People carrying boxes walking in line

Consumer voice echoes

It will soon be two years that the world has been dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. We at AFRY launched a global survey of 2,000 consumers to get a pulse on what the recovery and new normal look like across global regions and whether there are differences in consumers’ confidence and attitudes.

The first aspect we wanted to explore was consumer confidence on the speed of the recovery and at what point consumers felt safe to return to life outside the walls of their homes. All in all, the survey revealed a wide range of confidence levels among the consumers, with some people already back to restaurants, travel and entertainment events, while others took a more conservative stance and preferred to wait until deep into the next year before returning to the crowds.

German and Chinese consumers expressed a more conservative view on returning to restaurants, travel and events than consumers in the US and the UK. On average, global consumers anticipated returning to restaurants by the end of the year 2021, and traveling and joining events by early 2022. The speed of recovery directly impacts the business outlook for many pulp, paper and packaging companies manufacturing products that are consumed in away-from-home settings, such as playbills, brochures and tickets in entertainment events, washroom products at airports and restaurants, or paper cups at coffee shops on the way to the office. Some of this demand may never entirely recover, as people's habit of going to office buildings and shopping malls like before the pandemic may not fully return.

No place like home

During the pandemic, people increased their online shopping. A staggering 94% of the surveyed Chinese consumers, living in urban regions, noted that they had increased online shopping during the pandemic. More than 50% of the Chinese consumers expected that they would mostly shop online even after the pandemic. In the UK, Germany, and the US, fewer than 30% of the survey participants said they would prefer online shopping to a brick-and-mortar experience even after the pandemic. The expected growth in online shopping is good news for corrugated box manufacturers, heavy duty envelope manufacturers, and other developers of sustainable and cost-effective protective shipping packaging solutions.

In addition to the way we shop, the pandemic also changed how and where we work. Working from home became the norm for many during the pandemic. Based on our survey, more than half of the people in the Western countries plan to continue working from home at least some days of the week even after the pandemic. Meanwhile, in China, 64% of the respondents expect to return to commuting to offices, hence increasing the foot traffic for all the businesses servicing office workers’ needs, from corner coffee shops to food halls and cafeterias.

Shopping habits changed by the pandemic

Better choice

Regardless of where we spend our time, whether at home, in the office, or enjoying a sporting event, concerns over the environment and sustainability are here to stay, and increasingly part of the new normal. Sustainability of packaging material is of primary concern to 90% of consumers in China, 80% of consumers in the UK and Germany, and 70% of consumers in the US. The respondents across all global regions recognised paper-based packaging as a more sustainable solution than plastic packaging. Furthermore, a vast majority of the respondents noted that they are actively limiting the use of single use plastics. 94% of the Chinese consumers said they were committed to limiting the use of single use plastics, followed by 88% in Germany, 84% in the UK, and 78% in the US. Across the global regions, consumers agree on the importance of products being packaged in recyclable or recycled materials. Access to recycling is one of the key drivers for recycling, or at least for the recovery rate of materials. Based on our survey, European consumers claim to have overall better access to recycling than consumers in other regions. However, China appears to have the best access to recycling of paper boxes, to feed its massive recycled fibre-based containerboard manufacturing industry.

The new normal paves the way

Sustainability is part of the new normal. Fibre-based packaging products have a clear sustainability advantage in consumers’ minds over plastics. Together with consumer attitudes, legislation to curb the world’s plastic addiction is bound to pave a positive outlook for fibre-based packaging in future. Online shopping is part of the new normal. Containerboard box makers and other producers of protective shipping packaging are expected to benefit from the structural change in people’s “click & deliver” purchasing habits.

Foot traffic will return to the office buildings and business hubs. However, most likely at a lighter volume than before the pandemic, as a significant portion of the workforce will be participating in hybrid work models, balancing their work and life based partly at the office and partly at home.

“Change is the only constant in life”, stated Heraclitus. The Covid-19 pandemic was a catalyst for change in our way of life, health and safety, working, shopping, and interacting with people. New routines will be in place, but we will revive the old habits of going to movies, sports events, and other entertainment events. We will travel for business and pleasure again.

Recycling habits in the countries of the respondents


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Olivia Ying - Senior Consultant, AFRY Management Consulting

Olivia Ying

Senior Consultant, AFRY Management Consulting

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Sanna Sosa - Senior Principal, AFRY Management Consulting

Sanna Sosa

Senior Principal, AFRY Management Consulting

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Sivashankari Bharathi - Analyst, AFRY Management Consulting

Sivashankari Bharathi

Analyst, AFRY Management Consulting

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