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In recent years, single-use plastic has emerged as one of the biggest environmental challenges. Latest research by Mintel, the experts in what consumers want and why, reveals that two-thirds of Indians (72%)* are aware of and concerned about the issue of single-use plastic. But, four in five Indians (79%) say there’s very little information on reducing packaging waste.

As many as 39% of Indian consumers expect brands to reduce the amount of plastics used in packaging and 44% say more brands should implement sustainability practises, placing the responsibility squarely in the hands of companies and brands. However, according to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), 82% of food launches in India in the last five years have used plastics as a primary packaging material.

Rushikesh Aravkar, Associate Director, Food and Drink Consumer Reports, South APAC, Mintel said:

“Plastic is often the material of choice when it comes to food packaging thanks to its versatility, functional properties and cost-efficiency. The widespread usage of plastics in food packaging indicates that it’s largely not viable to eliminate plastics entirely. Brands need to make responsible use of plastics in their packaging. At the same time, it’s important to inform and involve consumers in the sustainability journey. It is important to educate consumers on the reality of the situation and underscore the fact that plastics are inherently beneficial, and the issue lies with waste management. This is an opportune time for brands to contribute to a packaging circular economy by investing in innovations that make plastic packaging as simple to recycle as possible and enable recycling infrastructure so that what’s discarded is fed back into the recycling stream.

“There is scope for brands to launch recycling programmes where they take back primary packaging to reuse or recycle. Such programmes will not only create brand engagement but also encourage higher recycling rates. Having a reward system can further engage the consumer.”

Conflicting demand for natural and long shelf life

When it comes to packaged food, consumers value the naturalness of food (39%), along with longer shelf life, which is also one of the most sought-after attributes of packaging. Mintel research highlights that for over two in five Indians (44%), a longer shelf life would make them choose one product over another. This increases among consumers from Metro cities (48%) and Socioeconomic Class (SEC) A group (52%). In contrast, almost two-third of Indians (73%) also agree that shorter shelf life is an indication of product freshness.

“Busy lifestyles, coupled with higher purchasing power, means that metro and SEC A consumers shop less frequently and are more likely to buy in bulk. The COVID-19 pandemic has further bolstered this behaviour and pushed the demand for longer-shelf-life products.

“The paradox of consumers wanting naturalness, as well as longer shelf life, can be addressed by brands using advanced packaging and processing techniques to deliver freshness and offer longer shelf life without compromising on the naturalness of the product. Brands need to educate consumers that packaging and processing technologies can extend the shelf life of food without the need to use chemical preservatives. The extended shelf life claims can be coupled with natural claims to improve consumer awareness and perception through on-pack communication,” explains Rushikesh.

Role of packaging eCommerce in consumer engagement

Indian consumers are increasingly becoming digitally savvy, with four in five Indians (79%)** using smartphones to connect to the internet, according to Mintel research. Moreover, 35% of Indian consumers are interested in packaging with digital connectors such as QR codes and this rises up to 42% among mothers with children in the household. Moreover, 42% of mothers of 0-4-year-olds have used YouTube, and 31% have used Facebook, for advice on childcare. 

According to Mintel GNPD, the use of QR codes on food packaging in India has doubled from 4% in 2016 to 8% in 2020, highlighting the growth potential. 

“The use of on-pack digital technology such as QR codes to boost consumer engagement remains underused in India. Connected packaging can help tackle issues of food safety with authentication and traceability, and enable gamification, promotion and other fun ways to drive engagement. Mothers are the most interested in digital connectors. This is most likely because they are always on the lookout for childcare advice and information, often using social media as a source. Food brands targeting mothers and children could effectively use digital connectors such as augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies on the packaging to provide childcare advice, connect with experts, build online communities and bring value to new mothers,” concluded Rushikesh.

*3,000 Internet users aged 18+
**1,000 internet users aged 18+

Press review copies of Mintel’s Food Packaging Trends Indian Consumer Report and interviews with Rushikesh Aravkar, Associate Director, Food and Drink Consumer Reports, South APAC, are available on request from the Mintel Press Office.