Austin, Texas — Packaging, including plastics, is entering a "new normal" where sustainability and electronic commerce considerations will play an increasingly outsized role.
"I'd like to make the case that we are entering really a new trend and a new normal," David Feber, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co.'s Detroit office, said at the recent Packaging Conference in Austin.
"If I could oversimplify and cut up the last 22 years or so into three different sections, I think the first 10 years of this century, it was really about substrate wars. PET and plastic was growing; it was taking share from glass and aluminum in some cases, as was flexible packaging, stand-up pouches. There was a lot of growth," Feber said.
"The next 10 years we started to see sustainability come into more focus. The big driver in sustainability was lightweighting and downgauging, which was really a cost-reduction play, but also using less, which is good," he explained.
"We started to see recycled content actually start to be trading at a premium to virgin and put into materials. And we started to see the first types of e-commerce and digital in the grocery category," said Feber, who leads McKinsey's packaging group.
And then COVID-19 struck.
"During the pandemic, we really hit two big shifts that hit a tipping point. One was sustainability sensitivity. At the very early part of the pandemic, things kind of went backward where there was a big increase in single-use packaging," Feber said.
"And then there was a counterreaction and the world stood up and said enough is enough. And we've seen regulation and consumer commitments really at an all-time high. It really is a new chapter. It's not like it has been for the last 10 or 15 years," he said.