Want to know about the latest packaging trends? The good folks behind the Pentawards are the people to ask.
Founded in 2007, Pentawards is the leading global platform and community for packaging design. It's committed to recognising excellence in the discipline and connecting people from across the world through its annual awards, gala ceremony, international conferences, digital events, books and social platforms.
It's also behind the Pentawards Festival 2022, which will take place in London in a few weeks with headline speakers including Lily Cole, ex-model and environmentalist; Argentinian-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone; and Mauro Porcini, SVP and chief design officer at PepsiCo, among many more. So we asked some of these names to identify the biggest trends in packaging over the last year and what lies behind them.
Some of their answers may surprise you. We share their insights below and give some examples of the trends in action.
"We're noticing an increase in the number of requests to design bespoke glass bottles," says Ivan Bell, group CEO and managing director at Stranger & Stranger. "Clients are deciding to invest in their brands and go bespoke with stand-out bottle structures; designs that allow a brand to be more individual and iconic."
This is mainly, he adds, because the timeline and costs associated with producing an off-the-shelf glass bottle versus bespoke glass bottle production – which were once hugely divergent – are now virtually the same, as few suppliers hold stock of catalogue items anymore.
"This has happened due to the pressures on global supply chains across the industry, with shortages of materials and much longer lead times," explains Ivan. "So, many of our clients are deciding that if they have to wait, they may as well go bespoke."
Sustainability has been a hot topic in packaging for years now. But Ivan says that recently, there's been a huge increase in the desire by clients to eliminate their reliance on single-use plastics.
"When designing, when possible, we are now looking to specify materials and processes that can bring a positive benefit to help with sustainability and increase awareness of alternative materials and processes," he adds. "This is a trend that will surely continue to grow strongly."
One example is Wild's refillable deodorant sticks, one of 2021's Gold Pentawards winners. Designed by Morrama, the case is made using post-consumer recycled plastic and custom-designed to be used again and again. Refills are 100% plastic free and slim enough to fit through the letterbox. Apart from the recycled and recyclable packaging box, the only disposable component is the bamboo pulp refill cartridge, which can be either recycled or home composted.
Another innovative product pushing the sustainability trend is the Pinter, winner of a 2021 silver Pentaward. This world-first reusable brewing unit lets you brew 10 pints of fresh beer or cider at home. The ingredients are delivered in 'Pinter Packs' that fit through your letterbox.
Other sustainability-focused products honoured by the Pentawards include Fenty Skin, whose packaging features refillable components and minimal secondary packaging, and OceanIQ – a vegan washing detergent brand that makes smart use of plastic waste.
The trend for sustainability in packaging isn't just observed in household products, though. As Emma Follett, chief creative officer at Design Bridge, notes: "One of the most exciting things that I have seen is our reappraisal of what luxury means and how to deliver luxury more sustainably."
She points to how champagne house Ruinart recently redesigned their gift boxes, winning them a 2021 Gold Pentaward. The new design was made from 99% paper, fully recyclable, and exactly sculpted to the form of the bottle. Highlighting the bottle's iconic curves, the minimalist paper shell provides a soft touch and finely engraved texture that really gives it a luxury feel.
"This was a great example of luxury packaging that delivers to the expectation and the experience needed for a premium product," she says, "But completely reappraising what is needed to deliver that in a category where, historically, more is more, bigger is better, more layers equal more intrigue. In actuality, less can be more, and so beautiful. It's set a new bar for luxury packaging, making us all stop and think about how we can do things differently."
For Design Bridge, this approach is baked into the design and production process from the start. "The drive for more sustainable packaging is ongoing and vital," explains Emma. "80% of the environmental impact of a product is decided at the briefing stage, so we should be holding ourselves accountable to developing a brief with our clients that truly delivers a 'shared value' outcome: benefits for people and planet as well as business."
The lockdowns of 2020-21 meant even the most tech-challenged of people had to get to grips with shopping online. Now, shops are open again, but we can't put the genie back in the bottle. The convenience of e-tail means that physical stores must compete harder than ever. And that's influencing packaging hugely right now, says Emma.
"Our experience of opening packaging and getting more from the brand experience than you would usually get online is expected now more than ever," she says. "It's all about that reveal moment, the wow factor, combined with the opportunity to tell more of the brand story and really engage with the consumer in a moment where you have their undivided attention.
"Plus, with new technologies in printing, manufacturing, delivery, loyalty and so on, we also have new and inclusive ways of engaging with consumers, such as brand ownable voice skills, personalised packaging, and experiences that are produced for people's own personal, inclusive needs, relating to ease of opening, reading, using and understanding."
The overriding theme is, as Emma puts it: "We were not born the same, so brands shouldn't treat us all the same. New technology will enable agencies to design truly end-to-end, personalised and inclusively tailored experiences to the unique needs of an individual where it's the norm, not the exception."
A recent example of packaging with a true 'wow factor' is the limited-edition packaging for skincare brand SK-II Pitera, winner of two Gold Pentawards in 2021. Inspired by the idea that younger consumers choose brands that promote self-expression rather than restrictive beauty ideals, each pack uses various hand-crafted techniques, including 'tapeography', hand-drawn marker typography, and mixed media collage using vintage street art posters that resemble urban graffiti.
There's also the packaging for Ben Geng rice, a Silver Pentaward winner in 2021, which steps well outside the expected norms of rice packaging in China, whilst also taking it back to its roots. Inspired by the Chinese Year of the Ox, the traditional cloth bag packaging can be recycled and has been created with environmentally friendly ink.
The trend can also be seen in the fish, meat, and poultry brand Eat Whatever You Want. A Gold Pentaward winner in 2021, this delightfully playful packaging makes it look like you're snatching food from the mouth of a hungry beast when it's turned on its side.
Mauro Porcini, SVP and chief design officer at PepsiCo, identifies our fifth and final trend as what he calls 'Strong & Proud'. He's talking about "Brands leveraging their platforms in a purposeful way" by taking a social position on the issues affecting our world.
One recent example of this trend in action is the packaging for olive oil brand Love is Love, which won it a Gold Pentaward in 2021. These designs focus on diversity by recognising all types of couples through a series of playful illustrations that use bold colours and a stylised design to stand out.
Another way brands are showing their social conscience is by producing packaging that's more accessible for disabled people. An example of this can be seen in the designs for ready-to-drink coffee brand Only For Your Eyes, which won a 2021 Gold Pentaward. The packaging has been developed exclusively in Braille, from screen-printed ink and varnish.
If you work in packaging design, you need to know about Pentawards. It's the leading network dedicated to recognising excellence in the discipline, and they've just announced its ﬁrst ever in-person Pentawards Festival.
Taking place on 22-23 September 2022 at London's Science Museum, the event will host a selection of world-class keynote speakers, industry debates and practical workshops. Its Meet the Brands: All Out Networking' event, held in the museum's Flight Gallery, will oﬀer pitching and networking opportunities with global brands.
The Festival will be split into three core sections: Sustainability 2.0, Authentic Inclusivity, and Essential Futures, with talking points ranging from circular economies and new sustainable materials to making diversity and inclusivity a driving force for change and the future of design agencies.
Speakers will include Argentinian-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone; Mauro Porcini, SVP and chief design officer at PepsiCo; Paula Chin, senior policy advisor at WWF; Lily Cole, ex-model and environmentalist; Ximena O'Reilly, global head of design for Nestle. And Jon Rathbone, packaging design lead at Meta. A gala ceremony will follow the Festival on 23 September at the Royal Opera House, where winners will be announced for this year's Pentawards competition.
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