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As importance for one-time-use packaging grows stronger, concern for sustainability seems to be getting thrown out the ...
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How COVID-19 has pushed brands to alter their product packaging and put their environmental concerns on hold for now

As importance for one-time-use packaging grows stronger, concern for sustainability seems to be getting thrown out the ...
  • Experts tell us how due to the pandemic, brands are trying to make changes in their packaging and design, in an attempt to make it safer.
  • The adage that ‘health is wealth’ seems to be truer like never before as experts said the focus is more on health and hygiene.
  • However, as the importance for immunity, safety and one-time-use packaging grows stronger, concern for sustainability seems to be getting thrown out the window for now.
After the outbreak of Coronavirus, many brands have tweaked their products, marketing strategy and what they offer to their consumers to cater to their evolving needs due to the ever-changing macro factors. Just yesterday, KFC decided to press pause on its iconic tagline ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ in a few markets because it doesn’t quite fit in with the current environment. Similarly, brands have also tweaked their product packaging and designs to highlight what matters the most today -- building immunity, hygiene and safety.

Post lockdown, consumers realised the importance of always being prepared and putting health first so they started stocking products. As a result, demand for packaged products such as Maggi, Parle-G, etc went up. Swiggy also introduced double-layered packaging that keeps the food fresh and safe. Packaging, therefore, is now being seen as a vital bridge between consumers and brands to effectively communicate that hygiene practices are maintained, consumer safety is prioritised and slapdash delivery doesn’t affect the core product for consumers.

Ronita Mukerjee – Executive Director, Client Services, Landor, said, “Health, Hygiene and Immunity are key drivers of modern day consumer needs. Brands are taking lots of proactive measures to convince consumers of utmost safety. Double layered packaging by restaurants who deliver via Swiggy is a great example of “innovating on the move.” On the other hand, modern grocers like Nature’s Basket are switching from cloth bags to single use paper bags that can be disposed of immediately after use. Sanitizers with goods delivered are thoughtful and effective. On pack communication around appropriate sanitization methods, immunity and health claims have become very popular. From dairy brands, staples to even cleaning agents; the emphasis has been on immunity building as well.”

As the pandemic spread, people’s focus on immunity grew. Search in volumes for recipes of immunity-boosting foods and benefits of natural products like turmeric, ashwagandha, etc., has surged manyfolds. Shashwat Das, Founder, Almond Branding said consumers are also paying more attention to what they are eating and how it affects their health so, brands have tweaked their packaging to convey the same.

Das said, “Due to the extended period of lockdown, consumers have been preferring to stockpile convenient packaged food products and hence brands are focussing on packaging that supports longer shelf-life. This is a big shift from earlier consumer trends for fresh produce and minimum preservatives. The adage that “Health is Wealth” seems to be truer like never before. Consumers are more concerned about their health and are now more involved in what they are eating. This has given brands the opportunity to relook at their portfolio in newer light. Some are just tweaking their packaging communication to include Immunity while others are bringing some changes in the actual product formulations or entirely new products that can boost immunity.”

To ensure that consumers avoid physical contact as much as possible, brands have added options on their packaging to payment gateways.

Ashwini Deshpande, Co-founder and Director, Elephant Design said, “Many brands are introducing various ways to facilitate e-payment by either introducing QR codes or partnering with payment gateways. Some have boosted their own ecommerce home deliveries. They have even created specific packaging for e-commerce.”

How to win consumer trust with new, safe packaging?

Given the current apprehensive scenario around safety and hygiene, brands are going the extra mile in communicating the practices they follow to make their products. However, is that enough to gain consumer trust?

Das said brands can come up with more innovative solutions to convey how hygienic and safe their products are.

“While it’s a good step to update your packaging design to include those health and safety benefits that you offer, please ensure to stay within the government guidelines for the claims that you can make. Do not stamp every product of yours as an Immunity Booster,” said Das.

Giving an example of an innovative solution, Das added, “Just like the Hot Dot sticker can assure if your Pizza is delivered hot, in coming days there will be packaging seals that will tell you if your parcel has been opened during delivery, to reassure consumers that their food is untouched and safe to consume. There is an increasing need for such innovation.”

Deshpande also advised keeping it real. She said, “Real solutions that work hard to deliver peace of mind to the consumers is the only way forward. I would never advise anything that is superficial because that will not last and will do no good.”

Arnab Ray, Creative Director, Landor said that there is a lot more that brands can do to establish trust. He said, “Brands can invest on on-pack interventions which call out precautions taken across the supply chain level, seal of trust to call out hygiene at manufacturing levels, responsible pack disposal callouts, with physical absence of sales persons packs can have DIY instructions on usage etc to name a few. Another important intervention is Brand Voice during these times. Brands can adopt a more empathetic tone to ease the minds of the consumers. For most brands, packaging has been designed keeping a brick and mortar experience in mind, but brands should do well to modify or develop secondary packaging that caters well to ecommerce and other online delivery models.”

Have brands forgotten about the environment?

For the last few years, we have seen many brands become more environment-friendly. There has been an increasing focus on sustainability. Globally, brands like Diageo, Unilever Limited have started reevaluating their packaging to put the environment first. However, the pandemic has forced many brands to prioritise consumer’s safety and keep their concerns for the environment and plans to launch green packaging on hold.

From using gloves while cleaning surfaces to one-time packaging and even PPE kits, everything is made of plastic now.

However, Das says that this is just a temporary phase and brands will go back to following sustainable practices post-COVID.

“While the focus on sustainable, recyclable and reusable packaging has been growing over the past few years, the priorities have clearly been shifting during these uncertain times, though I believe temporarily. While we shunned single-use packaging due to its wastefulness, now consumers are more comfortable with it as it seems more hygienic because of lesser/limited human-handling involved and the potential risk of virus transmission is minimised,” said Das.

Adding on how lack of infrastructure is the main reason behind this neglect towards the environment, Das said, “This only proves that the current infrastructure is unable to supply sustainable packaging options to meet the increased demand. That doesn’t mean we should stop advocating sustainable and recyclable packaging. Covid has only reminded us that there is a long way to go on sustainability. With the lockdown in place and increased in-home consumption, there is also a possibility that consumers become more environmentally conscious as they see higher than normal packaging in their own home trash that cannot be reused or recycled.”

Landor’s Ray opines that the pandemic has put sustainability on the back burner.

“While everyone does talk about sustainable packaging, the increase in plastic due to double packing, home delivery in plastic containers etc is setting the efforts on sustainable packs a few years back. Brands focussing on sustainable products and their packaging are far and few in between. The world has other, more immediate and pressing issues at the moment,” said Ray.

Deshpande said that the need for hygiene and sustainability is here to stay but India lacks infrastructure.

“We have no choice but to migrate to sustainable solutions and circular economy. As designers, we are constantly in search of materials that provide long-term hygiene efficacy, materials or processes that do least harm to the ecology and propose them to our client partners. The key is in not just finding materials or developing solutions. The challenge lies in finding suppliers of sustainable alternative materials and convertors who can process large scale efficient print & packaging output. This part is not aligned in India yet. So it becomes impossible for a large brand that requires very high output to align completely with sustainable solutions,” said she.