On October 21, 2020, consultancy McKinsey and Company released a paper discussing new trends in US consumers’ attitudes and perceptions towards sustainability in packaging, as influenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The consultancy observes that the “reshaping” of views currently occurring due to the pandemic will likely “force the whole value chain to act quickly” in order to adapt and attend to changing consumer needs.

A survey carried out in ten countries around the world revealed that US consumers “actually rank overall sustainability relatively low as a buying criterion among end-use factors,” while “price, quality, brand, and convenience” were ranked as “more important.” Specifically, for packaging, “hygiene, shelf life, and convenience rank[ed] significantly higher than environmental impact.” Similar patterns were observed in other surveyed countries.

Nonetheless, the survey also revealed that “more than half of US consumers are nonetheless highly concerned about the environmental impact of packaging in general.” They are “willing to pay more for green, but they would also buy additional sustainably packaged products if more of them were available and they were better labeled.” The consumers showed an “almost equal” interest in “recyclable and recycled plastic packaging and in fiber-based substitutes.” With regard to COVID-19, this “crisis has significantly heightened consumer sensitivity to hygiene and food safety, which are new strong preferences for packaging materials.”

In response to changing consumer needs, the packaging value chain is urged “to adjust rapidly.” Three specific actions are suggested, including (i) taking a “holistic approach to sustainability by acting in multiple areas and mak[ing] sustainable packaging not only available but also apparent to consumers”; (ii) being proactive in collaborating with value-chain partners and “adopting an experimental approach to developing solutions and communicating narratives about them clearly”; and (iii) “taking into account COVID-19’s ramifications for hygiene and food safety,” as well as “other megatrends, such as e-commerce,” when developing new sustainable products.

More information related to the COVID-19 pandemic and packaging is available on the Food Packaging Forum’s resources page.

Read more

McKinsey & Company (October 21, 2020). “Sustainability in packaging: Inside the minds of US consumers.

Katie Pyzyk (October 28, 2020). “Brand commitments, legislation and pandemic all influencing plastic recycling.” Waste Dive


Feber, D., et al. (2020). “Sustainability in packaging: Inside the minds of US consumers.McKinsey & Company (pdf)