Covid-19 Impacts on Packaging Design

Patiently staring into our crystal ball, we wonder how Covid-19 will shape the packaging and store design for many of our clients – past and future. As CPG package designers and researchers, we decided to go into action and ask some experts about what they are currently facing and the questions or issues they see popping up. Because we believe that good design can make positive impact, we wonder how we might rebuild a better post-pandemic world rather than returning to “normal”. 

CPG Experts

We did a bunch of reading and asked this powerhouse team what they thought: Faith Hurley and Stacy Callighan (PinPoint Collective), Holly Mensch (Innovation expert), Scott Lerner (Farmhouse Culture), Pam Daniels (Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute, Welcome Industries). 

Packaging Design in Our Covid-19 World

Consumer behaviors have changed, given the need for social distancing and avoiding crowded indoor environments. Supply chains have been disrupted as more consumers move to e-commerce or shopping ‘picking’ services like Instacart. As Scott Lerner identified, “I think safety and health are two drivers moving forward. Organic and sustainability will only grow post Covid.” Holly Mensch agrees saying, “the pandemic has accelerated some of the macro trends already underway in the packaging industry – specifically, sustainability, and the shift to E-Commerce.  These are true of CPG, but these fundamental shifts are and can happen across all goods (e.g., electronics, etc.)”. The weak or inequitable areas of the supply chain (shipping distances & delays, shortages, food waste, animal health, changes in channels) are also highlighted as distribution and shopping habits change (FoodCrunch Podcast). 

Increase in DTC & E-Commerce

All of our respondents identified this continued ramp up of Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) or e-commerce. As more people turn to their computers and phones to shop, packaging design has to contend with shipping issues as well as sustainability.  Mensch saw the following opportunity: “E-Commerce may also reduce or eliminate the need for outer packaging. I may be able to order 50 snack bars for a camping trip vs. having to buy nine 6-count boxes. This could increase the customization AND eliminate unneeded packaging.” Lerner agrees “lightweight sustainable materials and outer shipping containers will be required to keep costs down.”

Pam Daniels shared that the Welcome Industries measuring cup packaging is not holding up to the beating that it gets in an Amazon polybag. The beautiful (pricey) boxes look great at retailers like the MoMA Store, but as a small business, Daniels is aware that the DTC business drives sales. Unsure if it makes sense yet  to carry multiple packaging designs for different channels at this stage, Daniels worked with designers to find a new package design that would withstand the shipping, be cost effective, showcase the product AND meet their desire for low environmental impact. That’s a tall order. 

PinPoint Collective Food & Beverage Covid-19 Trends on Packaging Design

Packaging Design and the Climate

PinPoint Collective identified the impact of the “Climate Priority and Positivity” trend. “As concern for the environment continues to increase, consumers are becoming consistently open to make more conscious choices and expect companies to take the lead in showing demonstrable change on environmental issues.” They see an opportunity for CPG companies to steer and expand climate-positive farming, sourcing, packaging and consumer education.

Changes to the Retail Environment

But if people are spending less time in stores, directional limits are changing how we view grocery shelves and in-store demos are difficult, how do people and retailers find and try new products? Discovery or Tasting Boxes replace trade shows in terms of introducing new products to retailers. “Experiential innovations will predominate—like in-store demonstrations, sampling, access to augmented and virtual reality tools, and interactions with salespeople whose goal is not to push products but to maximize consumer enjoyment,”  said Barbara E. Kahn in Politico’s recent article How To Re-design The World For Coronavirus And Beyond.  Social media’s influencers are playing a big role in introducing new products with giveaways, coupons and reviews. 

Covid-19 Grocery Store Signage - Impact on Packaging Design?

And with pickers actually in the stores rather than shoppers, messaging and differentiation will be key. “Designing packs to display and showcase the product will not only make it more attractive to prospective buyers but also easier for pickers to select when preparing the customer’s purchase. Manufacturers should make the most of packaging by incorporating easily identifiable labelling or new solutions with barcodes or QR codes,” suggests Packaging Europe.

The retail environment might need to become more calming and clean. The Pinpoint Collective pov is that “low-touch formats and clear sightlines will appease contact-wary shoppers”. Perhaps robots will even play a bigger role! Mensch posits that we might even see wrapped produce to minimize the fear factor of many shoppers touching the same fruits and veggies. 

Creating a More Ethical Shopping Journey

The good news – if there’s a silver lining to be found – is that consumers are consciously turning towards more local, eco-conscious products. Shoppers are rediscovering the power of community and therefore are looking for companies that are in line with their values (like sustainable sourcing, organic, giving back, low-plastic, etc.). Pinpoint Collective sees huge potential in investing in local producers, building empathy and strengthening local communities.  

Package design won’t save the world, but considering the above factors in the design process can produce packaging, messaging and shopping experiences that help consumers get what they want without negatively impacting our own health and safety.

If you’re interested in reading more about how Covid-19 is shaping our world, check out these articles:

  • Most Shoppers Plan to Keep Stocking Their Pantry (FoodDrive)
  • Beyond COVID-19: The next normal for packaging design (McKinsey)
  • 4 Inevitable Packaging Changes After COVID-19 (Packaging Digest)
  • How toilet paper and avocados help explain the grocery store of the future (Fast Company)


Want to see more of our work? Check out our showcase, or contact us to see how we might help you navigate your package design.


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