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How COVID-19 has changed US packaging trends

Posted by Carla Colwell
17th August, 2020

Before the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent global disruption across the packaging markets, the biggest trends in the US packaging industry were driving significant growth and development. These trends centred around sustainability, bioplastics and were heavily focussed on recycling.

From an economic perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a rollercoaster across the US packaging market. Widespread confinement has led to a surge in demand for packaging in particular sectors, such as hygiene and food. With physical premises closed or operating at reduced levels across the world, production has been under acute pressure. And with social distancing measures becoming increasingly important, the packaging industry, as many others, doesn’t know when or if operations will resume any kind of normality.

The global packaging market is worth around $900 billion a year and the US represents a share of around $170 billion. Will the industry suffer from challenges in both the short- and the long-term? Let’s take a closer look at how operations are being affected and how focus is shifting across the US packaging industry.

Increased safety measures

At least in the short-term, safety measures and hygiene standards requirements are already soaring for both consumers and the workforce. In addition to raising standards, there will inevitably be rising requirements for social distancing and the wearing of protective equipment and clothing.

These measures may drive costs upward and reduce the demand for aspects of sustainability, according to the concerns of some industry professionals.

Reduced workforce

Due to the nature of COVID-19, social distancing is thought to be one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of the virus. Although opinion differs across the world, many businesses are beginning to resume operations and reducing the workforce to facilitate these distancing measures.

When experiencing high demand, a reduction of the workforce can severely impact output. This is already leading to changes in operations, including extended shift operation and automation of the packaging line.

Lifted single-use packaging restrictions

Although the industry hopes that this will be a temporary measure, the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis led to widespread lifting of single-use packaging restrictions. As lockdown restrictions changed consumer priorities, and the hygiene aspect of PPE came to the fore, a lack of choice and the threat of the virus took over and caused a shift in attitude to single-use packaging.

Now panic buying and stock piling food, pharma and hygiene products has reduced across the US, the development of more sustainable solutions is again being examined. As in other global markets, flexible packaging and bioplastics are rising to the forefront of sustainability in the US packaging industry.

Recycling plants were closed globally at the start of the pandemic and the industry stalled in that respect. Although many are resuming operations, with reduced workforces it will take some time for recycling to return to normal operational levels.

Digital traceability in US packaging

Traceability was a topic high on the priority list at the beginning of the year and this has not changed. It is likely to become even more important to consumers as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

Digitisation and clean labelling, according to some experts, is inevitable in the very near future in the US packaging markets. This will continue to reinforce long-term expectations for traceability.

Packaging automation

Across the US, packaging automation is a growing trend. The advent of coronavirus did not change that but only fuelled a drive in the uptake of automated packaging machines. With growing consumer demand, reducing the workforce according to social distancing protocols is immensely challenging for many businesses. Introducing automation carries many benefits but can ensure output is accelerated at a time when it needs to be.

Packaging automation facilitates social distancing and promotes better hygiene across the packaging line with a largely hands-free approach. Reducing human contact with packaging enhances hygiene at all levels and today’s machines can handle the packaging from product placement to cartoning for distribution.

How Jacob White can help

Jacob White knows that the US packaging industry is facing enormous challenges at the moment. Whether you have short or long-term challenges, let us help. We have over a century of experience building uniquely tailored packaging machines to suit your precise needs.

The friendly team at Jacob White are here as people to support you, consultants to guide you and engineers to build your packaging machines across the US. With a global maintenance and parts service, we make sure we’ve ticked the boxes for the sustainability of your solutions. Talk to us today about how we’re supporting US packaging businesses like yours to meet the increased demand they’re facing during the crisis. Let us show you how we’re helping them to future-proof the packaging line and achieve their long-term goals. Talk to us today.

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