Meet the Sustainable Darling of the Beverage Industry: Paper Packaging


Drink this in: The beverage industry is turning its eye toward paper packaging in greater numbers. Between bag-in-box constructions, paper straws and the classic six-pack carrier, paper isn’t a new player in the beverage market. But its legacy is only beginning.

Trends in beverage packaging are driven by the same key factor as the trends in the drinks themselves—namely, your preferences as a consumer. Sustainability, personalization and e-commerce all ladder up to a shift in the consumer’s expectations, and that expectation drives innovation in packaging. 

Millennials and Generation Z demand more sustainable products, and the boomer population increasingly follow their children’s and grandchildren’s lead. According to Nielsen, 81 percent of global consumers surveyed in 2018 feel strongly that companies should help the environment. The results are manifested visibly with paper packaging, whether it’s a product in hand like Boxed Water, bag-in-box constructions like boxed wine or paper bottle prototypes from leading beverage companies like The Coca-Cola Co.

As consumers become more educated about sustainability and demand more from brands, they’re paying attention to processes and systems as well. This affects product design directly, through innovations such as refillable products and concentrates. It also shapes the big picture: Thanks to consumer demand, leading global food and beverage producers have set goals to have all packaging be recyclable or compostable. For example, joining the global movement against single-use plastics, Bacardi had announced its goal to be completely plastic free by 2030 by designing new paper-based bottles for its beverages. This commitment to principles of the circular economy has potential to lead to more paper innovations.

Other consumer forces are shaping beverage packaging trends. Social distancing and the need for continued convenience has led to an increase in online ordering and grocery delivery. By 2023, online grocery spending will reach $129 billion, nearly 10% of total grocery sales. Safe shipping of beverages will grow in importance along with the e-grocery market, prompting more inventive protection measures.

But even with all its other benefits, it’s paper’s sustainability advantages that are bringing it into the spotlight. Paper packaging begins and ends with sustainability: It’s made from renewable resources, and it’s consistently one of the world’s most recycled materials. “There’s a lot of pressure on natural resources, and this is happening as packaging demand increases. So forest management is essential,” says Julie Rice, academic director of The Packaging School.

“Paper is the only option that is truly renewable,” says Robert Koenen, chief marketing officer of Boxed Water. “Trees can be replanted; oil and bauxite are limited resources. Paper is the basis of our entire brand—it’s sustainable, it’s recyclable, and it also allows us to keep our water perfectly pure. We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for paper. We believe that there is a tidal wave of demand coming from the next generation that is looking to help the planet survive, and paper is a key solution.” We’ll raise a glass—and a box—to that.

Learn more about Packaging, as well as the added benefits and solutions from our other industry associations on our Association Partners page.

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