This article was originally published in Flexible Packing Magazine.
As we move further into the digital age, e-commerce continues to grow with the rise of online shopping outlets such as Amazon and Google Shopping. According to U.S. Commerce Department research, American consumers spent about $517 billion online in 2018. Furthermore, Statista estimates there will be 1.92 billion digital buyers globally in 2019 and forecasts that number to continue to grow with a predicted 2.14 billion digital buyers by 2021.
With the growth of online shopping comes new opportunities for the consumer packaged goods industry. The food industry, in particular, is likely to see substantial growth as consumers are starting to purchase more packaged food products online—a departure from the past when online purchasing was generally limited to non-consumable items. This creates added pressure for these brands to implement more effective and efficient packaging for the rigorous e-commerce supply chain.
Simultaneous to the rise of e-commerce, the flexible packaging market is also growing. Flexible packaging provides obvious benefits in the shipping process, such as being easier to pack and fit within a cardboard box. Flexible packaging also offers several other opportunities for brands to provide consumers with a more convenient and functional experience compared to rigid packages, especially for food, beverages and beauty products.
Fitments Add To Pouches’ Versatility
Thanks to the versatility of flexible packaging, fitments that enhance the consumer experience are a natural and valuable incorporation, even in the e-commerce environment. However, it is important for brands to work with an e-commerce certified partner who can develop solutions that can withstand the rigorous path to consumer.
For example, producers of baby food have been transitioning to pouches over glass jars for increased protection and functionality, as it enables parents to take food products for their young children on the go. Parents are thus starting to enjoy more independence, as baby food is easily transported without worries of the package breaking or leaking. Child-friendly pouch spouts make it easy for kids to consume products such as fruit puree or applesauce. Pouch spouts and closures also offer on-the-go convenience and tamper evidence benefits
Other examples of categories that are making their way into functional flexibles formats include sour cream, sauces and condiments, yogurts, syrups and spreads. Inverted pouch fitment solutions provide superior functionality and help brands stand out on the shelf. For example, the Sierra solution for STANDCAP includes a fitment, flip-top closure, and Aptar’s SimpliSqueeze® valve technology, which together creates a more convenient application as it eliminates the need for utensils, while offering stability and easy storage.
Keep Consumer Experience Top of Mind
When it comes to e-commerce, flexible packaging provides a unique opportunity for CPGs and online retailers to bring convenience and functionality to their products with added protection during shipping. Flexible packaging helps products withstand the rigors of the e-commerce supply chain while providing a positive consumer experience and a sustainable solution.
While the way consumers shop may be shifting, their expectations for product integrity remain steadfast. Consumers expect their product to arrive in pristine condition and to perform the same way, if not better than, the product would have when purchased at a brick-and-mortar shop. Since e-commerce has a more rigorous supply chain, to provide consumers with the experience they crave, brands need to consider packaging solutions that protect products from vibrations, impact and changes in air pressure.
Flexible packaging can be a great solution to these problems, since it can (unlike glass or tin cans, for example) better withstand impact and compensate for changes in air pressure. Flexible pouches tend to have lower failure rates than rigid packaging, as they are less likely to crack open. When paired with the right closure, they can provide additional protection. For example, some flexible packages have double closure systems, flip lids and other features that safeguard against leaks or spills.
Besides considering a packaging format, brands can also get ahead of these challenges by partnering with the right supplier, such as those participating in the Amazon Packaging Support and Supplier Network (APASS). Participating packaging companies, such as Aptar, provide services in compliance with Amazon’s ISTA-6 testing procedures, which simulate shipping from Amazon fulfillment centers to a consumer’s door. These tests help ensure products remain intact, ultimately making for a better consumer experience and brand image.
Big Opportunity for Small Brands
E-commerce presents a valuable opportunity for startup businesses to launch products and create brand awareness. Because it can be difficult for startups and smaller brands to gain in-store real estate, e-commerce can be an avenue for small- and medium-sized companies vying for market share, as it can be more likely that consumers discover the products.
This means that for smaller companies, it is even more crucial to deliver a superior consumer experience. Once again, flexible packaging can help achieve a positive perception for a brand. Flexible pouches will not only help ensure the product arrives safely but also position the brand as forward-thinking and invested in consumer interests.
Sustainability Is An Added Benefit
There is a common misperception that flexible packaging isn’t as sustainable as rigid because it is not always recyclable. However, flexible packaging not only provides a significantly better product-to-package ratio, but it is also an opportunity to reduce materials used, consume less fossil fuels and it can reduce the amount of food waste as well as the volume of packaging waste in landfills.
In fact, research from the Battelle Memorial Institute conducted for the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) has shown flexible pouches to consume significantly less energy than rigid packaging during manufacturing and transportation prior to being filled. Flexible beverage pouches, for example, consume half the amount of energy compared to the closest alternative. The FPA research also found that flexible beverage pouches generate 75 percent less emissions than the closest alternative. Furthermore, there are some recyclable flexible packaging solutions available today, and most producers of flexible packaging are innovating ways to make their solutions even more sustainable.
A Better Consumer Experience
As brands continue to be impacted by these radical shifts in consumer trends nationally and on a global scale, they will need to re-evaluate their packaging solutions to stay ahead of the challenges presented by e-commerce. Fortunately, innovators in flexible packaging and closure solutions can help brands not only find ways to further appeal to their consumers but also ensure a more sustainable future. Those brands that look to implement flexible solutions to ensure a positive consumer experience will be better positioned for success now and well into the future.