Deli and prepared food packaging serves some important roles. It needs to be durable and reliable while providing the best and latest in food safety technology. It also should provide retailers some degree of space-saving benefit, whether it’s in shipping, storing or on the shelf.

But just as important as any of these is the way the packaging presents the actual product — it’s the first thing shoppers see.

“Packaging plays a huge role in driving impulse sales for consumers,” says Jason Horbac, assistant product manager for Sabert. “It can enhance the food and make it look even more premium. That’s something we take a lot of pride in with the designs or our bases. We want to show the food off. That’s what packaging should do.”

The right packaging can do much more than just protect a retailer’s food until it’s opened by the consumer. It can help build a connection between the two parties.

“The differentiating of your packaging is something that’s a lot more important today than in the past,” says Barak Bright, director of product innovation-paper for Novolex. “Your total story of what your product is, well packaging is a key part of that. You can’t tell the entire story without packaging being an influence on the story.”

That’s the goal with the new C-Thru Display Bags from Novolex. When retailers want to use something different to break up a sea of resin, they often had to do so at the cost of product visibility. The C-Thru bags feature a wide-view panel that offers a dominant view of the food while also allowing room for branding and, as Bright says, storytelling.

“I think one of the things flexible packaging has lacked is visibility,” Bright says. “That’s no longer the case. We’ve kind of broken through the barrier. Now we’re in a situation where we can provide more eye contact visibility than any other flexible package on the market, which is cool.”

The packaging can also help convey the more artisanal or homemade feeling that consumers are looking for in this market. Bright says it passes his lighthearted way of gauging how consumers might look at the product.

“I call it Grandma vs. The Robots,” Bright says. “Did grandma make this product or did a robot make it? It sounds kind of silly, but that’s what we’re trying to convey with natural crafts and paper. A lot of what we see for consumer preference today in Generation Z and millennials is they’re obviously looking for choices that fit their ideals. When they see something that looks less processed and more homemade and has more of a local feel, that’s big.”

Novolex answers the challenge that flexible packaging may lack in product safety and longevity with its Dubl Fresh barrier paper, which controls air flow and locks in freshness. “We designed a wax alternative barrier that is able to keep the product fresh for an extended period of time,” Bright says. “It’s a proprietary coating design that we put on the paper to ensure the oxygen doesn’t pass through very quickly.”

While flexible packaging can offer a lot in terms of product promotion, retailers and producers shouldn’t permanently pass by plastics, which are not only sturdy but have their own advantages in product presentation. In fact, Sabert’s motto for its new bakery collection is “Designed to Display,” which isn’t far from the motto for the entirety of the company’s offerings.  “Food safety and stability and space concerns are all something that go into making the perfect package, but at Sabert, even our tag line is that we make food look great,” Horbac says. “That’s what we live by every day.”

And that mantra is intensified even more when dealing with in-store bakery creations. While prepared foods or cheese trays or bagels deserve the same level of product showcasing, they aren’t usually as labor-intensive as a delicately decorated cupcake, for example.

“Bakery items are very specific. For us, you have to make sure the packaging is made for merchandising,” says Horbac. “You have to show off your finest culinary creations and have durable packaging that truly is designed to display. You also have to have clean aesthetics and innovative design that displays desserts and drives sales. Bakery items are works of art and bakers take a lot of pride in the food they create.”

Not only is it ideal to have high-clarity PET lids or tops that provide the best view of the product, Horbac says crack-resistant and crush-resistant features are paramount in keeping the product safe and looking great. He also says that smooth edges can maximize both shelf space and consumer appeal.

“We have an R&D team that spends a lot of time making sure there is clarity and durability in our products, especially in our lids,” Horbac says. “And we do it to have an upscale look to our bakery collection, with different designs like a distinguished swirl or a rainbow design that allows the treats and desserts to seem even more special.”

Stability, design, presentation and convenience are a lot to consider in view of packaging. In the end, it’s all about getting your product to stand out in front of the person who matters most: the end consumer.