RRD Survey: Nearly 7 in 10 packaging decision makers forced to re-prioritise amid supply chain disruption, inflation


A study by R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (RRD) found the market’s most pressing challenges forced packaging decision makers to shift priorities and rethink operations, with 90% changing how their packaging is sourced.

The Unpackaging Reality Report explores how converging disruptive issues like supply chain volatility, inflation, labor shortages, and increasing sustainability pressures have impacted the industry.

Surveying 300 packaging decision makers in the U.S., RRD’s study found that material price hikes and supply shortages presented the biggest hurdles for the industry over the past year, with over half of respondents reporting they have been strongly impacted.

These challenges, among others, forced organisations to re-prioritise packaging materials (68%), budget (52%), packaging design and aesthetics (49%), and sustainability goals (45%). Despite the many challenges brought on by the pandemic and downstream issues, the report found that overall, the packaging industry proved resilient and continued to track toward a more sustainable and innovative future. 

“There’s no disputing that rising costs, supply chain snares, and talent pinches have posed major challenges to the packaging industry, but that doesn’t mean this reality is all doom and gloom,” said Lisa Pruett, President, Packaging, Labels and Forms, Retail Solutions at RRD. “These challenges actually transformed the industry into a more innovative, agile, and environmentally conscious sector. Organisations responded with diverse strategies as there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to tempering disruptions.”

As a leading global provider of marketing, packaging, print, and supply chain solutions, RRD conducted a comprehensive survey to offer insight into this complex landscape of both immense opportunity and challenges for decision makers. The study’s key findings underscore the packaging industry’s willingness to evolve operations in the face of challenges without losing sight of sustainability goals:

Key Finding 1: Supply Chain Challenges Lead to Innovation

To navigate the market challenges, organizations have been willing to explore a wide range of solutions to their supply chain issues. Specifically, 62% diversified suppliers, 42% outsourced manufacturing and fulfilment, 39% consolidated suppliers, 30% substituted specs, and 26% reshored their manufacturing to the US. There is broad willingness to pivot to different packaging materials in light of supply chain sourcing challenges, with over one-third (36%) saying they were extremely willing to use alternative materials. As for guidance and information, 78% of respondents looked to suppliers, vendors, or direct manufacturers.

Key Finding 2: Ecommerce Ignites Packaging Demand

Packaging needs have skyrocketed in recent years, in part due to the acceleration of online shopping amid the pandemic, and this has created both strain and opportunity for the packaging industry. The majority of respondents (57%) experienced an increase in e-commerce orders in the past 1-2 years and, for nearly all of them (92%), this resulted in an increase in packaging needs.

Packaging professionals responded to the growth in ecommerce orders by increasing inventory (55%), expanding warehousing (53%), changing materials (52%), and increasing staff (51%). 

Key Finding 3: Surprising Strides in Sustainability Despite Cost Pressures

Survey findings contradict the sentiment that sustainability initiatives fell to the back burner as companies grappled with other pressing priorities, with almost all respondents (94%) agreeing that sustainability is a key consideration in packaging and label decisions. Further, two-thirds of packaging professionals shifted to more sustainable packaging than what they used previously. When considering sustainability, budget is the top influencing factor – more so than external regulations or consumer preferences – suggesting that cost-effective eco-friendly materials are in high demand.

Of note, the majority of packaging decision makers (55%) believe recent supply chain disruptions moved their companies closer to their carbon emissions goals, suggesting sustainability initiatives may prove versatile and resilient.


As a leading global packaging provider, RRD commissioned an online survey of 300 procurement, brand marketing, and packaging engineering decision makers to provide insights that inform strategy, priorities, and investments. Survey participants are located in the US across a variety of industry sectors. The survey, conducted by FINN Partners in Spring 2022, is weighted to be nationally representative.

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