Shorter flaps, thinner boxes, less color: inflation is changing the way food is packaged

If you’ve noticed that the products you’ve recently purchased come in boxes, boxes, and other packaging that appear smaller, lighter in weight, and adorned with less vibrant colors, that’s because they really are.

In the same way that inflation at a 40-year high is forcing households to pay more for everyday purchases, the companies that make these products are forced to spend much more on the production and packaging of goods such as lipstick, breakfast cereals, cookies and toys.

Industry experts say repackaging is one way businesses are trying to control costs.

“Changes in packaging are driven by both inflation and supply chain disruptions,” said Lisa Pruett, president of RRD Packaging Solutions, a leading provider of paper packaging, printing and marketing services for more than 90% of Fortune 100 brands across industries including groceries. , cosmetics and healthcare.

She said that 81% of RRD customers have changed their packaging in one way or another over the past year.

To be sure, consumers have already noticed examples of “downsized” items on grocery store shelves—smaller toilet paper, fewer chips per bag, or less dishwashing detergent in a plastic bottle.
Brands, in response to inflation and supply chain disruptions, are cutting back on product packaging to cut costs.  One example: shorter flaps.

Product size reduction, also known as “shrinkage,” is when items like toilet paper rolls or the number of cookies in a container begin to decrease in size or quantity—or both—due to rising costs.

But brands are also cutting costs in other ways, not necessarily by reducing the amount of product in a can or box, Pruett said.

Color changes, smaller valves, thinner boxes

When packaging products, using one color palette instead of another can impact costs, Pruett says.

For example, the inside of a new lipstick box tends to be white because that color creates a more chic and upscale look.

But the white “backing” or surface of the paper packaging is typically 20-30% more expensive than gray or brown paper made from recycled packaging material.

Brands are also switching to cheaper recycled materials and removing extra decorations from the outside of packaging to keep costs down.

Reacting to inflationary pressures, shoppers “may see brown or gray going forward as brands embrace cheaper and more sustainable options like recycled paper,” Pruett said.

Pruett also pointed to a major medical device manufacturer that switched to a paper insert instead of a plastic one to hold the product, which is both cheaper and more environmentally friendly. She declined to name the brand, citing a confidentiality agreement.

In addition, there are more subtle packaging changes appearing in grocery stores that are more likely to go unnoticed.

“The flaps of the boxes are getting shorter, or the box itself is getting thinner,” Pruett said. “Two years ago, these changes might have been minor. Now they have more and more influence on companies.”

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