Trends in Food Packaging

Published:2014-03-26

Food packaging is a high growth sector, it was recently forecast that for the foodservice sector alone, packaging will reach $40 billion in sales or 2.04 trillion packs by 2016. The sector is also one that has evolved and innovated in recent years, as packaging manufacturers have taken steps to respond to changing regulatory and consumer pressures. Within this trend, suggests Dr Liz Wilks, European Senior Manager for Stakeholder Engagement, Asia Pulp & Paper, there are four key aspects: pressures on accurate labelling - driven in part by the European horsemeat scandal, the growth of single serve portion packs, demands for sustainability and the role of packaging in preventing food waste.

 

Labelling

Labelling has been in focus over the past 12 months as manufacturers respond to both regulatory and consumer pressure. The horsemeat scandal has knocked consumer confidence in sourcing controls and with it confidence that the information provided on labels is correct. What the scandal demonstrated is that even the most comprehensive label system is still at risk of fraud if it is not matched by effective supply chain monitoring. However, now that the wider food industry is responding to the lessons learnt in the horsemeat scandal, labels can aid the industry in restoring consumer trust. Labels when deployed effectively enable tracing and provide reassurance as to the contents of a product -one impact of the scandal has been the enhanced relevance and value in placing origin information front and centre in pack design.

Other shifts in the category have also been regulatory; the European Food Information Regulation is establishing new requirements for on pack processed food nutrition information, origin labelling for fresh meat, a renewed focus on allergens and perhaps most importantly, minimum requirements for legibility and text size for the labels themselves. The legibility requirements will be of particular note for brands with smaller pack sizes and complex ingredients that will need to include all the required information without compromising branding. There are innovative solutions available such as double sided labels or labels that can fold out, but with the new rules due in December 2014, packagers need to be working on solutions now.

Similarly in the UK, front of pack labelling remains a contentious issue. The Government will publish its final recommendations for a voluntary scheme this summer - which will likely remain as a hybrid between traffic lights and guideline daily amounts. Whilst the system is voluntary, the commitment of the UK's major supermarkets and the pressure of lobby group Sustain to 'name and shame' brands that do not take part creates further pressure from a brand reputation perspective.

Single serve portions

Single serve portions are on the rise in the UK and Europe, driven by the rise of people living alone, ever busier lifestyles and fragmented dining times, a clear example of manufacturers responding to consumer needs. This has led to innovation across the food sector - in the ambient category for example the success of Premier Food's Lloyd Grossman for One range is indicative of the increased adoption of the pouch format for sauces. The growth of single serve packaging adds value to the customer - for example, whilst single packs are generally more expensive per volume, consumers still choose them for their convenience.

Furthermore, whilst consuming more packaging per volume overall, a single serve package can also address the issue of food wastage by removing the issue of half-empty containers returning to the fridge before eventually being thrown away unused. From a sustainability standpoint, the record of single serve portions is currently mixed, but through future innovation in the use of renewable materials such as bio-plastics and board, the packaging industry potentially has a very positive story to tell about how it is helping to limit food wastage through portion control.

Sustainability

Sustainability in packaging remains a major trend with pressure from both consumers and regulators, although now accompanied by the recognition that brands should pursue a focus on achieving packaging efficiency - a more holistic approach that incorporates sourcing as well product protection, transport, display and end of life. There is of course very little value to the customer in environmentally-friendly packaging if the final product arrives damaged or otherwise unfit for use. The gradual and quiet withdrawal of 'milk bags' from sale in the UK is an example of a packaging design that passed the environmental test but failed on usability.

There is however always scope to improve the environmental performance of products and pack design, as seen in the recognition of paper and board as a material that is renewably sourced, is easily recycled and can biodegrade at end of life. The global market for food contact board and paper is forecast to experience continued 6 per cent annual growth to reach $70 billion by 2017, driven in part, according to Smithers Pira, by the drive for sustainability. We're also seeing innovation that is enabling board to expand into new categories - such as the increased use of cartons in smaller sizes. The use of a 330ml carton by Jimmy's Coffee is an example of a carton product entering the on-the-go market, one which is traditionally dominated by small plastic bottles. Carton in this context enabled Jimmy's to incorporate more branding and offer a product that is superior in environmental terms in terms of sourcing and end of life.

What is also apparent as a broader trend is how sustainability in packaging has changed over time. In the 1980s and 1990s, sustainability was generally speaking a supply chain push issue as manufacturers responded to regulatory changes such as the introduction of the European Packaging Waste Directives. Today the picture is more balanced, regulatory pressure remains as evidenced by the recent Welsh consultation on implementation of the EU Waste Framework Directive, but consumer pressure is also much more important. Today's consumer is much more aware of how to limit their personal environmental impact and how their choice of packaging can play a key role. Packaging manufacturers have been quick to respond, recognising that this is not only what the consumer wants, but it is good for the environment and can benefit the bottom line. For example, Itsu recently launched a revolutionary 'card can' recognising that its consumers wanted the convenience of a plastic bottle but with the easy recycling and low carbon footprint of cardboard.

Reducing food waste and increasing shelf life

Tackling food waste is where packaging can demonstrate its value and meet the pressure to reduce waste. WRAP's recent campaign in the UK to educate consumers on how leaving food in its packaging can help it last longer at home is a great example of industry leadership. Similarly, food brands and packaging manufacturers are stepping up with new designs and products: the Co-Op has found a way to extend the shelf life of its tomatoes by changing the size and distribution of the perforations in the packaging to improve moisture control. At a more simple level, we've also seen changes such as the incorporation of zip locks on cheese packets or screw caps on cartons to promote resealing and reduced wastage.

The future of food packaging

Looking towards the second half of 2013 and beyond, it is clear that all of these trends are here to stay. One that will become increasingly important, as evidenced by the launch of the third phase of the Courtauld Commitments in the UK in May 2013 is the drive towards increasingly sustainable and more efficient packaging. To meet this trend and to continue delivering value to customers, the packaging industry needs continued innovation in smarter food packaging design that fuses functionality with moves to limit the impact packaging has on the environment. Packaging is a vital component in the modern food industry and pressure from all stakeholders should be welcomed as it drives innovation and better packaging design.