Scenario 1 :
The Green Deal
Packaging is no exception to this rule. In France, for example, the national 3R strategy (reduction, reuse and recycling of single-use plastic packaging) set at the start of 2022 has made the first ‘R’ (reduction) its main spearhead, and not just for plastic. The largescale emergence of the circular economy is a logical development in view of the scarcity of resources and the incessant rise in the price of raw materials. This has gradually spread across the planet, driven by ambitious regulations at European level.
It must be said that the 2020s had already seen the democratization of reusable packaging intended for e-commerce by the French start-up Hipli, which claims that one piece of its packaging reused 100 times makes it possible to prevent up to 25 kilos of waste. Then the vintage charm of the locker slowly resurfaced, fueling the question of (over)packaging once lamented on the shelves. In the 2030s, the e-commerce platform Loop, which only offers returnable products, has established itself as a serious competitor to conventional home grocery delivery services: rice in boxes of aluminum, toothpaste in glass jars… It’s all just a matter of habit (and a well-established supply chain, capable of providing fast service coupled with an impeccable cleaning service.)
Its cousin, bulk, has more or less followed the same dynamic, not without some difficulties. “There is a real challenge around traceability, in identifying the origin and brand of food, as well as hygiene,” points out Gaëlle Pantin-Sohier, lecturer in management sciences at the University of Angers. Isn’t the seductive power of brands in danger of taking a hit? Winning the trust of consumers also involves design, she nevertheless assures, referring to the ‘authenticity and naturalness’ of Jean Bouteille, a brand launched in Lille in 2012 to support zero waste transformation. Starting with bulk food, this SME then conquered the world of cosmetics by signing with Occitane in 2022.
Finally, in the era of post-2050 frugality, the only packaging that we use is that which we really cannot do without, like the primary packaging necessary for the preservation of products (food, hygiene, cleaning, cosmetics, etc.). Here again, a reflection on the materials and their decoration has made it possible to considerably reduce their environmental footprint. Founder and CEO of the design firm DO-Design Office, Joseph Mazoyer mentions a “limitation of materials (paints, varnishes, etc.) previously used for primary cosmetic packaging, where there are a lot of materials and effects.”
In 2050, manufacturers have also learned to obtain raw materials differently via, among other things, innovative chemical treatments (without adding additional substances) to ensure the original technical characteristics when recycled. They began to explore new, sometimes raw materials such as wood, “on which we can achieve very interesting effects”, maintains Joseph Mazoyer, thanks to new decoration techniques that respect the environment. In short, packaging has not disappeared, its seductive capital is still present. Packaging and its user have become accomplices in the service of a sustainable economy and the preservation of the planet.
Scenario 2 :
The Cyber World
Many sectors of activity have seen their processes completely transformed by the democratization of artificial intelligence, big data or blockchain. In this hypermodern society where the individual occupies a central place, it is a question of “obtaining the product at the right time, neither before nor after,” summarizes Joseph Mazoyer, because “we know exactly what you are consuming and at what moment” (as was already beginning to be the case 30 years earlier, in 2020).
In the food sector, connected labels on products have demonstrated their anti-waste benefits. No more throwing away spoiled food from the bottom of the fridge: consumers are now warned of the approaching expiry date. Same principle in the beauty sector, where users benefit from personalized advice and receive alerts as soon as 80% of the product has been consumed.
For some applications, this logic even makes it possible to dispense with boxes for deliveries (or tertiary packaging): the product is then placed directly in a reception cabinet or a connected letterbox with secure access. An idea that already existed in the early 2020s with the sending of parcels in a connected, secure and reusable box, imagined by LivingPackets.
In this ultra-connected world, traceability has been considerably strengthened to the delight of consumers already accustomed to scrutinizing their consumption on Yuka or Siga. QR codes and integrated NFC chips have thus become widespread on packaging: origin of food, certificate of authenticity for luxury products…
We now know everything without fear of any manipulation or counterfeiting. The rapid development of blockchain has also meant it has done well in the field. A pioneer, the high perfumery house Le Jardin Retrouvé joined forces in 2022 with Sorga, a French blockchain solution, to guarantee the authenticity of its fragrances using a ‘inviolable’ digital passport, accessible via a unique QR code in the shape of a diamond. As for Tapp. online, a Dutch smart paper company, the chips integrated into the packaging also make it possible to measure the temperature, humidity, shocks or any other parameter during transport, and to ensure that the products such as medications or cosmetics –have not been exposed to conditions likely to alter them.
This type of innovation has finally proven to be an ally for recycling. Types of codes invisible to the naked eye that can contain a multitude of information on the packaging and its contents, the digital watermarks present on packaging are in fact a valuable aid for the cameras integrated into the optical sorting machines. As a result, the quality of recycling has improved considerably. It remains to be seen whether the argument will be enough to convince the most skeptical of the ‘invisible digital pollution’ generated by these “innovations perceived as superfluous,” to use the words of Gaëlle Pantin-Sohier. Already in 2022, digital represented 3% to 4% of greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, a proportion that the advent of the cyber world will only increase.
Scenario 3 :
From Hedonism to Nomadism
Tertiary sector employees do not hesitate to mix work and holidays and opt for ‘fully remote’ contracts. The urban exodus and the development of neo-ruralism have seen the emergence of a new generation of consumers constantly on the move and always in search of ‘experience,’ as evidenced since the 2020s by the progression of neo-spiritualities and the well-being industry within society.
The importance of experience is also reflected in a different relationship with packaging, adapted to these new lifestyles. Priority is given to practical and robust containers, which you are not afraid to break or pierce in your bag. On the food side, the bento, a sort of compartmentalized lunch box from Japan, has become a must in the course of the 2020s for all these workers accustomed to eating on the go. A success partly due to its potential for personalization, analyzes Gaëlle Sohier-Pantin.
Le secteur de la beauté n’est pas en reste. Adaptée à des usages polyvalents, aussi bien en déplacement qu’à la maison, la rechargeabilité des contenants est devenue la nouvelle norme. Avec son double packaging polyvalent, Shiseido a été pionnier : le flacon de 20 millilitres, dit « incassable », se déclipse de sa base et se glisse sans peine dans un sac à main pour une utilisation nomade. Le vanity-case, de son côté, a connu un regain de hype à l’ère du nomadisme : modulable et personnalisable, ce petit bagage rigide est devenu un must have, non plus seulement lors de voyages occasionnels mais aussi dans le quotidien ultra-mobile de ces nouveaux nomades. Dans ce contexte, un nombre croissant de marques se sont placées sur le créneau de la cosmétique « solide » (sans eau), à l’image du spécialiste français Cosmogen, qui a imaginé, dès le début des années 2020, diverses formules de soin et de maquillage sous forme de petits sticks étanches, rechargeables et dotés d’applicateurs intégrés.
For Joseph Mazoyer, these developments mark the transition from ‘product to service,’ with the possibility not simply of owning a product, but of being able to refill its favorite containers (bottles, sticks and other jars) at will. The whole challenge will have been to adapt logistics to this new situation by deploying charging networks dense enough not to constitute a constraint for nomadic consumers. Many brands have understood this and have embarked on a fast collection and charging service at the location chosen by the customer, which has not failed to generate ever more travel (and a carbon footprint).
Des évolutions guidées par l’expérience utilisateur
Plus que de répondre aux besoins des consommateurs (qui reste sa priorité absolue), l’emballage se doit d’accompagner mais aussi d’incarner les mutations de la société, que l’on se dirige vers un monde plus frugal, plus digitalisé ou plus nomade. Les défis s’annoncent nombreux : comment vendre des packagings plus fins si les consommateurs ont davantage confiance dans la qualité des produits lorsqu’ils sont enrobés d’un emballage dur ? Est-ce compatible avec la demande d’esthétique et de personnalisation ? La balle est du côté des designers, à eux de rendre désirables les packs de demain en les enrobant de nouveaux imaginaires.
Pour Joseph Mazoyer, tout le défi dans les prochaines décennies sera de résoudre ce paradoxe apparent « d’aller vers du moins » dans un contexte d’épuisement des ressources, tout en continuant d’assurer le confort des utilisateurs. Ça tombe bien, ceux-ci sont toujours « demandeurs d’un renouveau d’expérience »…
Professeur des Universités en sciences de gestion à l’IAE Angers-Université d’Angers et spécialiste de l’acceptabilité de l’innovation dans le secteur alimentaire.
Fondateur et CEO du cabinet de design DO-Design Office.
Professeur et maître de conférence à l’ESCP, auteur de «Que sais-je ? (Puf) Le packaging».