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How COVID-19 is Changing MEA Packaging Markets

Posted by Carla Colwell
06th July, 2020

As the spread of COVID-19 begins to decelerate, the shift in focus is now starting to encompass the global market disruptions and their effects on the packaging markets. Only when we also consider the widespread changes in consumer behaviour can we begin to understand and re-evaluate the foreseeable future of the sector.

In a $900 billion-a-year global industry, there will be both short- and long-term effects and challenges. According to industry experts, some of the biggest will be:

  • Increased safety measures for both consumer and worker protection
  • Higher hygiene standards
  • Unpredictable and fluctuating raw materials costs
  • Lifted single-use packaging restrictions
  • Changes in commercial business models
    • Increase in direct selling
    • Changing consumer channels
    • Distribution and logistics
  • Reduced output due to reduced staffing (social distancing)


Is sustainability taking a back seat?

This time last year, some of the biggest global packaging priorities and discussions were revolving around sustainability. The highly debatable use of plastics, recycling and development of bio-materials, to name a few, have been subject to intense discussion and consumer pressure.

Although sight hasn’t been lost of these issues in the Middle East packaging sector, the outbreak of COVID-19 has brought subjects such as hygiene and traceability to the fore. As consumer attitude has changed, so has demand, and this is likely to see single-use and individually-wrapped products rise once again in popularity and regions lift sanctions at least for the short-term.

If we look a little further ahead, industry experts predict that greater focus will again shift back to sustainability. This could result in the acceleration of development and use of bio-plastics and other innovative raw materials.


Changing demands and expectations during COVID-19

Across the Middle East, as in many other regions, there has been an increased demand for certain packaging since the start of the pandemic. However, some sectors have experienced fallout from the imposed travel restrictions. In the UAE, for example, we have seen the drinks packaging market experience a dramatic drop in demand for alcoholic beverages. This sector is largely fed by tourism as the locals are predominantly tee-total.

On the other hand, we see an increase in the need for pharmaceutical glass packaging while the recycling industry struggles to maintain operations during the outbreak. With social distancing measures still necessary (June 2020), any form of ‘normal’ operations may still be some way off yet.


Key predictions for trend changes in consumer expectation


Since 2015, sustainability trends have been steadily increasing and over the past two years have grown to be some of the top priorities for consumers. During the pandemic, focus on this has dropped considerably. There has also been a notable increase in the use and waste of single-use items, particularly PPE.

Experts predict that sustainability will again become a priority for consumers once the pandemic is over or under control.

Hygiene standards

Hygiene has never been such an important trend for consumers. It is predicted that this trend will drive short-term changes in hygiene standards. How packaging businesses handle hygiene trends over the long-term will be driven by these new standards and the solutions they implement.

Consumer demand

Consumer expectations are predicted to wane in terms of sustainability in the short-term. However, this is expected to return post-COVID-19. Some experts believe that the demand for hygiene standards and safety measures will outweigh other issues for some time yet.


Packaging digitisation to increase traceability is likely to soar in consumer expectations, according to some industry analysts. A growing number of consumers are concerned about provenance and it is expected that some form of digitisation will be needed to reach long-term expectations.


Preparing for the future and a ‘new normal’

Some Middle East packaging companies were already planning for growth and opting for automation across their operations. Many industry professionals understand that a fully-automated packaging line can help to address most of the challenges that COVID-19 is placing in the way of smooth, safe and cost-effective operations.

Now is the time for packaging businesses to regroup and take a broader approach to current processes and procedures. With a forcibly reduced workforce, yet growing demand for higher output, automation in key areas can enhance operational productivity and protect core staff.

Automatic packaging machines also deliver a hands-free approach for much of the product packaging journey. Even using a semi-automated system can significantly reduce the human intervention element and create a more sterile environment to increase protection and reduce the potential risk of the spread of bacteria.


How Jacob White can help

At Jacob White, we understand the importance of flexibility in the packaging industry. With short and long-term challenges to overcome, we know that careful consideration is needed to ensure the right solutions are in place at the right time for your business.

With more than 100 years of experience, building tailored packaging machines to suit every requirement, we can help you get clarity back into your operations. Talk to us about how we’re helping Middle East packaging companies like yours to meet increased packaging demands during this challenging time. Our clients are all over the world and we make sure you’re covered with a reliable, local service and maintenance team, wherever your packaging operations are in the Middle East.

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