This pandemic is giving many of our members and the packaging industry a chance to stop, think, reflect and press the reset button. Look at what we are doing and see different ways of doing things. We need to think about what life will be like out of this pandemic, because we won’t be in it forever. Now is a good time to start thinking a little about the future, as well as planning for the future. We have a wonderful opportunity to prepare for the next period of growth to come. The decisions we make will change the course and pave the way for future generations.
I will discuss more about Covid-19 later in this article.
Earlier this year, I attended ProPak Philippines (2020) in Manilla, Philippines, where there were many opportunities to connect with industry in Southeast Asia. This is certainly a thriving economy and one where growth opportunities exist. More and more foreign companies are investing in this region. The World Packaging Organization (WPO) had a stand at the exhibition, generating many interfaces with the local industry.
From there, I flew to Tel Aviv and spent a week with our new WPO members and colleagues in Ramallah, Palestine. I was accompanied by one of our global WPO ambassadors, Kishan Singh. We give lectures at one of the local universities, interact and have countless discussions with the industry, presented at a packaging conference involving emerging markets in the region, and conducted a two-day packaging technology course. In addition, we visited several packaging and printing factories, as well as having discussions with Mr. Khaled Osaily, Minister of Economy. Then I flew home and went into isolation.
The Covid-19 crises have affected each of us worldwide, so what role can packaging play in a pandemic crisis?
We are seeing that in many countries in the world, and probably more in developed countries, a subscription to meal kit subscription and home delivery services. Some countries tell me they are busier than ever. It looks like Covid-19 will affect us directly across the world, in some way or another, at least for the next six months. What we will see is the focus on fresh food packaged in supermarkets. Consumers will be skeptical about any unpackaged food, especially food where the skin is eaten, for example, tomatoes. There will certainly be more focus on packaging during the pandemic and certainly after Covid-19.
I have no doubt that packaging will become even more important in the coming months and years. Along with the importance and significance of packaging, there will be greater awareness among consumers in their appreciation for what we have. Our selfish attitudes towards the environment will no longer be taken for granted, simply because we wake up to realize how delicate life is. There will be greater confidence in the assumption that all packaged foods are safe and, as pharmaceuticals, we who are involved guarantee food safety better than ever.
I really don’t think Covid-19 will affect the expiration status, that is, by extending it further or decreasing it. Instead, we would have learned more about good food buying principles during a pandemic, where we buy only what is important and make sure we use it all. Food waste, I believe, will reduce in developed countries. Our buying trends will change for the better, in addition to Coved19. We buy less, probably more often, to ensure freshness and less waste.
What about personal hygiene and the post-Covid-19 effect. There is no doubt that personal hygiene will be more evident after the pandemic and here we can learn a significant amount from our Japanese colleagues. Their culture is extremely important for personal hygiene. Without shaking hands, more often when on the streets they wear masks, they maintain a social distance, they carry packs of baby wipes to clean their hands, there are always sanitizers in public bathrooms. Hand washing is part of their culture. There will be a focus on the future in hygiene, and reusable bags may well take germs from home to the market, where they are close to food. The cups brought in from home may be carrying viruses, so I can see Keep cups, in the short term disappearing from our landscape.
In situations like this pandemic, which is disastrous in every sense of the word, I am sure that good things will come. We see how fragile humans are. Nobody saw it happen and nobody was prepared for it.
The isolation of the home has created an awareness of the people around us, how precious and important our family is, how important our neighbors are and how much we need and trust our friends. Now, we care more about the neighborhood, we have more respect for each other, more forgiveness, more compassion and more empathy for others. This pandemic is a leveler; everyone on earth is affected by it, regardless of who or what you are. When life returns to normal, post-pandemic, this period of more concentrated with our loved ones should have a positive effect on the way we conduct business and our lives in the future. It is something I am looking forward to.
Pierre Pienaar is President of the World Packaging Organization (WPO)