Trends in Packaging: Structural Design

Trends are everywhere. Trends in the fashion, music, or social media worlds are in front of us every time we pick up our smartphones or turn on the tv. We are bombarded with them and pay attention to them, knowingly or unknowingly, every day. We pay attention to trends on Wall Street and in our business lives because they can affect a company’s bottom line and market reach. These are all examples of how trends affect us and our businesses and alter how we perceive things and the decisions we make throughout the day, including how we use our purchasing power.

In the packaging world, this is no different. Trends come and go, and keeping track of it can be a monumental task. Are you using the right colors? Similarly, are your graphic design choices reflective of your business and what it stands for? Conversely, does all of it convey the right messaging and attract consumers to your store? Are you using the right kind of packaging? Whether you are a single unit operator or a worldwide chain, these are all things you need to consider and know. We are here to help you keep track of the biggest trends in the packaging world right now.

Here is our take on what is happening in the packaging world regarding color, design, physical package design, and sustainability. Accordingly, you’ll see how many of these trends interconnect and can complement each other. Our hope is this information helps you make decisions that help your business prosper in this ever-changing world.

Trends in Structural Design

At Inno-Pak, we believe that a well-made package is a work of art. The work that goes into designing your favorite carton, bag, pouch, or other package involves a number of choices, designs, and trade-offs. In this article, we’ll talk about the latest trends affecting the structural design of packages.

Minimalist Packaging

an INNOBOX carton with a design that says KEEP IT SIMPLE on the sides

One trend that you’ll see more of is minimalism—just like in graphic design. As consumers face more and more options at restaurants and grocery stores, they’ll be increasingly drawn to the simpler designs. Packages that fit into a modern, minimalist trend are going to catch their eye and hold their attention compared to other packages.

Expect to see fewer materials and less of each one. Packaging manufacturers are also moving towards right-sizing packaging so that the package fits the food perfectly without wasting any space or material. Material reduction also comes with a number of other benefits that brands want to capitalize on.

By keeping the structural design pared down, you’ll present a clean slate to your customers. In a world crowded with loud, colorful attempts to grab our attention, you’ll stand out. You’ll catch your customer’s eye and keep their attention while they consider purchasing your product.

Our own Rotisserie and Fried Chicken Bags, for example, greatly reduce the amount of plastic that’s used in packaging chicken compared to plastic domes. Reducing the material, and creating a package that closely fits its intended product, also reduces the amount of space that’s used in your front- and back-of-house spaces and it tends to reduce costs as well. It can also help you hit your sustainability goals by reducing source material and even greenhouse gas emissions (more on that in the next section).

Sustainable Packaging

Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword anymore. Entire industries revolve around it now. And packaging is no exception. In fact, the National Restaurant Association listed sustainable packaging as its number one trend in its 2022 What’s Hot Report.

Minimalism and sustainability go hand in hand. The best way to reduce your packaging’s environmental impact remains to use as little material as needed to get the job done. This can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the amount of material and the weight of that material that needs to ship from source to plant to customer to the landfill, composter, or recycler.

Also, you’ll want to consider which materials you use in your structural design. Packaging that’s made from recycled materials will communicate your brand’s desire to incorporate recycled material into your sustainability efforts. It also helps to close the loop between recycling and the use of recycled materials. After all, recycling only helps if producers use those materials to make new products.

Using less material and recycled materials addresses a product’s start of life. More producers will make their products more sustainable at the end of their life, making them recyclable or compostable.

Expect to see more interest in recyclable and compostable products. If you’re currently offering or planning to offer these kinds of products, you should communicate what those products are and how they can be properly disposed of. While recycling is popular in the U.S. (about 32 percent of Americans participate in it), there are widespread issues with contamination in the recycling stream, and for compostable products, most packaging is considered commercially compostable which may not be available in your area. This is where you can help.

Educating your consumer about the right ways to dispose of the packaging you provide helps further demonstrate your commitment to the environment while helping to solve for these disposal issues. You can use space on your packaging to inform customers about how to best dispose of your product and/or packaging.

Product Visibility

A Steam Pouch containing vegetables sits on a table in a grocery supermarket.

“Seeing is believing” as they say. Accordingly, another structural design trend we think we’ll see more of in 2022 is a focus on product visibility. Consumers like to see the product they’re considering buying, especially when buying products such as baked goods or produce, where a product’s value relies heavily on its freshness.

Here, we expect to see more clear packaging, such as plastic tubs, plastic pouches or bags, and plastic windows in a paper bag or carton. These windows will give customers a clear view of the products inside the package. As such, expect those windows to get bigger and more prominently placed than they are now.

Grab-and-Go Portability

Convenience is king in the market today. Packaging not only has to be simple to open, use, and dispose of, but it also should support customers when they’re on the go. 2022 will be the year that more products’ packaging will focus on portability.

Portability can take many forms. It can mean changing the size or shape of a package to make it easier to grab, hold, or use. Or, it can mean adding handles to a carton to make it easier to carry. Furthermore, it can include adding lids or wraps to a container so that its contents don’t spill in transit.

Regarding shape and size, brands can include built-in handles into their design, similar to the classic milk gallon, or they can feature a thinner section, like many bottled beverages do, to give it an easy-to-grip section.

Tamper Evidence

The National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot report also mentions tamper-evident packaging. Tamper-evident packaging, as we’ve written about before, is any kind of packaging that creates evidence that tampering occurred. It doesn’t, necessarily, prevent tampering or theft directly, but it can deter theft and tampering.

Tamper-evident packaging enjoys wide popularity with customers. In fact, 85% of customers want restaurants to use it, so it’s a shoo-in for this year’s trends. However, it can take many different forms and appearances. At Inno-Pak, we use Handle Cuffs™, a tamper-evident bag seal to provide tamper-evident packaging to a customer’s entire order. By sealing the full bag, we protect all the contents of that bag as well. Other packages use tear-strips, watermarks, seals, glue, perforations, lids that pop when opened, and more.

It’s important to know, however, that not everything marketed as tamper-evident is effective. You can easily circumvent a label that only covers a small portion of the bag, and staples can accidentally fall into a customer’s food or provide a sharp edge for someone to cut themselves on.

To learn more about tamper-evident packaging, read our comprehensive guide on the topic.