Digital workflows for package printing have intensified — as pandemic-induced decentralized design teams work remotely and brands embrace sustainable manufacturing practices.

Cindy Cooperman, Vice President, Brand Global Strategic Accounts

April 16, 2021

4 Min Read
Photo supplied by X-Rite Pantone

For the past five years, the packaging industry has been experiencing a digital transformation. But it wasn’t until 2020 and COVID-19 that many brands and their packaging print suppliers were thrown into the deep end and had to quickly embrace digital workflows.

As we look ahead to the next 12 months and beyond, here are five CPG trends that are likely to stay.


1. Digital approvals.

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies have been moving toward digital workflows for some time, but the pandemic pushed this into hyperdrive. Travel restrictions meant that brand managers could no longer rely on onsite press approvals. It all had to be done virtually between the brand and their print and packaging suppliers.

Companies who were further along in their digital transformation were able to quickly move to virtual approvals and saw significant cost savings. For example, Coca-Cola Western Europe Business Unit (WEBU) has been using digital workflow tools as part of its color management process and has not been sending proofs, samples, or brand representatives across the globe for years.

The ability to eliminate onsite approvals and use digital data to verify print quality leads to greater flexibility, cost savings, and a more sustainable process for brands and their partners. Even when travel resumes, we expect virtual approvals will continue and become standard practice.


2. Remote working.

Most design teams have been working remotely for the past 10+ months and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. To do their jobs effectively, designers need access to reference tools — such as physical color reference tools, design tools, and more. No longer can teams share these physical tools around the office. In 2021, we expect to see more brands, agencies, and in some cases print suppliers, investing in digital tools and technology to support a decentralized design team.

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3. Regional and bespoke manufacturing.

The pandemic has put a lot of stress on packaging supply chains. Some brands were able to meet this demand better than others. CPG companies with well implemented print quality control programs had greater agility within their supply chains and could quickly shift to new regional partners.

The combination of a bespoke manufacturing model (customer or regional partners) and digital workflows enabled CPG companies to meet spikes in demand in certain categories, particularly food and beverage, personal care, and home care. As more companies move towards a bespoke model, they will rely on digital tools and standardized operating procedures for production quality. This groundwork will enable companies to adjust and respond quickly to changing market and consumer demands.


4. Eye-catching packaging.

Shopping habits have changed over the past year. In a pandemic, people want to shop as quickly and safely as possible, so consumers are spending less time in grocery stores. Product packaging needs to stand out on the shelf — physical or virtual — and be easily recognizable so consumers can grab and go.

Packaging with bold colors and images are easily identifiable to consumers. CPG companies and print suppliers that have process controls in place will be able to produce packaging with high-coverage intense solids and special finishes that lives up to design intent and stands out on the shelf.


5. Sustainability.

In 2021, we will see many CPG brands reaffirm their commitment to sustainability targets, with innovations in reusable, recyclable, and compostable packaging. Already you are seeing brands like Johnny Walker experiment with paper-based bottles instead of glass and Kraft Heinz is testing a recyclable paperboard cup. In addition to material innovation, companies will continue their digital transformation journey to improve manufacturing efficiencies, reduce waste, and lower carbon footprints.

CPG brands and their print suppliers will be able to leverage color management tools, ink formulation software, print quality control programs, and other digital technology to help achieve their sustainability goals.

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About the Author(s)

Cindy Cooperman

Vice President, Brand Global Strategic Accounts, X-Rite

Cindy Cooperman has spent the last 20 years working with brand owners, designers, premedia partners, packaging converters, and ink companies in the packaging value chain. As vice president of Global Brand Accounts at X-Rite, Cooperman brings together companies, people, and ideas to guide the relevant players in the packaging industry to adopt new technologies in practical and profitable ways.

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