Source: Tugce ParreidtInnovations in food packaging science are initially pushed forward towards market acceptance. The dynamics of socioeconomics creates certain market needs and technology seeks solutions to satisfy those trends, e.g. microwavable food packages, plastic waste concerns, sustainable packaging alternatives etc. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the main functions of packaging in the food industry in order to better help you when considering how you want your food packaging to turn out.
Four Functions of Food PackagingBelow, are four of the key elements your food packaging should look to consider during the creation and development stages:
- Containment: this is the ability of the packaging to maintain its integrity during the handling involved in filling, sealing, or processing phases.
- Protection & Preservation: this generally references the prevention of biological contamination, moisture change, aroma loss or gain, and physical damage. It also refers to the establishment of a barrier between the contained product and its environment. This is of particular importance in today’s society where home deliveries containing food and drink have increased dramatically.
- Convenience: here we aim to provide a higher level of convenience to the consumer through our packaging, in order to align with one of the key purchase-driving trends nowadays. This includes benefits like easy-to-open, resealable options, less mess, etc.
- Communication: the information that a package provides should incorporate both legal requirements and marketing objectives with regards to the messaging, nutritional labelling, country of origin, etc.
Plastic UseA separate concern presents itself when manufacturers believe they are supplying packaging that can be recycled, but local municipalities do not have the necessary infrastructure to undertake the recycling needed, highlighting a wider issue when it comes to the development of food packaging and its processes. According to a Mintel webinar I attended, 63% of US consumers have said that it’s important for food and drink brands to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they use. While there is some merit in reducing overall use, there also seems to be talk in the industry of removing packaging altogether to do better for the environment, but I don’t believe that zero packaging is the answer. Food Packaging in particular has many purposes for a consumer. It helps to communicate important nutritional information as well as company and manufacturing details, and also allows us to recognise the brands we love. Additionally, the right food packaging can actually help to reduce food waste, which is a serious global problem. Brands can adopt more sustainable options while using packaging innovations to help protect product freshness or extend shelf life, ultimately reducing food waste. One example is the use of shrink wrap on fresh produce which can increase shelf life anywhere from one week to two months, in some cases.
The Food Packaging Development ProcessThere is a general four-step process that we like to use when developing food packaging for functional food and beverage brands.
Source: Tugce Parreidt
- Step One looks at determining the requirements of the product and its packaging. This scope includes the requirements from a food product, production, and marketing perspective.
- Step Two is to select the most appropriate and effective materials and equipment for the packaging. This includes evaluating costs, availability of certain materials, analysing the regulatory compliance requirements and identifying potential safety issues. For example, small removable pieces can be a choking hazard for children, and broken pull tabs on cans can lead to consumers resorting to using knives to open the product which we never want.
- Step Three is to examine prototype packages and test elements such as shelf-life, distribution and logistics, and test production/package interaction.
- Step Four involves testing the final packaged product in the market and confirming consumer acceptance while monitoring feedback. This is where any refinements or edits can be made.
Consumer TrendsDuring this development process, you will be able to more easily highlight certain aspects to be considered based on current market conditions and consumer insights or habits. For example, over the past year during the pandemic, the increase in at-home consumption and deliverable food and beverage kits have caused the use of some heavier packaging types, such as glass, to decline as they are expensive and bulky to ship, and typically experience high waste and loss than other types of packaging. This change in the market has forced many brands and manufacturers to produce more packaging that better protects their products from damage or spillage, just like we previously mentioned when discussing the functions of food packaging. Plastic pouches, for example, have seen a large increase in demand, because of their flexibility and the ease of packaging them for shipping. They are lightweight and can be shaped in any way needed. They have also been developed to a point where the exterior part of the pouch is more durable and therefore difficult to perforate.
Trends in Food PackagingHere are some of the primary trends seen in the food packaging sector at the moment:
Intelligent (Smart) Packaging:Smart packaging has the potential to help future consumers more quickly and effectively understand the items in their shopping baskets, for example, by communicating the shelf life of a product, or whether the nutritional information of the item fits their personalised nutritional needs.
Active Packaging:This type of packaging allows tracking several parameters like pH, time/temperature indicators, fermentation, packaging integrity, gas composition, microbial growth to ensure freshness, flavour, quality and maintain compliance with health standards.
Bio-Based Plastics:The disposal issues of synthetic polymers and their carbon footprint is a growing concern among consumers. Bio-based plastics are made in whole or partially from renewable biological resources. For example, sugar cane is processed to produce ethylene, which can then be used to manufacture for example polyethylene. Similarly, starch can be processed to produce lactic acid and subsequently polylactic acid (PLA).
Edible Films & Coatings:Edible films and coatings are produced from edible biopolymers and food-grade additives. Film-forming biopolymers can be proteins, polysaccharides, lipids, or their mixture (composites).
Increased Portability:On-the-go and convenience are of increasing importance to consumers every day so when brands can satisfy this trend through their packaging choices, consumers are more likely to purchase. For example, edible spoons in on-the-go yoghurt pots.
Advances in Conventional Packaging Materials:Lightweight glass containers are a good example here, for example, without loss of quality, manufacturers can save on raw materials, weight, and transport costs. Many consumers struggle to tell the difference between filled lightweight bottles and their heavier counterparts. So it can be a good way to save on costs without compromising the consumer experience. If you are thinking about developing functional food packaging and don’t know where to start, consider asking yourself some of the following questions and then reaching out to me to help you turn those ideas into reality:
- What consumer or market opportunities can you take advantage of through new or adapted packaging?
- What products in your portfolio could benefit from packaging innovation or renovation?
- What package designs are the competitors offering, how can you differentiate and offer a better experience?
- Can you adapt your package type or size to improve your offering, reach a new audience or generation, or target a new consumption ritual?
- Do you need to look at the aesthetics of your packaging or are there technical elements that need reworked? Or both?
- Are there health or environmental concerns with your current packaging options that may cause consumers to purchase elsewhere?
-  Mintel Group, 2020. Insight Into Ideas.
-  Mintel Group, 2019. Looking Ahead at Package Innovation.
-  Euromonitor International, 2019. Packaging Industry in the US.
-  Euromonitor International, 2019. Packaging Industry in the UK.
-  The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Directive 94/62/ec on packaging and packaging waste. Off J Eur Union 1994, 50, 10-23.
-  Otles, S.; Yalcin, B. Intelligent food packaging. LogForum 4, 4 2008, 3.
-  Grumezescu, A.M.; Holban, A.M. Food packaging and preservation. Elsevier Science: 2017.
-  Lee, D.S.; Yam, K.L.; Piergiovanni, L. Food packaging science and technology. CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL, USA, 2008.
-  Ramos, M.; Valdés, A.; Mellinas, A.C.; Garrigós, M.C. New trends in beverage packaging systems: A review. Beverages 2015, 1, 248-272.
-  Kontominas, M. Olive oil packaging: Recent developments. In Olives and olive oil as functional foods: Bioactivity, chemistry, and processing, 1st ed.; Kiritsakis, P.; Shahidi, F., Eds. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.: 2017; pp 279-294.
-  Katiyar, V. Bio-based plastics for food-packaging applications. Smithers Pira: 2017.
-  Han, J.-W.; Ruiz-Garcia, L.; Qian, J.-P.; Yang, X.-T. Food packaging: A comprehensive review and future trends. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 2018, 17, 860-877.