2021 Packaging Trends

Last year was certainly something many of us never expected, but we can use the events of 2020 to help forecast what packaging trends we will see in 2021. When predicting what consumers and brands will look for this year, some clear trends have carried over, including a focus on e-commerce friendly options, sustainable packaging, and new and innovative technologies, including virtual reality.


Spotlight on E-commerce

E-commerce was a fast-growing commerce sector even before the pandemic, but COVID-19 pushed it into the spotlight in 2020 – and we don’t see that changing in 2021. E-commerce was already experiencing annual double-digit growth before the pandemic, increasing more than 36% year-over-year in Q3 of 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. We expect that to continue into 2021 as consumers look to purchase everything from groceries to home care online.

As consumers get used to ordering their items online, packaging must also adapt to meet these changes. Laundry bottles can’t leak when turned on their side, and pasta sauce bottles can’t crack during transport. When it comes to safe and durable shipping options, plastic packaging provides superior protection and preservation not found in other materials. 

Sustainable Solutions

Consumers don’t only look for convenience when shopping, they also are seeking more socially conscious brands and sustainable options in 2021. Market research suggests that consumers are looking for sustainable packaging as a key driver of their purchasing decisions. In fact, according to a recent Euromonitor report, 69% of professionals expect consumers to be more concerned about sustainability than they were before COVID-19.

Consumer brands looking to stay ahead of the curve are also driving up demand for recycled content. Following in the footsteps of Europe, many large U.S. consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are pushing towards 100% recycled content in their packaging.

Additionally, legislation is driving the push for PCR and recycling. In September 2020, California passed the nation’s first plastics recycling law. This legislation calls for companies that produce bottles covered by the state’s container redemption program to use a minimum of 15% recycled plastic in their bottles by 2022, 25% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. With other states set to follow California’s lead, plastic manufacturers are seeking out new ways to capture and utilize additional post-consumer recycling material in their products.

Finally, brands are also realizing that in order to create a truly circular economy, they need to tell consumers how to recycle their plastic products. We expect to see more companies looking for ways to educate consumers, including placing How2Recycle labels on their packaging in an effort to increase successful recycling rates and allow manufacturers to collect and incorporate more recycled content into their bottles.

New and Innovative Technology

New technologies are pushing manufacturers to think and work differently in 2021. Virtual reality may seem like something that is more suited for the video game world than the packaging industry, but both virtual reality and augmented reality are two powerful technologies that many manufacturers, including Graham, are exploring. From remote assistance and maintenance, to training new employees, more and more companies are working on incorporating this potent technology even further into their operations.

Not only can augmented and virtual reality technologies be used internally by manufacturers for training and maintenance troubleshooting, but their use can also make a big difference in the end product sold by CPG companies to consumers. By having the ability to resolve problems quickly by leveraging global experts – wherever they happen to be in the world – manufacturers ultimately can save time and money creating the packaging solutions their customers need.

Additionally, the move for many to work from home will also have long-lasting effects on the use of new technology. According to Euromonitor, 64% of professionals think that working from home will become a long-term change. Technology is aiding in this shift of working environments. For example, our creative services department has begun using new technologies like digital whiteboards and live virtual design sessions with customers as remote work became the norm during the global pandemic.

In 2021, we can expect that these types of new technologies will continue to improve, ultimately creating even more innovative and sustainable solutions for consumers and brands.


Graham Packaging Team
Graham Packaging Team