Consumers are increasingly going online to do their grocery shopping.

The journey a product takes to get to a consumer is very different from what it was 10 or even five years ago. Click-and-pickup options at grocery stores are becoming more popular, meaning some people may soon see it as strange or overwhelming to walk down a supermarket aisle. Consumers are ordering food by talking into a smart speaker, and drones are being tested to deliver online purchases. These advances are happening faster than many can keep up with.

Online grocery shopping is one of the fastest-growing sectors in US retail, economists say. Twenty-three percent of shoppers bought groceries online during a 3-month period ending in April 2017, according to the market research firm TrendSource. Other consumers are using their Google Home and other smart speakers to order goods. If someone asks Amazon’s Alexa to order another pack of their favorite granola bars, they show up as early as the next day. This eliminates the need to go to a store, look at a shelf and choose the attention-grabbing product. In the baking and snack packaging world, it’s difficult to judge what changes may be in the near or distant future to adapt.

“We’ve always said packaging sells, but I think that may change,” said Bill Kehrli, vice-president, sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging.

Flexible equipment that can produce simple multipacks and retail-ready designs provide the ability to serve online and traditional retail channels.

While channels like club, grocery and c-stores will exist for the foreseeable future and create a demand for retail-ready packaging, changes could be on the horizon if consumers move their grocery shopping online, where all the eye-catching designs and innovative displays aren’t all that necessary. So, why do it?

These questions and more are on the minds of many bakers and snack manufacturers as they look at the constantly changing retail landscape. “Manufacturers need to better understand the product journey through the online retail channel to better prepare for new routing and, ultimately, the various products their branded items will be comingled with for final shipment to the consumer’s door,” said David Potter, vice-president, supply chain and product engineering, Plastic Packaging Technologies.

How will that bag of potato chips travel with cans of soup or non-food items? Will the primary package need to be reinforced or upgraded to sustain a more unpredictable final phase of shipping and handling? The questions abound, but many equipment manufacturers don’t see this as a seismic shift in strategy. Ironically, things may go back to how they were before the Internet even existed. Long before intricate display packaging was required to stand out on the shelves, all that was needed was a simple box or wrap that held the product together.

Manufacturers still need to get the product from the point of purchase, whether online or traditional retail, to consumption as safely as possible.