As reduce, reuse and recycle solidify within the consumer lexicon, companies look to keep pace with evolving sustainability and packaging demands.

When it comes to packaging, there’s an ever-changing continuum between sustainability and convenience. Sometimes, the two can appear to be in sync. At other times, the two notions seem to be on an entirely different spectrum, especially when it comes to considering consumer wants versus manufacturer and retailer needs.

Because packaging plays a greater role than simply holding or containing a product, manufacturers continue to look for ways to keep pace. This includes managing dual expectations: 1) of supporting retailers and consumers by offering safe, attractive and reliable food containers; and 2) remaining mindful that packaging must accommodate for convenience while alleviating concerns about the environmental impact of its use.

Telling a Story

Packaging has always been essential to a profitable instore deli department, but under the expanding umbrella of green and sustainable initiatives not just any packaging will do. Savvy consumers are looking to their preferred retailers to provide minimal packaging that’s 100% recyclable.

Inline Plastics products are manufactured with the patented DPET™ sheet, a direct-to-sheet process that eliminates energy-intensive stages from traditional PET production. The 100% recyclable line offers a significantly reduced carbon footprint, which makes the packaging more environmentally friendly, according to Kimberly Radigan, assistant product manager, Inline Plastics, Shelton, Conn.

“Consumers play a crucial role in the type of packaging utilized by companies,” Radigan said. “We continue to look for designs which offer functionality such as leak resistance and tamper resistance. It’s become essential to consumers that packaging is minimal, recyclable, reusable and made with fewer materials.”

Growing awareness of sustainability measures and the ubiquitous nature of technology makes exploring the supply chain of almost any company easier than ever. As a result, businesses that choose to remain quiet about their sustainability efforts risk finding themselves on the receiving end of social outrage, particularly from Millennials and Gen Z consumers who are more adept at learning about companies, brands and sustainability initiatives. To get out in front of potential issues, companies are transparently sharing their sustainability efforts in a variety of online and social venues.

One example of such efforts is Inline Plastic’s website which demonstrates the energy savings from the solar panels installed on the roof of the company’s headquarters and manufacturing facility. The 2,600 solar panels produce more than 15% of the energy needed to power the facility and allow the company to further reduce its carbon footprint.

Clear Visual

Demonstrating value also pertains to the safety and display of the product contained within the packaging. This includes offering a range of tamper-evident and tamper-resistant packaging in a variety of sizes designed to provide peace of mind and ensure food is not compromised. Inline Plastics’ Safe-T-Fresh patented tamper-evident tear strip protects packaging contents and helps the contents remain fresh and safe.

“Consumers want their food’s freshness and shelf life preserved for as long as possible in order to get the most value, reducing waste,” Radigan continued.

When food may not be consumed in one sitting, as is the case of bulk purchases, packaging accessibility and the ease of resealing plays a role. This includes accommodating demand for more sustainable packaging with healthy offerings in smaller portion sizes and grab-and-go options to meet the demands of consumers’ busy lifestyles. Additional functionality and convenience attributes include packaging equipped with a leak-resistant seal to improve portability of food in a lunch bag or a backpack. Robust lids and rigid stacking rails provide enhanced multi-level merchandising options instore.

Looking to create a premium image for a brand on the shelf level, Inline Plastic’s Snackers and SnackWare brands offer single-serve options for grab-and-go convenience. The high-quality DPET™ material offers enhanced clarity to provide a clear view of the product from every angle with a smooth-wall design. The easily stackable containers put the product center stage while preserving valuable shelf space.

“Clear food visibility of deli prepared foods will continue to drive impulse sales of grab-and-go,” said Marilyn Stapleton, director of marketing, Anchor Packaging, Ballwin, Mo. “Anti-fog lids, combined with container designs optimizing sustainable material options, will meet the market requirements.”

Reduction Efforts

Quality, sustainable packaging is also a tool in reducing the amount of wasted food resources. Although home and restaurant kitchens remain the major sources of food waste, retailers must consider if the packaging they use for hot grab-and-go is acceptable, according to Stapleton.

To keep fried foods hot and crispy for takeout or delivery, Anchor Packaging offers Crisp Food Technologies containers. The unique, patented, convection crossflow design relieves moisture and condensation while maintaining food temperature. Through-the-closure ventilation and raised airflow channels in the bottom of the container combine with venting in the lid to ensure fried foods remain crisp.

To keep food looking fresh on display for grab-in-go instore, there’s Anchor Packaging’s new Fry Baby hinged 6- x 3-inch container sized for French fries, chicken strips, nuggets and wings. The container integrates anti-fog in both the clear base and lid for additional value to avoid order errors for less than the cost of a coated paperboard box. Stapleton cautions packaging chosen for fried foods such as chicken pieces, fries and egg rolls must be able to withstand the typical 30-minute delivery time without arriving cold and soggy.

The increasing use of apps, convenient grab-and-go options and the ability to order just about anything online, means many of the same prepared food packages will continue to perform well for delivery, according to Stapleton. Among shoppers (Millennials (58%), Gen X (43%) and Boomers (38%), the growing appeal of these options demonstrates more willingness to incorporate a restaurant-prepared main dish, side or dessert into home-prepared meals compared with two years ago, according to IDDBA’s “What’s In Store 2020,” report.

Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed in the report cited having prepared foods in the instore deli as extremely/very important. US Hispanic shoppers topped the list of consumers bringing home grocery prepared foods at 76%, followed by Asian Americans (70%), African Americans (69%) and White/Caucasian shoppers (59%). 

Room for Labels

Packaging can also provide updated options for manufacturers and processors as they adhere to the new FDA labeling guidelines for nutritional facts and ingredients. With compliance dates for the updated guidelines extended to Jan. 1, 2020, for companies with more than $10 million in annual food sales and to Jan. 1, 2021, for companies with annual food sales of $10 million or less, packaging can elevate how consumers approach and receive information about food. Improved access to freshness labels, ingredient lists, allergen information, expiration dates and recall information through clear, easy-to-read labels allows consumers to make better-informed food choices.

“Packaging that offers convenience and portability will continue to enter the marketplace,” Radigan said. “This includes the continued research and availability of food packaging that is sustainable with the infrastructure and educational programs to support recycling efforts.”

Growing Compliance

A growing number of companies are also looking to produce packaging in compliance with increasingly strict state bans on polystyrene packaging and foam containers. Cities such as Berkeley, Calif., are passing sweeping bans to remove all single-use plastics while other US municipalities are switching to plant-based compostables. Depending on the source quoted, there remains some debate whether compostable foodservice ware made of natural materials such as sugarcane, bamboo and corn decompose as expected. If materials do not decompose in compost bins, they must be processed at industrial facilities.

All Anchor Packaging products are consumer reusable and recyclable. Whenever possible, the polypropylene containers also consist of 40% less petroleum-based resins to preserve natural resources. In addition, all PETE hinged containers, bases and lids are manufactured with a minimum of 10% post-consumer recycled content.

Radigan predicts the industry will see more technology-enabled solutions for the food packaging arena with greater implementation of smart packaging, Internet of Things and blockchain as consumers continue to demand more transparency from companies and look to obtain more product information beyond the label.

“Our role as retailers, distributors and manufacturers is to preserve food quality and consumer experience while reducing the use of natural resources, reusing materials and recycling with consideration of performance and price for our businesses,” Stapleton said.