by John Clark, on 6/7/16 12:17 PM

If you were to ask 100 people in the packaging community what one word would reflect the greatest change facing the industry, many would say manufacturing and distribution; others might say shifting tastes; still others may say sustainability. And, in fairness, none of these answers would be wrong.

But I contend the one word that is going to have the greatest impact on the packaging industry is this: demographics.

Today’s consumers are living in more urban areas than ever before, and these consumers tend to be single or a single-parent household, technicallysavvy, and willing to indulge on premium products that enhance their quality of  life. These members of Generation X and Y (born between 1965 and 1994) are in their prime earning years, and with fewer family obligations, they are not averse to spending money.

And this modern consumer presents a host of issues for packaging providers:

Shifting Demographics — As we become a more urban society, we also become a household with fewer family members. The most common household type checked in the U.S. census was “person living alone.” This fact has all sorts of implications as far as retail product size and shelf life. Packaging designed to meet these demands at both the home and commercial level will become more prevalent as time passes.

Shifting Tastes — This generation does not want to drink its father’s beer. Go the beer aisle in any grocery store, and look at the bewildering selection of beers available today. And what is the determinant of purchase in many cases? The appeal of the packaging and the image it conveys. The ability to produce small custom batches of packaging at market-comparable costs will be the norm, not the exception.

Health Awareness — Terms such as “natural” or “organic” resonate with the modern consumer. Companies such as Burt’s Bees have developed compelling messages based on a consistency of packaging design holding true to the simple idea that what you put on your body should be made from the best that nature can provide. Creative packaging designs can enhance that message and encourage the consumer to try a new item or purchase items in different sizes or formulas.

Environmental Issues — Environmental issues are high on the priority list for Gen X and Y consumers. They bring their own shopping bags to the store, and they recycle what they can. Environmentally friendly products and packaging are not just a feature to these consumers—they are a require- ment. Designing packaging so it can be easily recycled after use should be a prime consideration.

Lightening the Load — Many consumers have shifted the purchasing point of acquisition. Although they may shop at a store or dealership to make their selection, the consumer purchases the item from companies such as Amazon for cost savings and tax avoidance. Since everything leaving the shipper’s facility carries a charge based on weight and size, small decreases in fiber content or packaging choices can have a major impact on cost savings. Companies such as Amazon are concerned about every single ounce of packaging requirements.

Space Premium — In smaller living spaces, there is less room for the things you bring into your life. Modern consum- ers are choosing quality over quantity in everything from the sheets they sleep on to the whiskey they drink. While in many cases the relative value of comparable items may be hard to distinguish, the quality of the packaging and graphics is often the determinant in deciding which item is purchased and which one sits on the shelf.

Seasonality — In the classic sense, seasonality can be one of the key factors in packaging design and customization. A summer ale showing oranges and lemons looks far more inviting in July than it would in December.

As Bob Dylan (at age 74, ironically, a member of the Silent Generation) once sang, “The Times, They Are a-Changin’.” And this is absolutely true in the pack- aging industry. Lighter, stronger, more vibrant, more tailored, less expensive, more environmentally friendly, and more sustainable packaging might not roll off the tongue as smoothly as some lyrics, but it’s the reality the industry is faced with.


By John Clark: The director of analytics at Amtech Software. He can be reached at jclark@



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