There’s no doubt that the novel coronavirus has drastically changed the way we work, learn, interact, and shop. Over the past 12 months, Americans have had no choice but to adjust to our “new normal” in an effort to curb COVID-19 transmission while keeping the economy alive.

That’s been no small feat, to be sure, and it’s now clear that there isn’t just one way to handle a pandemic. Although our society had already been looking to the digital world for solutions to everyday problems, COVID-19 put those efforts on the fast track (with some varying degrees of success).

Arguably, issues with the global supply chain have impacted virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Shipping delays and out-of-stock products were just two of the effects experienced by the majority of Americans over the last year. Material unavailability has certainly affected businesses of all kinds; not only were certain products themselves nearly impossible to create, but even the packaging and commercial labels often needed to be amended due to poor accessibility.

While many aspects of business operations have since been ironed out, it’s worth taking a look back at how COVID-19 has changed the packaging and labeling industry. With these insights in mind, businesses can better prepare for health crises and create actionable plans to resolve any lingering issues in 2021.

How Has COVID-19 Changed the Packaging and Labeling Industry?

Emphasis on Sustainability Pivots Toward Safety and Availability

Prior to the pandemic, one of the main goals for many businesses involved more sustainable practices. Consumers are extremely interested in social and environmental issues, as data shows that customers are often willing to pay more for a product if they know the company has embraced eco-friendly practices. While these practices can include any number of methods — like utilizing solar energy or curbing wasted water — the discontinuation of single-use plastics has certainly been one of the most popular.

In 2019 and early 2020, more businesses and even municipalities were putting the kibosh on single-use plastics. Many towns, cities, and states now have ordinances that ban the use of these plastics, particularly in regard to grocery and retail bagging practices. But, of course, consumer demand for a more eco-conscious option has prompted manufacturers to seek reusable alternatives.

Before most of us had ever heard of COVID-19, packaging companies were putting their ingenuity to good use to create reusable and biodegradable packaging options that consumers would love. However, once the first cases of coronavirus started to hit the U.S., manufacturers were forced to pivot over potential health and safety concerns. Although sustainable packaging may be better for the environment, it’s not necessarily better for preventing viral transmission. Concerns over reusable packaging (and even options like reusable shopping bags) prompted many businesses to temporarily pause their sustainability missions.

Most experts now believe that the risks associated with viral transmission via reusable shopping bags and product packaging are likely quite remote. Still, some customers are using an abundance of caution and may not be quite as interested in the advantages of reusable packaging until the pandemic is over. As we start to head into a post-COVID reality, businesses will once again have to pivot — this time, to balance hygienic concerns with environmental responsibility. Although single-use plastic did see some growth during the pandemic, it’s not a long-term solution that many consumers want. Temporary fears surrounding the virus will eventually give way to a need for packaging that is both safe and sustainable.

With that in mind, manufacturers will want to work with packaging and labeling companies that can address both of these concerns. Reusable or biodegradable packaging options can allow us to reduce waste and environmental harm — and they can be safely employed as long as hygienic practices are followed. Still, companies may need to take extra steps to communicate health and safety compliance to consumers through both packaging and commercial labels.

E-Commerce Reaches New Heights With Growing Demand For B2C Packaging

Even before 2020 became such an infamous year, e-commerce was already considered a massive sector with potential for nearly infinite growth. In fact, 75% of consumers surveyed well before the pandemic said they would research and purchase a product online if they couldn’t find the information they needed in-store. In other words, consumers were wholly willing to embrace online retailers to find the products they needed, even if it meant adding an extra step to their shopping list.

Brick-and-mortar stores have faced major challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to global supply chain disruptions, many of these shops were unable to obtain the products they needed to satisfy customer demand. That, coupled with early panic-buying, meant empty shelves with no concrete restock dates in sight. And of course, local ordinances related to widespread closures made matters even worse for many non-essential businesses. As such, some had to embrace the idea of manufacturing and distributing different products (like clothing retailers that started producing masks or breweries that started making hand sanitizer) just to stay afloat. Others had to lay off workers, make product substitutions, or even close their physical doors in favor of online-only operations.

Because consumers were already accustomed to shopping online, this transition wasn’t a difficult one on the customer side. But for businesses that had never really paid much attention to the e-commerce side of operations, there was a huge learning curve. Businesses that didn’t have online storefronts ready to go often lost out to large conglomerates, particularly when products remained out of stock for lengthy periods.

It’s also worth noting that financial stress caused many consumers to be pickier about how they spent their money during 2020. But when many of those consumers did make purchases, they were more likely to come from online resources. Shopping online was touted as a great way to reduce health risks while obtaining in-demand products, so it’s no surprise that many consumers embraced it with proverbial open arms.

The rise of e-commerce has absolutely changed the way businesses utilize packaging and unique labels, of course. Given that more of these sales were direct to the customer, rather than through a local shop, the demand for single-use packaging saw a big uptick last year. Again, for safety reasons and due to a lack of availability through the supply chain, online retailers opted for safer and less sustainable options in order to fulfill orders quickly and in a way that satisfied standard health practices.

Since the overall popularity of e-commerce isn’t likely to dwindle even after the pandemic finally ends, it’s worth considering whether the packaging and labels for your business are allowing you to keep fulfillment costs and delays low while maintaining compliance, safety, and overall branding. As we mark a year spent dealing with COVID-19, some aspects of the pandemic will likely stick around. If you operate at least part of your business online, your commercial labels and packaging should be developed with these features in mind.

New Players Learn the Rules For High Quality Commercial Labels

As we mentioned earlier, some businesses have become incredibly creative over the last year. Even if you initially built your business on food and drink, it might have become necessary to consider the manufacturing or distribution of other products during COVID-19 in order to satisfy customer demand and supply chain restrictions.

Whenever you create or ship a new product, however, you’ll need to make sure your operations meet compliance standards like GHS labeling requirements. Some businesses had some catching up to do in this area as they struggled to survive this health crisis. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that agility is a real virtue. Possessing the flexibility to pivot as needed can be the very thing that separates your business from others and allows you to thrive post-pandemic. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s essential to educate yourself on the rules surrounding commercial labels for the products you make, distribute, or sell. This can safeguard both the public and your brand as we move forward together after this crisis has ceased to exist.

The need for commercial labels and packaging hasn’t abated during the pandemic. But how we develop and utilize them will always be subject to change. For more on how we can help you create the commercial labels your business needs to succeed in 2021 and beyond, please contact us today.