainability, commercial strategy and sales, R + D, increasingly automated, versatile and intelligent manufacturing, operations, logistics, retail and the needs and demands of a consumer who is now more informed and connected than ever.

Hispack is focusing on the four most pressing challenges for the container and packaging industry.

1) Sustainability

Each resident in the European Union generated an average of 167 kilos of packaging waste in 2015, according to Eurostat, with paper, glass and plastic being the main ingredients of the rubbish dumps. The circular economy is emerging as the most efficient model for redressing this situation, thanks to its potential to lengthen the working life of a container to the maximum. In fact, last 18 April the European Parliament approved a series of measures to encourage the circular economy with the aim of recycling 70% of packaging materials by 2030.

The key to achieving this lies in eco-design. At its most basic level, this means creating packages that can be recycled and reused as many times as possible. In practice, it means using environmental criteria to create functional products, to select materials with care, calculate the emissions from the production process and predict the life cycle that this package can have.

The brands that use packaging are very clear about this. 96% of them consider that sustainability is an important value for their products, so that the use of light, recyclable materials with a minimal environmental footprint is a decisive factor when choosing packages. Consumers agree on this, because sustainability is the third reason for buying in the European Union, behind quality and price, but ahead of the brand name.

In this context, the packaging industry has accepted the challenge of sustainability not only be using eco-design, but with new materials such as bioplastics made from plants, the use of energy-efficient processes with lower environmental impact, lighter containers and packages, reusable raw materials, easily recyclable materials and containers that can extend the life of the contents to prevent waste and by handling and evaluating waste from the perspective of a circular economy.

2) User experience

Several studies show that more than 60% of consumers choose a product for its packaging, while 41% will repeat depending on their first experience with the packaging. Ease of use, the information provided, ergonomics, convenience and the application of intelligent and interactive systems are factors that consumers rate very highly.

Companies invest a large part of their budgets on trying the find the priorities that consumers have in relation with packaging. In the end, it all boils down to the maxim that the package has to make the consumer’s life easier.

After the first moment of truth, which means seducing the consumer at the point of sale with visual and sensorial strategies, the container has to pass a second test, that of the user experience when using the product. This is the key to future sales.

This is why the packaging industry works so hard to offer brands new solutions that offer the best possible user experience. Convenience is the priority, which means making products that are ready to use anytime and anywhere. There are packages that can tell us about the condition of the product in real time and interact with it to improve conservation and prolong its useful life. There is also packaging the uses mobile applications to inform about allergen, packets and labels that report the authenticity of the products or which have augmented reality and can connect online.

3) Automation

The packaging and container industry is one of the front-runners in digital transformation and automation, second only to the electronics sector according to a report from the McKinsey consultancy.

Some industry 4.0 factors which are being incorporated into the machinery and production lines where packaging is important are related with monitoring movement, advanced use of digital modelling of the product before production and the use of artificial vision. Packaging and packing equipment and machinery are more flexible, precise, faster and easier to operate and maintain.

Automation systems now link machines and make it possible to save costs by producing more with the same resources, predicting possible faults or inefficiencies and guaranteeing the traceability of the product at all times. Many companies in sectors such as food, drinks, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, etc. are preparing the route map for digitizing their packaging processes by employing technologies that make their operations more flexible.

4) Packaging logistics

Finally, new packaging must also be considered in terms of logistic efficiency by optimizing the space available and reducing transport costs. This strategy can generate remarkable savings by transporting more products with the same investment, as well as reducing the carbon footprint.

However, this linking of packaging and logistics must reach further to take into account all the processes involved in the supply chain. This is where new technologies come into play to ensure that the product retains all its qualities from leaving storage to arriving at the point of sale, through the use of sensors that automatically monitor the scanning, traceability or functional printing on packages that inform the buyer about the “journey” that the product has made to this point.

Right now, technology is being used in warehouses that use robots to prepare the pallets, and the increase in ecommerce is also forcing a rethink in packaging for online sales in terms of practicality, transport and user experience.

Packaging moves 20,000 million euros in Spain

The Spanish packaging and container sector has achieved its best results in the decade, reaching the heights achieved before the crisis. Turnover in 2016 was more than 20,000 million euros, which is 12.44% more than 2013, the last comparable data in the financial study that Hispack carries out for each year’s edition.

Today, the packaging industry includes more than 2,100 companies that employ 75,535 people. The sub-sectors of corrugated cardboard and plastics are leading the sector in terms of growth and volume.