Refrigerated and frozen food packaging must provide a high level of hygiene and offer protection against moisture and temperature. But, those aren’t the only requirements.
Food packaging must also provide clear product information and create visual appeal while meeting consumer demands for sustainability, waste reduction, convenience and quality.
Over-consumption is a real problem—one that is finally coming to the forefront, shaping consumers’ decisions as they grapple with how to waste less, recycle more, reduce meat consumption and maintain a healthy lifestyle. For these reasons, shoppers are shifting their attention toward healthy foods and expecting ethical responsibility from the brands that supply them. This dramatic change in consumer perception is altering the industry’s marketing strategies.
Here are six ways in which tastes are changing refrigerated and frozen food packaging.
Food waste. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Italy, reports that up to one-third of all food is spoiled or wasted. There’s no denying that packaging plays an important role in minimizing food waste. Proper packaging can actually prevent food spoilage, and has a much lower carbon footprint than that of unrecycled packaging. Freezing goods can significantly reduce large-scale waste because of its ability to keep products fresher longer, while sealing in nutrients. In addition, frozen products enable consumers to use only what they need, helping to minimize residential waste.
When it comes to refrigerated food, efforts can be made to extend shelf life by using ultra-thin plastic films and airtight zipper bags, items that minimize the infiltration of oxygen that leads to spoilage. The good news is that governments, producers and distributors are developing solutions that protect food and reduce packaging waste, thus helping put an end to food loss.
Playful kid cuisine. Busy families are moving away from highly processed frozen dinners, looking instead for healthy alternatives. This health-driven movement resulted in a wide array of available choices on supermarket shelves. Several brands are developing enticing, kid-themed packaged meals and frozen dinners that include fresh vegetables and flavors that children love. Modern parents also require food to be free from preservatives, artificial colors and hydrogenated fats, and food companies are heeding their demands.
Flexible packaging. Reducing wasteful packaging is a necessity with “78 million metric tons of plastic packaging produced globally each year,” according to a study produced by Pratt University, Brooklyn, N.Y. As the sustainability movement progresses, consumers are choosing flexible over bulky packaging, with stand-up pouches being the most popular. While not all stand-up pouches are recyclable due to aluminum foil laminates that contain polyethylene, they are significantly lighter than traditional packaging, thus requiring less energy to produce and ship. These pouches work especially well with vegetarian and vegan products.
Alternative materials. Packaging developers are creating multiple biodegradable packaging options as an alternative to plastics that degrade rapidly in active landfills and city or household compost bins. These types of materials must not only be easily and completely biodegradable, but also incorporate effective food barrier control to keep consumers safe. Success has been found with several materials such as mycelium (mushroom roots), bagasse (a sugar cane byproduct) and bioplastics (created from corn and other plants). However, developers and distributors should be aware that increasing the use of alternative plant sources for packaging may lead to further deforestation in poorer countries, where the drive to purchase raw materials at the lowest cost can have some disastrous consequences.
Premium quality. In an effort to change the negative perception of refrigerated and frozen foods, an increasing number of companies are designing packaging with a premium look. Brands are upscaling their look to appeal to a different demographic—one that appreciates the convenience these foods offer. Examples of this premium, stylish design include foodie photography printed on packaging flaps, luxurious matte/gloss/soft touch finishes and printed meal solutions. By elevating the packaging and quality of products such as refrigerated meal kits and ready-made frozen foods, a new high-end market offers exciting food experiences in premium packaging that minimizes waste and accentuates freshness.
Healthy steam. The young, health-conscious consumer is longing for fast, easy, restaurant-quality foods void of additives, artificial ingredients, preservatives and antibiotics. This trend points toward higher protein or meatless products that contain vibrant ingredients such as fish, legumes and vegetables. For this reason, tray and film packaging has undergone a great transformation, delivering perfectly steamed meals while locking in flavor and vitamins. The modern consumer’s desire for speedy food preparation, which includes high-quality produce, is leading the way to many innovations in packaging. For example, steam bags with zippers and valves create the effect of a mini pressure cooker, steaming up healthy side and main dishes with speed and minimal effort. The ability to view product freshness through a transparent film (or “windows”) in the packaging is also an important requirement, reassuring the consumer that the product inside is as it should be.
When done properly, refrigerated and frozen food packaging will convey superiority, superseding consumers’ pre-conceived notions about quality and flavor.