Refreshing change: Staying relevant in the constantly evolving drinks category

Tuesday 23. January 2024 - Unlike some other sectors, the beverage industry is not going anywhere anytime soon. With an almost unique advantage of selling a product that its customers literally cant live without, we can expect to see bottles, cartons, and cans lining supermarket shelves for years to come.

2024 is already upon us, bringing new and old challenges for the drinks packaging sector.
But this consistency does not mean the industry isn’t changing. Like everyone else, drinks manufacturers have grappled with a rapidly changing landscape in recent years, with unexpected hurdles repeatedly throwing spanners into the works. Supply chain disruption, changing regulations, and evolving consumer tastes disrupt the playing field, leaving many businesses scrambling to keep up.
In this evolving landscape, the role of packaging in the drinks category is more important than ever. No longer just a protective barrier between a beverage and the outside world, packaging can help drinks manufacturers adapt to incoming trends and maintain their competitive advantage.
Achieving this requires staying ahead of the latest innovations, and savvy brand owners are leaving nothing to chance. While no one can predict the future, rather than read the tea leaves or scan the stars for solutions, today’s drinks manufacturers are turning to events like the upcoming Packaging Innovations & Empack 2024.
With 400 exhibitors and over 7,000 visitors descending on Birmingham’s NEC next month to learn about the latest technologies and strategies taking the packaging industry by storm, it’s clear that the industry is hungry – or perhaps thirsty – for answers. The conversations and networking at this event will give drinks manufacturers the closest thing they have to a vision of the future – helping them prepare a refreshing change for their drinks packaging.
Evergreen issues?
As much as some things change, others remain the same – and one of those things is the environment.
Issues around sustainability have dominated beverage packaging for years now, and do not look set to disappear any time soon. Packaging designed with sustainability in mind now serves as a major selling point for the eco-conscious consumer. As concerns around the planet grow, people are turning to drinks packaging that seeks to minimise or eliminate waste – and holding to account those brands that fail to act. Single-use plastics are under pressure, and materials that can replace them while retaining optimal barrier performance are in. Glass, metal, and paperboard are all long-established alternatives to plastic that provide an easier-to-recycle solution that does not necessarily cost the Earth.
This will be little surprise to anyone who has worked in the drinks sector; it’s no great secret that today’s consumers are showing their ethics through their shopping habits and opting to buy from brands that actively try to minimise their impact on the planet.
But sustainability’s popularity means that, in broad terms, everyone is doing it. To stand out and stay relevant in a sector where most businesses are now boasting about their easy-recycling, low-plastic options, doing the bare minimum is no longer enough.
Packaging should not just be another box to tick when it comes to protecting the planet. Drinks manufacturers need to keep pushing the standard higher and higher to protect the planet and stand out from the crowd.
What this means in practice, however, is not always crystal clear. Is reducing plastic use in bottles enough? What about eliminating shrink film, or taking plastic beverage rings out of multipacks? Do businesses need to look into biodegradable plant-based polymers, with renewable raw materials that boast a smaller carbon footprint than traditional petroleum-based alternatives? In a crowded, competitive landscape, with new innovations emerging every year, it can be difficult to see the right way forward.
That is not to mention the changes in consumer attitudes regarding other parts of the beverage buying experience. As well as more eco-conscious packaging design, today’s shoppers are increasingly demanding personalisation, connectivity, luxury, and convenience. Alongside protecting the contents, the best packaging ensures that a product is attracting sales, especially in a market as competitive as beverages.
Different designs can reinvigorate a brand and getting it right can result in a very quick transition from stagnant to soaring sales. QR code integration on labels, bottle caps that serve as unique marketing tools, and easy-to-carry multipacks that let time-poor consumers deal with their shopping quickly, can be crucial differentiators that help a beverage stand out on the shelf. The call for customisation could lead to a growing popularity for different manufacturing techniques. To provide more personalised labels, drinks brands may consider switching to digital printing to improve their batch-to-batch flexibility, facilitating smaller production runs.
Seeking a solution
These trends – and – more – are all on the agenda at the hottest ticket in packaging. While trends prediction articles are a dime a dozen at this time of year, rather than sifting through pages of prognostications, drinks packaging professionals looking to differentiate their offering can benefit from booking themselves a place at Packaging Innovations & Empack.
Thriving in this sector depends on immersing in the latest innovations and strategies for creating truly outstanding packaging solutions. The best way to achieve this is by forging partnerships and networks that last a lifetime – and that is what Packaging Innovations & Empack is all about.
Over February 21 & 22, experts, thought leaders, and big-name brands from across the industry will meet at Birmingham’s NEC to showcase and share their latest developments. The event will offer a comprehensive overview of the trends that are transforming packaging, and the products and services fostering creativity and collaboration.
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