Innovations in packaging answer consumer demand for sustainability, freshness and safety.
Trends beget trends.
For example, industry observers say the growing trend of reusable grocery bags may actually be a sign of two other trends. First it suggests that shoppers are acting more environmentally friendly. It may also mean shoppers are buying products in smaller sizes. Observers say these two behaviors should mean a great deal to the packaging industry.
“Obviously sustainability is a giant trend,” says Glenn Pfeifer, executive creative director for Daymon Worldwide, a branding firm based in Stamford, Conn. “Consumers want to feel good about whether they can recycle, whether paper is taking up space in a landfill and how much energy went into making the plastic.”
A newer trend is rightsizing, or a move to smaller sizes to accommodate more containers on a shelf, on a pallet or in a truck. There has also been a switch from rigid to flexible packaging and an effort towards making items weigh less. “A lot of players are innovating with different shapes and forms and added value,” says Pfeifer.
In center store and with fresh and prepared foods, package sizes are getting smaller for several reasons. Some retailers are building smaller store formats, especially in urban markets, so there is simply less space on shelves. Other stores are finding that shoppers are buying smaller quantities of certain items.
“The rise of non-nuclear families such as couples without children, single parents and empty nesters has implications for packaging sizes,” says Suley Muratoglu, vice president of marketing and product development for Tetra Pak, based in Vernon Hills, Ill. “We are seeing convenience, size, ease of storage and disposal drive consumers toward the need for greater efficiency in their day-to-day lives.”
Retailers want efficiency too, especially when it comes to using shelf space. One of Tetra Pak’s newest products is the Tetra Recart, a retortable carton package designed for foods like vegetables, beans, tomatoes, pet food, soups and sauces, which are traditionally packed in cans and glass jars. Muratoglu says Tetra Recart generates 30% to 40% space savings on grocery aisle shelves.
Retailers also want to save storage space. “Even in large stores, a big concern is storage space,” says Patrick Starrett, product marketing manager for Robbie Flexibles, based in Lenexa, Kan. “When you are storing Rigid containers, one of their boxes is large and holds 100 rigid containers, and ours is small and holds 250 pouches.”
It is not just the size of the package that matters. “Smaller shelves require that packaging have good nesting characteristics that allow containers to easily stack up to a retailer’s required height,” says Jack Tilley, market research analyst for Inline Plastics Corp., based in Shelton, Conn. “Having good stackability allows retailers to save space by being able to display more containers vertically.”
Another consumer demand for small containers applies to grab-and-go foods. One of Inline Plastic’s newer products is a tamper-resistant Car Cup container. They are easy open and close clamshell snack cups available with either flat or dome lids, and are designed to fit most automobile cup holders, says Tilley. “A major trend we are seeing right now is consumers looking for smaller portions of better quality foods, for instance single slice portions of high end cakes or pies,” he adds.
Observers say that tamper-resistant is also an important feature now, as more people are concerned with food safety. Inline Plastics’ rigid plastic Sandwich Wedge container features a perimeter seal that provides increased shelf life and is tamper-evident, says Tilley.
No matter what size, it is no secret that packages have to act as a billboard on the shelf. Flat surfaces have an advantage, say observers. “Packaging has to communicate with the consumer,” says Roman Forowycz, president and chief marketing officer for Clear Lam, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill. “We have seen a significant movement away from round containers to packaging shaped more like smooth rectangles and squares.”
Clear Lam is launching PrimaPak, a flexible, stackable, and recloseable package made from a roll of film. “It is not a stand up pouch, but more of a sturdy and durable rigid container made from lightweight flexible film,” says Forowycz. “It has been designed for a variety of food items such as coffee, nuts, cereals, beef jerky and shredded cheese, as well as some nonfood items like detergent pods, personal health care products, fertilizer and others.”
Erin Reynolds, marketing director at Evergreen Packaging based in Memphis, Tenn., says paperboard packaging is especially useful for branding. “The 145 square inches of packaging real estate available on a typical half-gallon carton allows brands to tell their brand story and explain product benefits, fully engaging consumers,” she says.
It also helps to be able to see the food or beverage, she says. In 2011 Evergreen introduced the Fresh-Look carton, which contains a window. Making inside contents visible allows brands to make a strong appeal at store shelves, says Reynolds. “Cartons also provide an excellent packaging vehicle for premium products, including functional beverages.” Premium products also include fresh foods, which some supermarkets are offering as artisanal foods, says Barak Bright, director of marketing for BagcraftPapercon, based in Chicago. “Some of the smaller footprint stores tend to focus on higher end, fresh premium breads, fresh prepared deli foods, and maybe a trend towards organic,” he says.
Bright adds that those upscale foods need packaging that complements their homemade artisan look. That could mean anything from printing custom designs on the package to using brown, unbleached paper. “You are trying to marry your packaging to fit the differentiation you are trying to showcase in your food,” he says. “That is critical in sales, or you wasted money on high end ingredients.”
BagcraftPapercon is expanding its line of Dubl View paper packages, which feature a window. The new packages range from small servings to multi packs of deli and other prepared foods, including rotisserie chicken and fried chicken.
Other manufacturers are also launching packaging with windows that show the food in an appealing way. Robbie Flexibles is introducing a pouch for bakery that better shows the cookies inside. “Before, you could penny stack the cookies inside, and all the cookies could be seen through the window, but you only see the edge of the cookie,” says Starrett. “With the new pouch you can stack the cookies sideways or faced towards the window to where you see the face of the cookie, so you get a better visual appearance for the product.”
Robbie Flexibles also developed a bakery rack for merchandising. Cookies stay fresher in the company’s bags than they do in boxes, says Starrett, but it is hard to stack bags on a bakery table. The new wire racks hold four bags of cookies or brownie bites on the bottom shelf, three in the middle, and two on the top level.
What’s for dinner?
Now more than ever, consumers are buying meal replacements in supermarkets. “Supermarkets are not just salad bars anymore,” says Erica Colgan, a product manager for foodservice for Huhtamaki Packaging, which makes, among other products, Chinet plates. “There are tons of grab-and-go meals now that people can take home and heat up. Nontraditional channels for foodservice are emerging, and some are really upping their offerings.”
To make sure the food truly is transportable, Huhtamaki, based in De Soto Kan., recently introduced the Chinet molded fiber clamshell. The clamshells have a unique closure feature. “It protects the customer’s meal investment,” says Colgan. “They just spent seven dollars, and you have to make sure they can take that meal home.”
Huhtamaki also recently introduced the PaperPro Naturals molded fiber three compartment deep plate with clear dome lid. Both products are made from molded fiber—recycled material made from renewable resources. Colgan says that they are also 100% compostable. “All our molded fiber products are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute,” she says. “We are looking at front of life and end of life, so our products are really sustainable.”
Sustainable packaging is very big right now. “We continue to see sustainability and unique merchandising options as needs of grocery merchandisers, specifically in the bakery and prepared foods category,” says Erik O’Neil, vice president of sales for SOLUT!, based in Lewis Center, Ohio.
SOLUT! packaging is a dual-ovenable, minimal 60% recycled corrugated paper alternative to rigid plastics, he says. “We don’t believe consumers purchase items based on the packaging alone, but they will choose an item that they emotionally feel good about purchasing.”
For many shoppers, the issue is more than just recycling. “Consumer behaviors are increasingly being influenced by health and environmental factors,” says Petra L’Abbe, director of business development, global packaging, for the Minneapolis-based Valspar Corp. “A recent study by the research group EcoFocus Worldwide indicated that consumers often change what they buy in order to reduce the amount of chemicals they are exposed to in their homes and they largely take environmental reasons into consideration when shopping.”
As part of the company’s environmental and energy initiatives, Valspar developed GEN VI technology. This is a water-based inside spray coating for beverage cans that is designed to provide improved material efficiencies and energy savings opportunities. It also provides the environmental advantages of being a water-based technology with less volatile organic compound content.
In addition, since 2011, Valspar has been granted 20 new Food Contact Notifications (FCN) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration covering the technologies used in other product offerings to protect the inside and outside of metal packaging. Such new coatings cover a broad range of applications including beverage containers, food cans, caps, closures, specialty cans and more.
Many companies are expanding their lines of green packaging. “I am seeing more and more demand for alternative green packaging,” says Michael Wood, vice president of foodservice sales for Plymouth, Minn.-based Ultra Green Packaging. “The educated consumer is demanding this, along with the top tier management of grocery store chains.” To meet the demand, Ultra Green added a flat pizza pan to the Tree Saver Pizza Box family. This year, the company is introducing four-inch high dome lids that can be used with the company’s deep round pizza pans, a square catering line and a sushi family of packaging.
Eco-friendly is one of many important attributes in packaging, says Jeff Lucash, director of stock products for Placon Corp., based in Madison, Wis. “Although there is a continued push for eco-friendly packaging, the majority of consumers still ultimately buy with their eyes and expect a value for their dollar,” he says.
Placon launched Fresh ‘n Clear compartment bowls, which are made with up to 100% post-consumer recycled content. The compartment bowls with center cups are available in 32-ounce and 48-ounce sizes and are designed for cut fruits, vegetables, cheeses and nuts.