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Supply chain insights: RRD’s report reveals how U.S. brands navigated market pressures

July 14, 2023  By PrintAction Staff


R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company’s (RRD’s) 2023 (Un)Packaging Reality Report reveals how U.S. brands navigated last year’s market pressures and shortages to ease certain supply chain challenges and meet e-commerce demands.

According to the report, those citing product-related concerns dropped to 20 per cent from the previous 34 per cent, while concerns surrounding packaging materials and transportation also mellowed. Meanwhile, e-commerce orders rose for 60 per cent of respondents. Despite this challenging environment, 77 per cent claimed their organizations moved closer to sustainability goals.

Signs of stabilizing supply chains and market conditions despite challenges

In 2022, packaging and label decision-makers began to see some supply chain and market conditions stabilize. In addition to easing concerns around product, packaging materials and transportation, there were other signs of improvement in market dynamics. Concerns settled around staffing challenges, demands on capacity and speed to market compared to last year’s study.

However, supply chain conditions—compounded by other market pressures—still presented challenges. Down slightly from 2022 figures, the vast majority (87 per cent) still reported that disruptions to the global supply chain caused their organization to change how they source packaging and/or labels. Of those, 72 per cent were forced to make changes to packaging selections over the past year. Specific to packaging, nearly three-fourths made selections to minimize cost and 60 per cent altered designs for efficiency and cost reductions in transportation. Faced with continued supply chain hurdles, more respondents planned ahead by either one to two months or three to six months while fewer are planning just weeks in advance compared to 2022 figures.

Growth in e-commerce continues to fuel demand for packaging and labels

The number of respondents seeing increased e-commerce orders was up slightly from last year’s report. Of the 60 per cent of decision-makers citing an increase in e-commerce orders over the past year, the proportion who saw an increase in packaging needs (92 per cent) remained consistent year-over-year. Additionally, 86 per cent reported an increase in labelling needs.

The majority of packaging and labels specifiers had to adapt their selections to meet these needs. Among the most reported responses, 74 per cent changed materials based on availability for packaging, up 22 per cent from 2022 and 64 per cent did the same for labels. Up slightly from last year’s report, 37 per cent developed e-commerce-specific package design/structure. Half responded by increasing inventory and 39 per cent boosted support from external vendors. Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of respondents said they are working to level-set expectations for inventory due to over-corrections on COVID-related shortages and excess inventory in 2022.

Sustainability a priority

The vast majority (90 per cent) continue to agree that sustainability is a key consideration in packaging and label decisions. Despite the challenging macro environment, 77 per cent of respondents claimed they moved at least slightly closer to their organization’s sustainability goals. This represents a substantial increase over similar indicators from last year’s report, where 55 per cent of packaging decision-makers said they moved closer to carbon emissions goals and 66 per cent said they shifted to more sustainable packaging.

Among the top reported sustainability-led selections in packaging, 72 per cent prioritized reduction of material waste, 66 per cent prioritized material recyclability and half prioritized inclusion of recycled material.

More progress may be on the horizon with two-thirds reporting they are likely to make sustainability-led changes in the next two-to-five years, and there is room for improvement. While only 49 per cent of respondents said they are measuring environmental impact – a decline over last year – 38 per cent acknowledged they are not currently, but plan to in the future. Also, less than half (48 per cent) strongly agreed their brand’s packaging can be easily and widely recycled across the U.S., making the prioritization of recyclability an important factor to watch.

To read the full report, visit, rrd.com/reality-report-2023.

RRD commissioned an online survey of 300 U.S.-based procurement, brand marketing, and packaging and labels engineering decision makers to provide insights that inform strategy, priorities, and investments. The survey, conducted by FINN Partners in spring 2023, is weighted to be nationally representative.


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