Packaging is a way to differentiate tiered brands, a method to increase sales and a part of the overall brand messaging for a product and a retailer. In short, packaging is much more than a container tasked with safety and transport.

In 2019, packaging will gain prominence throughout the store and will hold the potential to become a new way to strengthen consumer trust in the food system. Packaging’s role will become less utilitarian as a mere container and more about ensuring the packaging is free from its own harmful materials.

Pushing the limits

LINDAR Corp., a thermoform manufacturer based in Baxter, Minnesota, continues to use food safety and clean packaging initiatives to drive new packaging options for perishable department packaging. The company continually looks at all aspects of the equation from instore packaging for product made or packaged instore to product that’s made in a bakery facility that desires to appear made instore.

“Our development team continually pushes our manufacturing limits to give options that deliver safe and clean choices for instore packaging and consumers,” says Dave Fosse, director of marketing, key accounts. “The safety aspect and clean package is creating challenges in package development, but we have been able to improve the eye appeal of our clean packaging and give a very high-quality look to our packaging options.”

Yet eco-minded, sustainable clean packaging doesn’t receive a free pass when it comes to the appearance of the plastic. Consumers still desire clear plastic packaging that reveals what’s inside the whether that’s inclusions in a cookie or the ingredients in a fresh salsa or chutney.

Making baked goods stand out  

Sabert, headquartered in Sayreville, New Jersey, ensures bakery treats stand out in its high-clarity PET packaging for cakes, cupcakes, pies, muffins and multipurpose foodstuffs. The company also manufactures a line of eco-friendly packaging called the Green Collection. Certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), the Green Collection meets standards for both industrial and home composting standards.

The product uses pulp from sugar cane fiber, which is one of the world’s most-abundant annually renewable resources. The line includes bases and double-lock lids to optimize leak resistance in round, square, oval and rectangle shapes for use in catering, grab ‘n go and tabletop.

Placon Corp., headquartered in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, produces polypropylene, PET, HDPE and thermoformed infection-molded packaging. The company’s Crystal Seal line is protecting food while keeping 1 billion PET plastic bottles and thermoforms out of the landfill, according to the company’s website. The Crystal Seal line, manufactured with EcoStar recycled PET material, uses up to 100 percent post-consumer content collected from recycling. Its eco-friendly, flexible, tamper-evident and leak-resistant packaging provides consumers with a cleaner, sustainable way to engage with products at the store.

Less is more

As the less-is-more aesthetic becomes more of a constant than trend, packaging manufacturers like Hartsville, South Carolina-based Novolex are emphasizing sustainable materials management. By looking at end-of-life phases, including ways to make more packaging recyclable or compostable, Novolex is actively reducing the overall amount of packaging ending up in the landfill.

“Quality packaging reduces waste from damage, spoilage or other factors and is why market sustainability is one of the most-important aspects of packaging sustainability,” according to the Novolex website.

Sustainability is a forward-looking trend for 2019 that provides a circular view of spanning the product lifestyle, as cited by Chicago, Illinois-based Mintel. The global provider of market research cited a 360-approach to guarantee resources are kept in use as long as possible. Mintel suggested providing food packaging made from recycled materials and incentivizing consumers to recycle the packaging or offer upcycled goods.

Initiatives to reduce or remove packaging from the landfill are more critical than ever considering a 2015 EPA study found packaging containers make up 37 percent of landfill waste. Placon’s zero-waste objective diverts more than 120,000 water and soda PET bottles from the landfill every day, recycling more than 1 billion plastic bottles and thermoforms into its EcoStar food-grade products.

Good for the environment, good for business

Playing to sustainability initiatives and consumer wants is also good for business when it instigates a new launch or the expansion of a popular product line. In August, Inline Plastics, headquartered in Shelton, Connecticut, announced four new packaging options for its Safe-T-Fresh snackware. The recyclable line, made of 100 percent DPET material, features clear walls, transparent viewing windows and the Safe-T-Gard tamper-evident and tamper-resistant tear-strip locking mechanism. The company also manufacturers Pagoda Ware, introduced in 2018, featuring beveled corners and the Safe-T-Gard strip, which provides consumers with the assurance that foods inside are safe and quantities are accurate.

“Consumers show a propensity to gravitate to upscale packaging features that promote safety, convenience, cleanliness and environmental responsibility,” says Cindy Blish, associate brand and communications manager, Inline Plastics. “Our products are exceptionally clear, made of low-carbon footprint DPET sheet and easily recyclable.”

As consumer desires wax and wane and options for clean packaging grow beyond one-size-fits-all utility-type packaging, Mintel predicts success will require significant collaboration between manufacturers, suppliers, governments, non-profits, retailers and consumers.

“I believe that food safety and clean packaging will continue to drive new packaging options for perishable department packaging,” Fosse says. “Packaging needs to be part of the overall brand messaging of the product and at the retailer. Convenience and a variety of serving sizes are important for brands to give customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it.”

Trust and transparency

While consumer desire for trust and transparency in the food they buy is nothing new, many suggest such roots will continue to grow, as profiled in “Clean Packaging: The Next Step in Consumer Transparency” from Packaging Digest. The July 2018 article featured Q&A with Weldon Williams, senior director, quality assurance, packaging at HAVI, a global company managing and optimizing the supply chain of leading brands. Williams forecasted packaging will be a great way for brands to tell their clean-food stories. For packaging suppliers, this will include transparency into what goes into packaging and leveraging new packaging technologies to reduce the use of chemicals.

In terms of storytelling and labels, Williams predicted consumers will be on the lookout for packaging free from chemicals and made from natural materials. Clinical-sounding phrases such as “compliant to regulations” won’t be enough to bridge the perception divide between what’s officially compliant and what consumers desire when it comes to clean packaging.