Consumers are demanding for more natural food products with "clean labels"—ingredient lists devoid of chemical preservatives and other ingredients widely considered unhealthy. However, food must still stay fresh, so innovative developers are now turning to active packaging to maintain food quality and safety without compromising taste, texture and shelf life, according to a study produced by Lux Research, Boston.

In contrast to standard packaging, which is inert and simply provides a barrier, active packaging materials contain ingredients that actively absorb moisture or oxygen or actively kill microbes or fungus. As a result, it can help keep food fresh longer, without requiring additives to the food itself.

"Active packaging has the potential to address challenges for clean label formulations, but no single packaging technology is capable of delivering a complete solution," says Joice Pranata, research associate and lead author of the report titled, "Coming Clean with Packaging: Active Packaging Technologies Tackle the Clean Label Challenge." "Packaging developers need to work with their counterparts in processing and alternative ingredients."

Analysts evaluated 35 clean label developers and their active packaging solutions. Among the developers they highlighted:

  • Sushi and meal sets receive a natural solution such as allyl isothiocyanate, a naturally occurring compound from plants like horseradish and mustard, to target microbes and fungi.
  • Oxygen scavenger packaging preserves beverages such as UHT milk housed in PET bottles.