The cold food industry is constantly evolving to address consumer demands and emerging trends. While the food products themselves may not overtly change, advancements in packaging are often implemented to enhance consumer experience, align with industry trends and change perceptions of the products inside. By adopting flexible packaging, today’s brand owners have a unique opportunity to customize packaging features, utilize advanced technologies and promote sustainability, all while enhancing the marketability of their products and aligning with consumer trends.

Consumer trends and drivers

Consumer trends can directly or indirectly influence product and package design. For instance, shopping habits directly impact the types of products that perform well at the retail level. On the other hand, societal trends such as fast-paced lifestyles can indirectly affect how products are designed and packaged to appeal to those who encounter these trends on a regular basis. The following are a few examples of consumer lifestyle trends that drive packaging and product design.

Time-stressed. In a fast-paced society, consumers are increasingly time-stressed and in search of simplicity. To appeal to these consumers, brands seek solutions that produce simple products and make consumers’ lives easier. Products with added convenience features effectively meet these demands. For instance, packaged foods that are easy to use, portable and have recloseable features, like a zipper, experience a favorable amount of sales.

Experience seekers. Consumers no longer go to the store to simply purchase products. Instead, they seek out an experience. Value-added packaging can enhance consumers’ experiences and influence buying decisions. For instance, select frozen foods have microwaveability features that allow the food to cook right in the original packaging. This added value provides a unique, convenient experience and reduces the need to use and wash additional serving pieces.

Health-aware. Another trend that affects the food industry is health awareness among consumers. Consumers purposefully seek out products on the retailer shelves that have clean labels and natural ingredients, and packaging can be a useful tool to help brands adapt to this trend. For instance, flexible packaging takes on a variety of formats that include single-serve options, which enables portion control and encourages healthy-eating habits.

Health-conscious consumers also tend to incorporate fresh produce into their diets. Flexible packaging technologies can extend shelf life to keep these products fresher longer for prolonged use in a healthy diet. Shelf-life extension at the individual and retail levels through technologies such as modified atmosphere packaging, active packaging and freshness indicators also has a positive impact on reduction of global food waste.

The importance of sustainability

Consumers also have taken on an active, socially responsible role in society. Many consumers limit purchases from companies that do not operate sustainably and look for brands that offer products with minimal environmental impact. This trend continues to grow because of extensive media coverage, and causes packaging to be at the center of a sustainability debate. Packaging waste and end-of-life outcomes are significant concerns for consumers when they consider a purchase decision.

While they tend to focus on recyclability, consumers may not be aware of the holistic sustainability attributes of flexible packaging. Even with relatively low recyclability rates, the holistic impact of flexible packaging on the environment is favorable when compared with most other packaging types. For instance, when food is packaged in a pouch as opposed to rigid packaging, it results in lower fossil fuel usage, GHG emissions, water usage and the amount of package landfilled because of the high product-to-package ratio. Brands can communicate these holistic sustainability attributes to differentiate their products on the shelf and appeal to environmentally friendly consumers.

Brands can also support programs and initiatives that address industry challenges to show consumers their efforts to become more sustainable. Industry collaborations like the Materials Recovery for the Future commit to enhance infrastructure and address end-of-life challenges through advanced auto-sortation and collection processes. Collaborative efforts can improve recovery rates and encourage flexible packaging use in manufacturing without provoking consumer concerns about disposal methods. Support for consumer education programs is also vital, as infrastructure can only be effective with proper participation.

Influential Millennial attitudes and behaviors

Millennials have grown up with flexible packaging. As a result, this generation has fully embraced the format for a variety of products they purchase. For instance, Millennials are inclined to buy bags of frozen vegetables that offer convenience and add value to their experience with the ability to cook food in the package itself. Similar products fit this generation’s convenience requirements as well as portion control objectives and accommodating an “on-the-go” lifestyle.

Flexible packaging market

Flexible packaging adds great value to products in the food industry. In fact, the food market makes up nearly half of U.S. flexible packaging sales at $14.9 billion, according to “A Holistic View of the Role of Flexible Packaging in a Sustainable World” report, produced by the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA), Annapolis, Md.

Additionally, in FPA’s “Flexible Packaging Transition Advantages Study,” 71% of Americans said they would prefer flexible packaging over non-flexible packaging. In fact, 46% of Americans are willing to pay more for food products stored in flexible packaging than they would for food products stored in non-flexible packaging. This suggests an opportunity for the flexible packaging and cold food industries to intersect moving forward.

All the above factors should be considered by brand owners when deciding how to present products to consumers. Packaging solutions tailored to consumers’ preferences and sustainability outlooks will affect sales, brand perception and brand value. When brands listen to consumers’ desires and respond actively with packaging solutions, it signals that they can adapt to the needs of their audience while fostering a mutually beneficial relationship.