Bubble-wrap maker Sealed Air and Simplehuman CEOs are prepping for a touchless future after coronavirus pandemic

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Americans hunkering down under stay-at-home measures have more time to think about their trash cans.

In a world transformed by the coronavirus that causes the deadly illness COVID-19, they are realizing their kitchen bins really need an update.

“People want to upgrade things around the home,” said Frank Yang, chief executive and founder of Simplehuman, a manufacturer of items such as touchless trash cans and soap dispensers. “When you think about upgrades you think, ‘What’s important to me?’”

The pandemic has expanded wellness concerns beyond things like exercise and diet to include illness prevention, a change that is poised to have an impact on how we live and interact—or limit interaction—with the world.

See:Grocery prices are rising as eat-at-home demand soars during the coronavirus pandemic

EMarketer says that while the pandemic is creating a major drag on the global economy, it’s helping to accelerate the development and commercialization of emerging technologies that previously received only lukewarm support from the public or government. In an April report, the research company highlighted such technologies as drone delivery, worker robots, 5G connectivity and telemedicine.

“This is especially true for innovations that reduce human-to-human contact, automate processes and increase productivity amid social distancing,” said the report.

Simplehuman seeks to make everyday life more efficient, according to Yang, creating touchless products for both the home and public spaces. Yang says the company has seen a surge in interest in items such as a touch-free, foam-sensor soap pump and a paper-towel holder that pulls the right amount with just one hand.

Now that families are spending more time home together doing chores, Yang says people are thinking about how to make the home a place of wellness.

Watch:Impossible Foods CEO: We’ll completely replace animals as food by 2035

“You start to say, ‘I want my home to be more comfortable and I want to take care of it,’” he told MarketWatch. “Before maybe you thought of it as a place to crash.”

With life outside of the home largely restricted to trips to essential retailers for food and home goods, many consumers, including those over the age of 60, are turning to e-commerce, said J. Bennett, vice president of operations and corporate development at Signifyd, an e-commerce fraud protection platform. The desire to avoid stores and other shoppers is further speeding adoption, said Bennett.

And more people are willing to buy more things online.

“Look at the types of categories that have boomed, things that you might not have bought before,” Bennett said. “Breadmakers, home office items like a computer monitor, weight training things, cosmetics. People are more willing to buy online and return if they need to.”

When shoppers do head back to bricks-and-mortar shopping, the experience will be very different.

“It’s going to a more touchless environment,” Sealed Air Corp. SEE, +8.01% Chief Executive Ted Doheny told MarketWatch.

Sealed Air is best known for packing materials like Bubble Wrap that shoppers find in their online orders. But the global company is also providing shipping materials, equipment and services for things like industrial items, medical ventilators and COVID-19 test kits, and frozen food.

For this part of the business, Doheny said the company is turning to technology that can package, track and scan items with reduced manpower. The Autobag process, for instance, uses just one person to prepare eight e-commerce orders every minute for shipping. Another system for food and e-commerce can prepare up to 100 bags a minute.

“[C]oncerns about job replacement will persist, but it’s likely that more workers, especially those in high-risk industries like healthcare and in-person service, may soon be more receptive to robot help,” said the eMarketer report.

And:‘I don’t think we should ever shake hands again,’ Fauci says

More than half of consumers (52%) have shopped for groceries online because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to data provided by Fabric, an e-commerce micro-fulfillment platform. Fabric focuses on fulfilling orders using robotics.

One-fifth of those ordering groceries online are doing it for the first time, and 70% say they are likely to continue to because of COVID-19. Heading into the pandemic, U.S. online grocery sales were near 5% and expected to reach 6% by the end of the year. Fabric is now expecting that they could exceed 10% in 2020.

Contactless delivery has also become standard for delivery services like Grubhub Inc. GRUB, +6.53% due to the pandemic. Restaurants that have transitioned to takeaway- and delivery-only operations like Domino’s Pizza Inc. DPZ, +1.14% have also introduced contactless options as a selling point for customers.

Read:McDonald’s, KFC go takeout only, Dunkin’ removes seats as Trump encourages contactless restaurant transactions

And major retailers like Walmart Inc. WMT, +0.27% and Target Corp. TGT, -0.86% have services that allow customers to order online and have purchases delivered to their cars, minimizing interaction with others.

A study by Shekel Brainweigh, an Israeli data analytics company, shows that 87% of U.S. consumers would prefer a shopping experience with more touchless and self-checkout options. Nearly three-quarters of shoppers use self-checkout frequently.

Sealed Air is working on an e-grocery system that uses an automated system to package food, separating cold from hot, and even has a fast-food restaurant system that will load and dispense condiments without a human’s touch: “Your hamburger gets an auto-squeeze of ketchup,” Doheny said.

That may sound like the antiseptic world consumers want to create, but it could also make for the cold, sterile feel of a hospital.

Simplehuman’s Yang says design elements can make this new, hygienic approach more appropriate for the home. Plus, people enjoy having these items around.

“It’s fun to use,” he said. “Kids like to use it. When kids like to use it, you know it’s good.”

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