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Why consumers have intensified their focus on drinks packaging – research in focus

By Richard Woodard 27 May 2021 (Last Updated May 28th, 2021 10:07)

The use of advanced materials in packaging can be hugely beneficial to FMCG brand owners looking for solutions that benefit their business, the consumer and the environment, says a new thematic research paper from GlobalData.

Why consumers have intensified their focus on drinks packaging – research in focus

According to the report, Advanced Materials in Packaging, leading companies are increasingly finding ways for their packaging to be used, reused or recycled “without compromising on form or function” as the focus on sustainability becomes ever stronger.

Regulatory changes, such as increased taxation and EU directives on packaging waste, circular economy and single-use plastics, are making materials that are hard to recycle, including PVC, LDPE and HDPE, less attractive. Meanwhile, materials that are easier to recycle, such as bio-derived plastics, rPET and bespoke resins for 3D printing, are expected to be more widely adopted over the coming years.

“Consumers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their product choices, with concerns around packaging having a significant impact on purchasing habits,” the report notes.

It also highlights the popularity of rPET, which the research describes as the “most successful recycled polymer to date” because it is “identifiable and can be collected in volume, has relatively high value compared to other plastics, is versatile with good barriers [and] transparency … and can even be made from sugar cane”.

Demands linked to sustainability are pushing brand owners to integrate more holistic and efficient in-house recycling operations into their businesses, in order to contribute to a more efficient circular economy for packaging materials. Technology can assist this process, with tools such as QR codes offering simple, cost-effective ways for companies to track their packaging, the report points out, “ensuring that it follows the expected path, even after it is disposed of, in some cases”.

The report also identifies the key trends affecting the use of advanced materials in packaging, including those driven by sustainability, technology, regulatory changes and recycling challenges. The latter includes the increasingly complex regulations around how materials should be recycled by consumers – for example, the requirement in Japan that consumers should separate a PET bottle from its screwcap and plastic film before recycling.

“The focus on recycling means that advanced materials in packaging need to cater towards the urge for consumers to reuse or recycle with more ease,” the report says. “Therefore, brands need to be mindful of how the products can still protect their [beverage] and yet be easily separated for recycling.”

The report highlights case studies such as The Coca-Cola Co’s I Lohas water brand and Asahi’s range of water, RTD tea and yoghurt drinks, which have implemented label-free packaging solutions to meet the needs of domestic regulations on recycling in Japan. As well as eliminating the need to remove the label prior to recycling, I Lohas uses 100% rPET bottles – and now, Coca-Cola has introduced rPET in its collaboration with the Hajime Green Tea brand, as well.

“Twenty per cent of consumers in Japan say that environmentally-friendly packaging is a priority or is now more important than before the outbreak of COVID-19,” the report states. “This adds further impetus to the label-free approach from a sustainability standpoint.”

It also cites experimental work undertaken by PepsiCo, in partnership with Diageo and Unilever, in using Pulpex technology to sell a line of products in a paper-based bottle that is 100% recyclable. “This novel shape and texture for a bottle may be popular with consumers who are looking for a revolution in sustainable packaging and want to support brands that share similar values,” GlobalData says.

In Brazil, Coca-Cola has recently revised its local partnership with Heineken that allows for the bottling of alcoholic beverages. This could see the extension of sustainability initiatives linked to the company’s soft drinks extended to alcohol as well: Coca-Cola already offers consumers a discount on their next purchase when they return their empty bottle. Retailers then store the empties and return them to the company.

According to the report, this eliminated the need for 200m single-use plastic bottles in Brazil during 2018 alone and, because the bottle shapes are generic, Coca-Cola can wash and relabel them, ready to use on any of the group’s brand lines in Latin America.

The initiative has also resulted in a reportedly significant reduction in carbon emissions, because of the reduced cost of washing and filling, and the need for only one manufacturing workflow to make the universal bottle shape.

COVID has had a major impact on the size of the packaging market, as well as future growth forecasts. During 2020, there were clear dips in the packaging markets for both soft drinks, and beer & cider, “with a lasting impact on both”, the report notes. “However, with the trends in teetotalism and moderation, the increase in soft drinks packaging volumes appears to be growing at a steeper rate than before, as opposed to packaging for beer and cider, which is forecast to stagnate from 2021 to 2023.”

The lifting of lockdown measures and the reopening of the on-premise is making the situation increasingly complex, the report warns. “With a surge in demand as pubs and restaurants reopen in 2021, beer and cider package manufacturers will need to be mindful of the highly competitive environment that will come because of high demand following lockdown restrictions.

“Winners in the advanced packaging sector will take hold of a variety of overriding trends, rather than just one.”

Head here for full details on GlobalData’s ‘Advanced Materials in Packaging – Thematic Research’