Packaging is undergoing a kind of revolution as consumer habits change, requiring more focus on the environment and on delivery—here's what we found at one of the world's largest packaging expos

In the retail space, packaging often exists as an afterthought or as a means to an end. Admittedly, it's not the sexiest or most exciting part of the process. Most of the time, it's thrown away as soon as a customer buys a product. And when it's done well, it's almost invisible to the consumer.

But packaging is one of the most subtly important aspects of the retail industry, impacting everything from first impressions to the perception of a brand's values. And in a market where shoppers increasingly want to shop from companies that are value-based and aware of their environmental impact, packaging is one of the first things they'll notice. PSFK visited EastPack, which bills itself as the East Coast's leading packaging convention, to take stock of the industry and find the most interesting innovations coming out of it.

EastPack ran as part of June's New York Advanced Manufacturing Expo. Exhibitors crammed into Midtown Manhattan's Javits Convention Center, showing off labels, bottles, boxes and bags of all kinds. While many offerings were recognizable, some brands pushed the industry forward. Paper and recyclable packaging, for example, made an impact on buyers that want to appear more environmentally conscious.

Packsize, a Utah-based company that specializes in custom-order boxes, was one of the stars of the show. Its proprietary machine builds boxes made specifically for every order, cutting down on the amount of packaging needed to mail items ordered over the internet. Packsize hardware cuts down on unnecessary filler and trim waste. Brands that use its technology also become more environmentally friendly.

Lisa McTigue Pierce, executive editor of Packaging Digest, is hopeful about the future of packaging, despite environmental concerns. Packaging Digest puts on EastPack and related conventions across the country. “A lot of the attention is negative attention. It's understandable, but it's also a little misleading because there's always a reason why a product is packaged the way it's packaged,” she says.

Ecommerce, too, will impact the way packaging works, especially as returns grow in number. “What I think is that the retailers are going to, sooner or later, have to redesign their stores to accommodate this last-mile delivery aspect,” McTigue Pierce says.

Lisa McTigue Pierce

The retail industry is changing, and the packaging industry must change right along with it. As consumers start to become more aware of their environmental impact, their needs and wants will change. EastPack is perhaps the best place to observe this shift firsthand.

In the retail space, packaging often exists as an afterthought or as a means to an end. Admittedly, it's not the sexiest or most exciting part of the process. Most of the time, it's thrown away as soon as a customer buys a product. And when it's done well, it's almost invisible to the consumer.

But packaging is one of the most subtly important aspects of the retail industry, impacting everything from first impressions to the perception of a brand's values. And in a market where shoppers increasingly want to shop from companies that are value-based and aware of their environmental impact, packaging is one of the first things they'll notice. PSFK visited EastPack, which bills itself as the East Coast's leading packaging convention, to take stock of the industry and find the most interesting innovations coming out of it.