Consumer trends are shaping the food sector on several fronts. These trends are not only limited to where food ingredients are sourced, their cost or factors linked to health. How the food is packaged is just as important.
The type of packaging and its environmental impact are important considerations for anyone providing food products.
Keeping this in mind, food companies are focusing on three important factors to demonstrate their environmental credentials to consumers.
Firstly, companies are looking to simply reduce the volume of packaging used. Single-use packaging has become a household phrase and one not lost on food manufacturers, who are looking to ensure that packaging volumes are not only reduced, but that recycling options are maximized. This includes the shift away from single-use plastics.
Reducing the volume of packaging and shifting any packaging-material used to more sustainable sources, while controlling costs and maintaining margins can be a challenge. This requires a wider view of the packaging market to make more informed comparisons and choices. Today there are a wide range of packaging options from the more prevalent plastic and cardboard to aluminium and tinplate.
When considering the type of materials to use, manufacturers also try to influence consumer behaviour. This includes producing and promoting larger volume items, rather than packs containing items of a smaller volume. These techniques are reducing the volume of packaging required for the same overall volume of material. The larger items are often easier to collect and recycle, providing additional benefits to the environment.
Reducing Food Waste
With research suggesting food waste is as high as 30% in many countries, the food sector is looking to packaging producers to reduce food waste by extending product shelf life.
The challenge for manufacturers is to find a balance between materials that are environmentally friendly and easily recycled but at the same time provide enhanced barrier protection from oxygen and other substances that degrade the quality of the food and reduce the products’ shelf life.
Make Packaging Sustainable
Finally, the packaging itself must be sustainable. While the long-term target is for fully bio-degradable packaging, the short-term goal is to make packaging 100% recyclable and deliver this across as many categories as possible.
This is a challenge as today’s complex supply chains often involve exposing the products to a range of different conditions, such as high or low temperatures. It’s vital that the packaging can withstand adverse conditions and not expose the contents to contaminants.
Looking to the future
It is inconceivable, at least in the short-term, that packaging can be eliminated. It is, however, increasingly likely that the pressure to reduce and improve packaging is currently influencing the different choices the food sector makes. These choices are a response to consumer pressure as well as the need to reduce costs and improve the bottom line through more intelligent buying practices. Buying smarter can deliver a win-win solution.