Top Packaging Trends to Watch in 2023

Jan 04, 2023 by Mark Dingley

How do you neatly box end-of-packaging-line challenges?


What packaging trends should you be watching? No matter your product, packaging plays a powerful role in protecting the product, grabbing consumer attention and communicating information.

But what are the new trends in packaging that will enable brands to compete in 2023?

The Big Picture

According to McKinsey’s latest report on packaging, there are five key trends set to impact the industry in the next 10 years:

  1. Growth of e-commerce: requires more-efficient packaging designs
  2. Consumer preferences: from sustainability to personalisation and bold designs
  3. Brand and retail margin compression: putting pressure on suppliers to drive costs down for packaging
  4. Sustainability: growing pressure from governments, industry bodies and consumers
  5. Digitisation: making it easier to interact with consumers and improve the supply chain

Let’s take a look at how these will play out for packaging in 2023.

Paper, plants and infinitely recyclable packaging

You’ve heard it before, but no brand can afford to shift the focus off sustainability in 2023.

Since the pandemic, consumers have taken an increasingly sophisticated view of sustainability and changed their habits accordingly. In an EY survey, over seven in 10 Australians (71%) and New Zealanders (72%) believe brands have a responsibility to make a positive change in the world, with 78% and 80% respectively saying the behaviour of a company is as important as what it sells.

What kind of behaviour are we talking about? When it comes to packaging, consumers are demanding products to be packaged with as little waste as possible. In fact, the zero-waste packaging market witnessed growth at a CAGR of 5.8% during the historical period (2015-2021, Future Market Insights).

Single-use plastics make up 50% of current global waste – most of which is created by the food & beverage packaging industry.

As plastic packaging continues to fall out of favour, more manufacturers are turning to paper packaging.

Some brands are using paper pouches that are fully recyclable and have the plastic linings removed. For example, in 2021, Nestlé switched its world-famous Smarties confectionary brand to a recyclable paper packaging solution in Australia.

For those who still want the properties of plastic, there are newcomers in the plant-based plastics space. Also known as bioplastics, these are biodegradable and recyclable polymers made from renewable biomass sources such as maise, straw, and other crops.

Because they are derived from plants, they are environmentally friendly packaging options and will entirely disintegrate under the correct conditions. It creates no pollutants when it decomposes, uses less carbon in production, and minimises how much waste is sent to landfills. Plant-based packaging is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 6% from 2022-2031 and reach $20.34 billion by 2031.

Meanwhile, new Australian plastic recycling startup Samsara is going straight to the source of the problem: plastic. Samsara has been working with Woolworths Group to bring the idea of infinite recycling to life. The startup is using technology that breaks down plastics with enzymes and makes plastic infinitely recyclable. It aims to convert 5,000 tonnes of recycled plastic into Woolworths’ brand packaging, preventing new plastic from being made from scratch.



Another key trend that comes from the demand for more sustainable products is refillable packaging. This allows consumers to refill packaging rather than buy new packaging every time.

For example, Zero Co personal care and home cleaning products that are packaged recycled materials diverted from landfill. You can order online, then return the packaging to be refilled.

The Body Shop is another company that has embraced refillable packaging. The retailer rolled out refill stations at 400 stores globally in 2021. All consumers need to do is pick up an aluminium bottle from in store, refill, reuse and repeat.

A recent survey shows 81% of consumers care about the environment and 61% would consider paying more for a sustainably packaged product. So, if there’s a way of making your packaging more sustainable, now is the time to take action.

Get e-commerce ready

Research shows online shopping is here to stay, with e-commerce sales expected to account for a quarter of all retail sales worldwide by 2025. This growth is creating and expanding new avenues of packaging demand.

The challenge for manufacturers is that e-commerce packaging needs to meet new and different needs.

First, it needs to be robust enough to withstand at least some of the rough handling of shipping outers and crates.

E-commerce requirements for robustness are currently roughly three to four times higher than traditional standards for package units. For example, packaging is typically drop-tested from five angles for store deliveries and from as many as 18 angles for e-commerce shipping.

There can be less investment in “on-the-shelf” printing for e-commerce, as the product is not competing against other brands on the shelf. However there’s a greater need to improve the consumer’s unboxing experience and facilitate easy returns.

For example, Koala was the first mattress company in Australia to rethink the traditional mattress purchase and delivery experience. The Koala mattress is ordered online and delivered on the same day in a compressed package.

Koala also recommends to customers that while waiting for their mattress to decompress, they can sort the mattress packaging into the different materials to be recycled.

The rise of e-commerce also means there will be a trend away from primary and secondary packaging to one layer of packaging. In other words, primary packaging will increasingly be designed to allow direct shipment to consumers without the need for a secondary protective outer layer.

This has already started in the USA with a laundry detergent product presented specifically for online orders. The detergent’s packaging reduces its overall weight in transit, and handling has been improved with a plastic container that fits snugly into a rectangular board shoe or raft.

Or check out the wine company that has reimagined the traditional glass wine bottle into a flat bottle that fits through a standard letterbox and is made from 100% recycled PET.

With the expansion of e-commerce, demand is also increasing for packaging designs that efficiently meet the needs of advanced and AI-enabled or fully automated warehousing and filling technologies.

Smart packaging

Smart packaging, aka intelligent and active packaging, is seeing enormous growth in the packaging industry today.

The pandemic means consumers are more familiar with QR codes than ever. As a result, more and more brands are boosting their packaging’s power as a platform for information and brand messaging.

From a consumer perspective, smart packaging offers many benefits, including enhanced unboxing experiences, eye-catching design, product authentication, security and connection with the brand.

For brands, this type of packaging offers a more tailored experience for consumers and protects your brand against the risk of counterfeiting.

Australian wine company 19 Crimes has become a global phenomenon for its living labels. The bottles of wine are brought to life via AR integration with a mobile app. Once consumers scan the label using the app, it tells consumers the tales of notorious criminals in a video.

Gender-neutral packaging

Gender-identity conversations and changing gender norms are increasingly influencing packaging design.

Historically, brands might bottle up two different versions of the same moisturiser or shampoo, with one to appeal to men and the other to women.

Now, brand owners are putting less emphasis on gender-specific cues and more focus on gender-inclusive pack designs.

For example, Aussie undies brand Bonds announced in 2022 it is going gender neutral, with a three-year plan to remove non-inclusive language across its products, packaging and stores.

As part of this, the brand is doing an audit of all gendered terms used across its products, packaging and stores to review any deemed non-inclusive by 2025. It has also appointed an advocacy panel including a diverse group of LGBTQIA+ people to share their experiences and perspectives, and provide insights and advice to guide the project.

Bold and beautiful

Being eye-catching on a shelf is one thing, but being eye-catching on Instagram opens up a whole new world for packaging design.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new sense of creativity and fun is attracting the eye of consumers who are bored of basics. It’s all about maximalist packaging filled with bright and bold colours, gradient palettes, flashy typography and intricate details.

Nostalgia is another big trend that can be brought to life on packaging. A growing number of brands are tapping into the aesthetics of the decades past, such as the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

The craft-beer scene is a great place to flex creative muscles, with brewers such as The Welder’s Dog experimenting with psychedelic colours and gradients in their packaging.

Over to you

Companies that can anticipate these trends and adapt their packaging strategies will reap the rewards. So how will you integrate these trends into your packaging design in 2023?