2021 Consumer Paperboard Packaging Trends

The world turned upside down in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic shifting how we all live, work, play – and pack and ship.

“We had a crazy 12 months,” says Chad Kravick, Vice President at Badger Paperboard. “Last year changed everything in everybody’s lives, including the packaging room.” 

More Packages in Smaller Bundles

More packages are being shipped to people’s homes today than ever before – and many of these are being sent in smaller packets and individual boxes. While big retailers like Amazon and Walmart account for a large portion of this shift, there are few businesses that haven’t been impacted by this sudden change in consumer purchasing behavior. 

Shipping in smaller batches also means there’s an increased risk of product damage. Kravick says, “Manufacturers used to ship in these large palletized cartons to big-box stores and sell them that way. When they’re palletized they’re pretty safe, but now they’re shipping them to people’s homes and they get pretty beat through, so they have to change the way they are packaged.” 

Pandemic Packaging Safety 

Safety considerations have also changed how people view packaging. The National Institute of Health determined that porous substrates like chipboard do not hold the COVID-19 virus as long as solid surface substrates. The virus can live up to 24 hours on porous surfaces, but up to three days on other types, such as plastics. Heading into 2021, these safety issues will continue to impact how manufacturers make their packaging purchase decisions.  

Another trend that Kravick has seen from his network of nearly 500 distributors is that more end-users are seeking single-source distributors for all of their packaging needs. “This saves time and money,” Kravick says, “and there’s less invoicing.”

Seamless Online Experiences

Ecommerce platforms have also become more common in the industry over the last two years, which helps eliminate human error in the process of order fulfillment. End users make a purchase, which is sent to the distributor, and then passed electronically to a manufacturer, creating a seamless, automatic process. This trend, too, is on course to accelerate. 

Heavy News on Freight

Finally, freight costs are expected to continue to go up. “Freight costs tripled in 2020,” says Kravick. “So many people were shipping to homes, so more freight companies were tied up with deliveries.”

To help offset these costs, Badger Paperboard has encouraged the replacement of corrugated pallet sheets with chipboard pallet sheets. “A truckload of corrugated sheets – 6,000 sheets – fits on 22 pallets. We can get the same number of chipboard sheets on just two pallets. This reduces freight costs and warehousing costs, which are also at a premium right now. So I’m taking 22 pallets out of their warehouse and replacing them with two pallets. And the price is better. They’re saving 30% per sheet on cost.” 

Looking Ahead

Reducing costs while adapting to swift changes in consumer behavior is a tough challenge. As we continue into the unknown in 2021, the packaging industry will need to remain innovative and adaptable to prepare for what comes next.