Trend In Packaging: Structure and Function

Trends are an important concept to any business. They reflect increasing consumer or producer demand, what worked for other businesses in your industry, and influence the way we and our customers see the world around us. Additionally, they help brands communicate their value by tapping into what those trends represent and can help your business appear modern and fresh.

This year when creating our Trends In Packaging series, we saw some similarities to last year, including a committed focus to sustainability, minimalist design, exploration of alternative materials, and nostalgia. We also saw some differences, including more 3D design elements, use of mascots, illustrative designs, and more.

This year, brands will experiment with the structure and the functionality of their designs. Brands will focus on interactivity, including QR codes and other technology. As brands explore textural packaging and consider switching to alternative materials, they’ll also examine the structure of their packaging to ensure those changes don’t compromise on performance. They’ll also seek to enhance their customers’ takeout and delivery experience, including by using tamper-evident packaging.

To help you make sense of all these trends, we’ve compiled the Trends In Packaging series. In this part of the series, we’ll talk about structural design and functionality. Other parts of the series talk about trends in sustainability and graphic design.

Interactive Features

Man scanning QR code menu in a restaurant

In 2023, several brands will experiment with adding interactive features to their packaging. QR codes will continue to reign supreme here, but we also expect to see more brands experimenting with augmented reality as well as using other creative features.

QR codes have been around for a long time; since 1994, in fact. Then, a Japanese company used QR codes to track automobile parts during assembly. We still use QR codes to track parts in manufacturing, but now we also use QR codes to share business cards, educate consumers about the ingredients or processes used in their favorite products, distribute surveys, promote coupons and deals, download apps, and more. And we can place them just about anywhere from the bus stop to a printed brochure to the TV screen itself.

At the same time, interactivity doesn’t have to be high tech. It can include features that peel or tear away, like labels or perforated flaps, or coloring pages for kids. In food packaging, it can also include clever designs that give a package a second life, such as a pizza box projector. In the end, the point of interactive packaging is to increase customer engagement with your brand and your product. You can do that just as well with fancy technology or tried-and-true concepts.

How Inno-Pak can help: Whether you want to use a QR code to launch an augmented reality experience or stamp a coupon onto the tear away flaps of your packaging, we can help. Using our Custom Print Program, you can print your QR code or other designs onto your packaging on eligible items. Contact us today to see if your packaging qualifies.

Looking for ways to use QR codes on your restaurant’s packaging? Read our guide on How to Use QR Codes to Promote Your Restaurant.

Textural Elements

An INNOBOX EDGE with a design printed onto the tear away flap.

We touched on this one in our trend on graphic design, but we’ll explore it here in depth. In 2023, we expect brands will explore with modifying the structure of their packaging to create elements consumers can touch and feel.

Textural elements could include embossing a brand’s logo or design onto its packaging, giving it a depth of feeling while also promoting your brand. Or it could be using die-cut molds to create specific shapes or designs like a barn-themed barn-handled carton. This has the added benefit of giving your brand not only a distinct feel but also a distinct look.

Of course, brands will experiment with changing materials, a sustainability trend we’ve noticed, which will also create a change in texture. Switching from plastic to paper or to fibers will create a different feel for the customer and create an opportunity to experiment with adding textural elements. That switch and any textural change you make brings us to our next trends—setting and managing performance considerations.

Performance Considerations

A woman is unhappy with her order because the structure of the packaging didn't perform well.

As brands consider using more sustainable materials, reducing their overall material use, and creating or changing textural elements, they’ll have to manage those changes against the performance they need from their packaging.

Switching from plastic to paper can be a big shift. While many brands will seek the sustainability benefits of paper, it’s crucial to realize that there are tradeoffs. Part of the reason plastic is so ubiquitous is because it is strong, stiff, and durable for its weight and cost and it is safe to use in contact with food. Switching to paper or another material is great, but it takes planning. That’s why it’s important that you navigate these changes with a packaging provider who can guide you through the pros and cons and help you reach a decision that works for your business.

How Inno-Pak can help: We’ve been in this business since 1992, and many of our staff have been working for decades in helping food businesses achieve their goals. We help businesses like yours create packaging programs that fit your needs. Feel free to contact us for help in finding packaging that will have you delivering a winning experience with every meal.

Packaging with a Purpose, or Four

We expect more brands to switch to multipurpose packaging in 2023. Having a large number of SKUs in their back of house can put strain on a business’s operations. This year, we expect to see brands find packaging solutions that frees up space in that back of house. They’ll seek to simplify their back of house, their logistical needs, and their work lives.

Like switching materials, switching to multipurpose packaging involves weighing various tradeoffs. After all, you probably chose all those single purpose packaging solutions because they fit those particular purposes very well. Switching to multipurpose packaging should also be accompanied by extensive testing to ensure there aren’t any gaps in your packaging switch and that it performs as well as expected. And again, you’ll want to make sure you have an experienced packaging supplier who can help you find the best solution for your business.

Tamper-Evident Packaging

Two paper bags on a stainless steel table. Each bag is sealed with Handle Cuffs™ Tamper-Evident Bag Seals.

Another trend we expect to see in 2023, is an increase in tamper-evident packaging. Tamper-evident packaging is any packaging that creates evidence when someone tampers with it. This category saw massive interest during the COVID pandemic and has since tempered. That said, many brands want to protect their business and their customers by adding in or switching to tamper-evident packaging.

Estimates vary, but food tampering and food theft are shockingly common. Some surveys find that  nearly 80 percent of delivery drivers steal food from customers’ orders. Customers won’t know if the restaurant staff shorted their food or if the driver took some of it. In the end, they’ll expect the restaurant to fix it. Otherwise, they’ll blame the restaurant when they tell their friends or favorite review sites.

Brands don’t want to get a bad reputation because a driver took food from a customer’s order. So, they’ll invest in common sense solutions like tamper-evident packaging. By making these investments, these brands will communicate that they take their customers’ health and experience seriously enough to protect it. They’ll also protect their bottom line. Now that’s a win-win for everyone.

How Inno-Pak can help: Not only did we write a comprehensive guide on tamper-evident packaging, but we also created a multipurpose tamper-evident package. Our Handle Cuffs™ Tamper Evident Bag Seals fit virtually all standard twist handled paper bags. They seal the entire bag against theft and tampering. Labels can fall short. Staples risk cutting a customer’s skin or getting into their food. Handle Cuffs protect the full length of the bag and come off easily with a mailer-style pull strip. Learn more about Handle Cuffs on our website.

Improved Experience

Customer paying at a restaurant with a QR code

In the end, companies like ours design packaging to improve the customer experience. Good packaging gets the food home safely, makes the food look appetizing, or keeps the food hot (or cold) and tasty. Great packaging does all of these things. In 2023, we expect to see a renewed focus on improving the customer-brand experience.

In order to improve the customer experience, you have to ask yourselves questions like a customer would. Will switching from plastic to paper be more environmentally friendly without impacting the quality of my product? Could this tamper-evident package prevent someone from messing with my food? Will I be able to open it easily enough?

How to Use This Trend In Packaging

As we’ve written about for each of these trends, knowing and taking advantage of these Trends In Packaging will help your brand appear fresh and modern. The trends in this article, however, can actually change how your customer interacts with your brand via its packaging.

Enhancing the interactivity of your packaging helps ensure a stronger, more unique brand presence for your business. If you want to add in QR codes, we recommend using dynamic QR codes. These allow you to change the link that the QR code points to at a later date. In other words, you can direct the same QR code to your business’s menu. Then, at a later date, you can change it so that the same QR code points to your brand’s sustainability story. This prevents you from having to change your prints or design all the time while still allowing you to change your strategy.

If you’re looking to make your business’s operations simpler, you can look into multipurpose packaging. These can simplify your logistics, reduce the space you need in your back of house, save you time and money, and even enhance your customer’s experience when implemented well.

You can show your customers that you take their health and their order seriously by investing in tamper-evident packaging. This will prevent not only tampering but also food theft by delivery drivers. If you’re using twist handle paper bags, be sure to ask us about our Handle Cuffs.

When you test your packaging program, make sure to take it for a long, bumpy ride. Not sure how far to drive? Most food delivery services will deliver up to five miles away. Good packaging should keep the food safe and secure for the entirety of that ride, without spilling. Check the taste and heat too to ensure the packaging protected those qualities as well. If you notice issues with any of these, chances are your customers will, too.

Whatever improvements you make to your packaging, it’s important to have a packaging supplier that can help you realize and weigh the tradeoffs of those changes. If you’re looking for such a supplier, consider reaching out to us at Inno-Pak. We have decades of experience designing innovative packaging and helping our customers reach their goals. When others say it can’t be done, that’s when we shine.