2019 and out

25 February 2020

Packaging Today presents a summary of the biggest innovations, developments and trends that took place over 2019

The bookend of a year is traditionally the time look back, examine, analyse and draw conclusions about the trends and innovations that have developed over the previous 12 months. This February data analytics company GlobalData published a presentation on the top trends in 2019. Using this as a rough guide, we can trace the trends that set the year alight and review the evolution of consumer demands.

Carbohydrates are dead, long live fat

Fat is good. Underlying this new trend is the recognition that consumer views toward carbohydrates and fat are changing, as health villains continue to shift over time. Today, carbohydrates are seen as more closely linked with weight gain, while fat is seen as more sating. Innovation in ‘healthy swaps’ and fats that were once considered off-limits – like lard and ghee – is picking up.

Those ‘healthy swaps’ have reduced the intake of carbohydrates as consumers increasingly believe that sugars and carbohydrates are the most responsible aspects of food that contribute to weight gain – 58% of those surveyed by GlobalData felt that they those two were main weight-gain offenders, while only 16% blamed fats. Voguish diets like Keto also encourage eating fats and removing carbohydrates.

Better the alcohol you know

Alcoholic beverages are incorporating ‘better-for-you’ ingredients like fruit juice, water, tea and more. Consumers are gravitating toward lighter, less calorific non-alcoholic drinks, and these preferences are also impacting alcoholic beverage innovation. Alcoholic drinks manufacturers are paying new attention to nutrients, calorie counts and healthful ingredients, taking products to new and interesting places.

Productive awareness

Consumers are increasingly mindful of the wellness implications of their consumption choices across the fast-moving consumers goods (FMCG) chain. They better understand the relationship between the products they purchase and personal wellness. That awareness manifests itself in food and also the way products can leave negative downstream effect on bodies and the environment – soap that kills germs, for example, can also cause health problems.

Full disclosure

Consumers are demanding to know more about the products they buy and use, from environmental and health standpoints. FMCG manufacturers have started to disclose more and more details about product ingredients, supply chains and packaging materials. Social media, and more broadly the internet, have helped to foster a culture of transparency, where bad moves are punished and openness can inspire good publicity. As a result, full disclosure has fast become the norm.

Whether product makers are comfortable with total transparency or not, it is now an imperative relationship between manufacturer and consumer, and firms that have adapted quicker are in a superior position. This is critical trend has been at the absolute forefront of packaging in 2019.

CBD reaches new heights

Cannabis, and most pertinently derivative compounds like cannabidiol (CBD), has entered the mainstream. Traditional soft drink categories like carbonates have started to conform to this trend by including the ingredient in products. CBD is a favoured extract linked to cannabis because it provides therapeutic value rather than offering a psychoactive high that the material is still best known for. This is a trend likely to go from strength to strength.


Companies are finding new ways to appeal to groups that may have felt overlooked in retail and packaging campaigns in the past, like the LGBTQ community. Nobody wants to be ignored or have their needs subsumed into larger, less targeted segments. Inclusive FMCG innovation celebrates diversity with products that better meet those intersectional needs. Plus, consumers are increasingly attracted to brands that are authentic and relatable and brands that demonstrate renewed inclusivity have grown and swollen their reputations.

Regulation regulation regulation

Global governments have exercised more power over products and markets. The tendency of governments all over the world to regulate or ban specific types of packaging and products has grown further through the year. Self-regulation has failed to shift the numbers on key issues like obesity and plastic pollution, a failure that has empowered consumers to pressure governments to take action.

For example, Palau, a tiny island in the Pacific, is banning ‘reef toxic’ sunscreens to help preserve its coral reefs. Beginning 1 January 2020, in a development that also includes tourists, the import or sale of sunscreen that contains any one of 10 prohibited ingredients faces a fine of $1,000. These legislative interventions in markets are likely set to increase in 2020.

Seeds of change

Brands have also rushed to add plant-based ingredients to their products throughout the year in a bid to capitalise on that renewed consumer interest in the origin and ingredients of the products they buy. Perhaps most inventively this trend is not restricted to food or beverages. Companies have been continually finding new and unusual ways to incorporate plant-based ingredients, because plant-based ingredients are seen as safer, more natural and better for the environment. The desire to promote products as sustainable and environmentally friendly ensures that we will be seeing a lot more green innovation.

Consumption will be digitised

Smartphone apps, smart speakers, digital tools and more technology are beginning to guide consumer decisions. New technologies can help customise products and make much better purchase choices than one can make independently. For example, smart speaker penetration is increasing dramatically. Over 20 million homes in the US currently own a smart speaker. By the year 2022, over half of American homes are projected to own one. The proliferation of QR codes on packaging and smartphone-considerate labelling has also grown this year.

FMCG companies have felt the need to reposition and stay flexible to ensure they remain relevant when new technologies guide and shape consumption, as is happening continually.

Ordinary to extraordinary

FMCG manufacturers are adding and promoting additional product benefits that go beyond the ordinary, making products extraordinary. Today's consumer expects more out of the products they use and enjoy and companies are obliging with enhanced benefits. FMCG companies are accumulating up product benefits as a way to stand out from the competition and move beyond competitor offerings.

The best instance of this desire to increase marketability of well-known products is bottled water, where the ‘ordinary-to-extraordinary’ transition is inspiring innovation with marketers tasked to continually find new ways to eke out extra value and highlight their products from the ubiquity of bottled water.

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