What are the top 5 trends driving innovation in food packaging?
Aside from the basic necessities, what is influencing food packaging right now?
Food packaging serves the very fundamental role of protecting food. Legally, it also must convey information about what’s inside and the date by when it should be eaten (unless it’s canned food or really small). Somewhere on there, of course, you also need a bar code.
But what else is having an impact on food packaging today? Out of the many, here are five key trends and how they’ve impacted food packaging:
- Health: consumer awareness of ingredients
- Convenience: seeing more on-the-go and lunch-box packs as a result of how people are consuming
- Focus on organic and local produce: the manufacturer or producer can highlight their source
- Smaller households: needing smaller sizes
- Research and innovation: new applications in packaging
Articles abound on improving health by improving the quality of food that people eat. And it’s not just about sticking to your daily energy intake by only eating 2,000 calories worth of chips from the frozen section in the supermarket. It’s about what else is in those chips — or muesli bars or bread. Consumers have become a lot more aware about the ingredients that are in their foods — particularly sugar levels. In the same time frame, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has overhauled its code regarding what food processors can say about both “general-level” and “high-level” health claims. This code was updated in 2013, with a three-year transition period ending last year. The general-level health claim refers to wording such as “contains calcium for healthy teeth”, while a high-level claim example is “high-calcium diets reduce the osteoporosis risks in those aged over 65”.
So what’s the effect on food packaging? As with any area, the processor must be aware of their responsibilities. So how will the information be presented on the packaging? Increasingly processors are engaging with consumers; 2D codes such as QR codes are a great vehicle.
Greater strictness in the code is designed to help consumers make healthier food choices, and, as global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright notes, to secondarily build consumer trust in food & beverage labelling — a trend that will only continue as more research becomes available about the impact of food on general health and wellbeing. And while food processors must comply, Norton Rose Fulbright notes it also “gives companies an opportunity to stay ahead of the curve in tapping into consumer’s desire for healthier options, by ensuring clarity in their labelling and packaging to build consumer trust and therefore brand loyalty and awareness”.
How people are consuming food has seen a change in packaging, with more on-the-go and lunch-box packs. Taking the latter even further, Australian firm Foodie Packs has launched a range of ready-made school lunches based around fresh produce. Founded by Sydney mum Alizah Maryanka, the packs include a sandwich or pasta, along with fruit and veggie snacks, and are available either as home delivery (to inner Sydney) or in selected Woolworths stores. Airtight sealing keeps the cut fresh produce crisp until consumption, while sandwiches are sealed in an airtight chamber keeping them soft and fresh for up to five days while refrigerated. The packs have a four-day use-by date.
Other related convenience features include easy-opening and re-sealing, and being able to easily carry the food item around — to the point of one-handed use (say for when people are sitting at their desk or commuting). Not having to stir microwaveable food during heating has resulted in multi-compartment packs, so the foods in for a set time and then you’re eating it. Dutch microwave-packaging supplier Shieltronics, has created a pack that means food neither needs to be stirred, nor the heating process stopped to stir in sauce. The injection-moulded, dual-compartment Qizini tray has separate compartments to prevent “the mixture of taste and aroma” and allows “an optimal heating of the different food components”, with say a fresh veggie compartment and ready-to-cook protein and/or starch (e.g.: fish and potatoes) compartment.
- Focus on organic and local produce
Another trend is focusing on local, and organic, produce. Increasingly, consumers are looking for food that’s done fewer food miles to reach their plates. This has several drivers, including wanting a greater understanding of what’s in food and who it’s produced by — two facts that have generally been neither transparent nor completely available. As well, many people now are wanting to eat locally produced food so they are supporting their local community and farmers, as well as believing local, organic produce to be beneficial to their health and the environment.
Often, this type of food will be in will be in paper bags or cardboard boxes, but where the packaging is “more formal”, producers need to think about how they present the information, including bar codes.
- Smaller pack sizes
The rise of single-person households has corresponded to a desire for smaller pack sizes. With within those microwavable products, salad kits and zippered pouches, consumers are also wanting a wider range of food products as well as greater segmentation, such as by size and flavour. Such “food-for-one” sees more and more single-serve portions, thus increasing the total volume of packaging per unit of food. However, a very bright positive could be less food wastage as a result.
Innovations in food packaging seek to give consumers increased convenience with a longer shelf-life. The icing on the cake is if it’s at a lower cost than existing packaging. In Food Science & Technology, the journal of the Institute of Food Science & Technology, Gordon Robertson, adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland and Principal Consultant at Food•Packaging•Environment, notes innovating is a continuous process, with some of the more recent ones including:
- LiquiGlide coatings, which allow viscous condiments to nearly completely empty, even from narrow-aperture packs
- lightweighting, g.: Krones’ PET Lite 9.9 bottle weighs 9.9g for a 500ml carbonated beverage, and is up to 45% lighter than comparable PET containers
- Material substitution: most noticeably the switch from glass to plastics. The first polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle appeared in the market just 40 years, and today most non-alcoholic beverages are packed in PET, with wine and beer bottles next. Sidel has created a pasteurisable PET bottle that looks like glass; additionally, the 330ml bottle weighs 86% less than an average equivalent glass bottle. Edible oil is another market, with a 3-litre PET bottle launched in the USA; it’s tipped to appeal to consumers being light-weight and convenient (it has a handle).
- Bio-based, but not biodegradable, plastics: this area gets very technical, but basically a desire to move away from petroleum-based plastics has led to renewable bio-based plastics; g.: containers made from bioethylene have the same properties, processing and performance as polyethylene (PE). Globally it’s being used by multinationals such as Danone for yoghurt cups, Odwalla for fruit juice bottles and by Tetra Pak for plastic caps and closures for aseptic paperboard cartons. Then there’s Coca-Cola’s PET Plantbottle®, partly derived from plant-based sugars and agricultural residues. This 100% bio-based bottle was released in June 2015, but won’t be available in commercial quantities until next year. The latest exciting development is by Dutch company Avantium, resulting in a new polyester: polyethylene furanoate (PEF), an “analogue” of PET.
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