Innovations In Eco-Friendly & Sustainable Packaging Options In The Food & Beverage Manufacturing Industry

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Corporate social responsibility is shifting increasingly towards the product and its packaging design from its initial focus areas of the buying process, fair trade and certified sources (e.g. UTZ farming). This stems from a heightened consumer awareness of plastic pollution due to increased media coverage of the issue.

Driven by these conscious consumers and the shifts in market focus, the FMCG sector is not only seeking to introduce new packaging designs, but has also undertaken communication efforts on the topic of a reduced environmental footprint as a key element of its product launches. Additionally, the retail sector is also seeking to combine smarter cooling systems with lowered energy consumption requirements with smaller pack sizes so as to generate less food waste. Indicating that the industry is also shifting towards a greener outlook.

In the case of the food industry, it is also becoming increasingly influenced by the growing demand for sustainable food sources and for this to be easily verified through visible certifications on the product. This has prompted the industry to reduce its packaging materials in general, although its focus has remained on plastic reduction. Food retailers are also seeking new packaging systems and more sustainable packaging materials that are bio-based plastic, cardboard or 100 percent recyclable plastic in order to satisfy consumer demands. Other initiatives that have been adopted by the industry include the use of eco-friendly printing and lighter bottles that can be shrunk more readily and thus, occupy less volume in generated waste. The usage of recyclable materials have also served as an opportunity to label the products with instructions for proper waste disposal practices and this has been supported by governmental institutes through means such as the “European strategy for plastics” that was administered by the European Commission just before the summer of 2018.

Thus, with the growing demands for greener packaging and sustainable food sources coupled with industry adaptations towards environmentally friendly practices, it is likely that new laws could be established to tackle issues such as the ten most commonly found plastic waste items in food containers and bottles and the impact of these new laws on consumer and industry awareness could be comparable with the legislation that advocated for plastic bags in EU member states to be banned in 2015.

Development Of New Packaging Trends Due To Consumer Demands

For consumers, environmental sustainability is often viewed in three categories: less food waste, more sustainability and optimised convenience. Furthermore, with the growing number of single-person households and small-sized families, the demand for smaller packaging designs is increasing and this has prompted retailers to introduce various types of packaging portions to their portfolio in order to satisfy consumer demands and reduce food waste. Additionally, by packaging products in segregated and sealed portions, either under vacuum or modified atmospheres, optimal freshness is maintained. This causes less food to be thrown away and wasted.

Similarly, consumer awareness of the environmental impact of plastics has increased drastically with time due to greater media exposure. Videos of ‘plastic soup’, for example, were published by different media groups and awakened the public to the issue of plastic waste. As a result, retailers are working towards new packaging systems or sustainable packaging materials, such as cardboard or 100 percent recyclable plastic. In the meantime, consumers also expect to have access to ready meals and snacks that are not only securely packaged, but are also convenient and safe to prepare, leading to the creation of oven-able packaging. Therefore, it can be witnessed that the demand for environmentally friendly packaging has created new trends in food safety whilst ensuring that the shelf life and convenience of food products is maintained.

Environmentally Based Packaging Solutions That Meet Consumer Demands

Despite challenges posed by the consumer demands and packaging trends mentioned above, SEALPAC is able to develop customer-specific packaging solutions that are environmentally friendly, yet are still capable of providing adequate product protection and convenience for customers. For example, the FlatSkin system that was developed by SEALPAC is composed of sustainable materials and is able to prolong the shelf life of food products. Instead of common plastic skin trays, the system utilises cardboard carriers that are coated with a polymeric protective layer. This provides stability to the cardboard and forms a barrier against grease, moisture and oxygen. A highly transparent barrier skin film also allows for fixation of the product directly onto its flat support, which allows for excellent vertical presentation, while the polymeric layer is easily removal to allow for a separate disposal. Thus, when compared to traditional vacuum skin packaging, the FlatSkin system is able to achieve a plastic reduction of up to 75 percent.

Additionally, through SEALPAC’s EasyLid system, lidding and tray sealing can be combined into a single operation. This allows for a reduction in spending for packaging materials and product weight and provides the option for reclosability without requiring the traditional snap-on lid. Coupled with the product’s clear sustainability message, this packaging solution provides an environmentally friendly option to consumers while ensuring that convenience is not compromised.

Although food waste is multifactorial in causation, a key contributor to food waste can be narrowed down to the mismatch between the amounts of food inside the food package compared to the actual dietary needs of the consumer. This is especially true due to the rising number of single-person households worldwide. Thus, in response to this, SEALPAC has offered several solutions for packaging fresh food items into smaller portions that are individually sealed and available on demand. Through the packaging’s unique separate InsideCut system, which cuts the top film within the contours of each cavity, economical film consumption can be ensured without any compromise to the product appearance.

Additionally, SEALPAC’s alignment with sustainability trends has also led to other developments such as the use of lightweight trays which reduce the thickness of films applied as well as thermoformers which allows for thinner film requirements due to Rapid Air Forming technologies. These ensure that product protection is maintained without compromising consumer convenience while allowing for sustainability to be the overall product target.