How has packaging developed over the last 20 years?

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Written by Jonny Rowntree , a design and technology freelance writer from Newcastle, UK.

Packaging exists for a number of reasons other than the obvious. Of course, any product needs to be packaged in order to contain the product, especially with liquids or loose items. However, packaging also has a range of other goals in mind. The packaging of any product will, first and foremost, need to sell the item and create a brand identity that consumers will feel comfortable with. Packaging is also designed to protect the product from outside interference or disintegration, and to facilitate the use of the product. When using cleaning products, for example, packaging is designed to keep the user safe from strong chemicals, whilst being easy to pour or spray onto the desired surface. As there have been innovations in the world of science, so packaging has changed. Over the last 20 years, various factors have caused packaging to change.

Environmental Issues


Environmental issues are one of the most important when it comes to changes in packaging. As the world has become more environmentally conscious, so too has the packaging used for many products. Most products are now available in recyclable or already recycled packaging, bringing down the environmental footprint each product has. Products are now printed with labels which advise on the best way to recycle or dispose of packaging and will often let consumers know what their packaging is made up of so that they feel more informed and involved in their choices.

Health issues

Health issues have also caused a number of changes in packaging over the past 20 years. The Government-approved nutrition labels became mandatory in 1994, letting consumers know what was in their food and how this fit with their daily recommended allowances. These labels allow consumers to make their own decisions on the food they buy and consume, knowing all of the relevant information. Modified atmosphere packaging has been another innovation of the past 20 years, prolonging the shelf life of many foods and preventing food from becoming damaging to the consumer if left unopened for too long.

Design Innovations

Because one of the most important factors for the manufacturer is that packaging is attractive and sells their product, innovations in design and printing have also been important. In 1995, digital colour printing became available for packaging and many manufactures coordinate their print designs with digital printing firms, such as Elanders. Eventually, digital colour printing was joined by three-dimensional labels a year later. These innovations have made packaging brighter and more appealing for many consumers, and allowed manufacturers to create a more solid brand in many cases.

Fairy Liquid

Fairy Liquid is an iconic British brand, which has undergone a huge transformation since it was launched in 1950. The classic Fairy bottle was a slim white bottle with a red cap, featuring a nappy-wearing baby boy as the Fairy logo. Fairy have always used a classically British baroque style in their typography, and in their early days this was joined by a similar design on their bottles. The classic Fairy bottle was used until 2000, when the company modernised their look and brought in clear bottles with full colour labels, displaying the various brightly coloured Fairy Liquids and brighter, more vivid graphics, which replaced the original baby boy logo with a simple droplet. In 2002 the droplet was dropped and the baby boy reintroduced, being an instantly recogniseable symbol for the brand.

Last year, in honour of both the Royal Wedding and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Fairy briefly brought back the classic bottles, with their simple white, red and green colour scheme and traditional typography. The designs reinvented Fairy Liquid as a classic British brand and meant that nostalgic Britons got the chance to pick up an affordable and patriotic memento of the year.

Kit Kat

As part of the Rowntree brand, Kit Kat became the best loved chocolate bar in Britain, and had it’s packaging frequently brought into its advertising. Kit Kat bars were, until 2003, covered in silver foil with a paper covering over the top. Advertisements frequently played on this, bringing the unwrapping of the bar into the experience of enjoying the chocolate. Nestle took over Rowntree in 1988 and set about making changes in the early 00’s to revitalise the brand.

One of the first things to go was the foil wrapper, replaced by flow wrap plastic packaging. Although the change was not immediately welcomed by the public, the simultaneous introduction of the Kit Kat Chunky, with the same flow wrap packaging, made the change less significant. Plastic wrapping was decided on in order to keep the chocolate fresher, and also to give the bar a more contemporary look. With the advent of new flavours in 2006, the classic red and white Kit Kat wrapper has had a further renovation, with coloured wrappers to reflect the flavours inside.


About the author
Jonny Rowntree, a design and technology freelance writer from Newcastle in the UK who has worked with social media and technology blogs such as The Next Web and Buffer in the past.