The COVID effect is bringing about dramatic change in consumer dining and purchasing habits. The packaging industry is watching closely – and responding.

Study after study reports on the emerging influence of online shopping within the food sector. According to MarketWatch, industry analysts’ research and information from Uber Technologies Inc. and DoorDash Inc. suggest consumers have become accustomed to delivery, which more than doubled during the first year of the pandemic. McKinsey says food delivery is now a $150 billion business globally, albeit an unprofitable one, so far.

Still, the average American household throws away $2,200 of food each year, according to data cited by SoFresh, Inc., which is deeply concerned about food spoilage in the U.S. and the rest of the world. The SoFresh team is dedicated to fighting food waste as the company grows and expands. The company is committed to the following goals:

  • Naturally extend the shelf life of fresh bakery products from 10 to 20 days
  • Reduce food waste by 30%
  • Improve bakery net income by more than 1½ times

“When I heard about SoFresh, I immediately got in touch with them. It keeps our products fresh. Our bread will last up to 3 weeks now,” points out Doug Michael of Columbia County Bread and Granola, based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. “We have a new retail outlet, which they opened in the summer of 2021. It allows us to try new products – a testing ground for customers. Now that we have these bags, we can do this.”

Bill Belias, chief technical officer, and Toby Thomas, chief executive officer, started SoFresh in 2018. Both have widespread experience in packaging and science.

“Our products will allow food producers, food wholesalers and food retailers to lengthen the travel life and overall shelf life of food. This is done with natural, organic products that have no smell or taste or residue. Food will last longer without requiring refrigeration therefore saving our clients or partners money,” the SoFresh executives point out.

Consumer insights

The food and beverage industry has gone through tremendous change over the past 12 months. 2021 has shown us that this industry can adapt quickly and pivot in the face of adversity. But what lies ahead for 2022?

Joan Driggs, vice president, Content and Thought Leadership, IRI, presented findings on 2022 consumers values that reveal people are seeking out four distinct things.

  • Premium and indulgent
  • Convenience
  • Health and wellness
  • Sustainable

“Habits have been formed, and we have a whole new generation of cooks. More people are staying at home to work. We have a lot of new consumption habits,” she points out.

In 2021, restaurants came back, but not necessarily at the expense of at-home cooking,” explained Jim Kabbani, chief executive officer, Tortilla Industry Association. “What we’re seeing now is a situation where retail and at-home tortilla consumption remains strong, while foodservice has come back. And the additive result of those two trends is an overall increase in consumption.”

Total retail dollar sales for tortillas and flatbreads decreased slightly, falling 0.3% to just under $3.8 billion, according to IRI data for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2021. Tortilla sales fell 0.9% to approximately $3 billion, while flatbread sales rose 4.8% to $365 million. Most of the growth for tortillas and flatbreads was in the perimeter/fresh food area, with sales jumping 8% to roughly $256 million.

“That fresh area is only 7% of tortilla and flatbread sales, so it’s very small, but it’s growing faster than in aisle,” explained Melissa Altobelli, principal, client insights, dairy and bakery vertical, IRI. “That’s because a lot of self-serve areas are open now, and also consumers are going out and celebrating more, buying products for parties or holidays.”

Food to go

According to Jeff Rebh, president and chief executive officer of Innoseal Systems Inc., the packaging industry is embracing more grab-and-go sized packaging – moving away from bulk bins and developing smaller, efficient pre-packaged goods. 

The Innoseal Professional L Sealer is a tamper-evident bag closing system which uses a unique, resealable tape and paper combination to seal bags. The system is self-contained, meaning there is no waste.

“It always comes down to education,” Rebh says, pointing to the future.  “The consumer demands accountability from energy to sustainability.  We, the supplier(s), need to do better at being transparent. What is best for the individual consumer, the market, and the entire ecosystem.”

Switching to eco-friendly packaging helps minimize the waste and pollution that ends up in our oceans and landfills. Sustainability has become a top priority for W Packaging and creating truly recyclable products with the least possible impact to our planet is one of our goals. According to EPA, “to pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”

“We work to ensure our products not only follow EPA sustainability guidelines but exceed them. Our products contain recycled content, are source reduced, and compostable. We believe it is this dedication to excellence that has allowed us to succeed in our market.”

Understanding the challenges to keeping foods fresh, Inline Plastics’ Innovation Center has developed technologies that make product lines the industry leaders. The company’s years of experience and quality testing have resulted in containers with the tightest seal. But recognizing that different foods require different oxygen levels for peak freshness, Inline Plastics then incorporated vents into certain product lines to optimize air flow. Their R&D teams are always working on new features and technologies that maximize merchandising, freshness and consumer usability.

All of Inline Plastics’ packages are made with high-quality material. These thermoformed containers offer the best protection to prevent crushing or damage, while keeping the contents fresh and appealing. Patented technology found in both PET Safe-T-Fresh®, and now in the new PP Safe-T-Chef®, ensures a tamper-evident, tamper-resistant, tight seal, that is ideal for foods that need to travel and be kept fresher for a longer period of time.

Inline Plastics has made it a corporate goal to balance convenience with sustainability. This includes an intentional effort to create easy to recycle products which are widely accepted by recycling centers. In fact, Inline Plastics is the first food packaging manufacturer in the USA to provide PET products with post-consumer content born from cutting-edge technology, recycling at the molecular level - known as Advanced Recycling.

Consumers want convenience, but shy away from unnecessary waste. Customers want cost-effective solutions with consumer-appealing packaging options. Today, businesses and consumers are working together to minimize waste and live in an environment that promotes the efficient and effective uses of all our resources. Inline Plastics’ PET containers are 100% curbside recyclable. The company is making it easy for customers to give consumers the convenience they want while easily putting the containers back into the pipeline for reuse.

For more than 30 years, Inline Plastics has combined its industry leading containers with customizable automation systems to offer complete packaging solutions that are specifically designed to load, close and label its products, maximizing the efficiency of the packaging process. Inline’s automation solutions get products to the market, onto shelves, and into the consumers hands quickly and efficiently.

Inline’s automation team offers equipment that will dispense and place Inline Plastics containers onto a conveying system, close the containers, and apply labels to any surface on the containers, at speeds up to 200 units per minute. The automation equipment is constructed with high-quality stainless steel tubing framework, with wash grade controls and conveyor motors.

In addition, the Automation Department can assist customers in evaluating and incorporating existing inkjet date coders, metal detectors, weight checkers, weigh and fill systems, and container de-nesters into their production line design plan.

Focused on innovation

Understanding the challenges to keeping foods fresh, Inline’s Innovation Center has developed technologies that make our product lines the industry leaders. Years of experience and quality testing have resulted in containers with the tightest seal. R&D teams are always working on new features and technologies that maximize merchandising, freshness and consumer usability.

Earlier this year, Inline Plastics launched Safe-T-Chef®, an entirely new product family uniquely designed to add layers of protection while maintaining the temperature of warm and hot foods. This is the first polypropylene product family that incorporates tamper-evident technology into packaging designed for hot applications.

Tamper-evident packaging is used for all forms of perimeter foods, and with the introduction of Safe-T-Chef®, is now available in hot food applications. Inline Plastics’ offers a wide variety of containers in all shapes and sizes that utilize our patented tear-strip technology. This enables consumers a quick reference point that confirms the foods inside are safe, secure, and have not been touched since packaging.

Consumers cared about food safety before COVID. Now, with a heightened awareness for all things health and safety related, the growing demand for the security of pre-packaged food items has naturally increased as well. In particular, Inline Plastics’ Safe-T-Fresh® product line has seen growth across all shapes and sizes of packaging.  With the recent launch of Safe-T-Chef®, the food service market now has options never before available -- tamper-evident, tamper resistant polypropylene packaging for hot food applications.  As consumers continue to look for convenient packaging that offers the food safety they desire, Inline’s extensive catalog of products means retailers always have the right container available to meet the consumer demand.

Every time a package changes hands there is the potential for tampering. With more and more food delivery services coming into the marketplace, the need to ensure foods stay fresh, safe and intact is rapidly growing. Tamper-resistant packaging minimizes the risks, providing the confidence and security that foods reach the consumer as safe and fresh as possible.

Burford’s Tamper Evident Closure System improves the security and safety of your products. It works with existing packaging lines and packaging materials. Adding the Burford® TEC200 to your existing line easily provides a sealed tamper evident package.

Model TEC200R features an optional conveyor, along with the following:

• Tamper evident bag tail

• Perforated for easy opening

• Works with existing Servo Tyers and other closure systems

Changing consumer demand

Rebh at Innoseal Systems points out there’s a current struggle between time and distance that must be solved, as well as protecting the supplies and goods as they move through the chain. That is one key reason why smaller, more manageable package sizes are being investigated – because there is a pressing industry need for less touch and increased demand for more hygienic delivery.  

This scenario favors more grab-and-go sized packaging, and a packaging industry that is moving away from bulk bins and developing smaller, efficient pre-packaged goods. 

“We can use restaurant delivery as an example,” Rebh explains. “Packaging has been changed to protect the consumer from door to door. Food safety and packaging is ever more important to the consumer. The example of using tamper-evident packaging in restaurants and food delivery services can be easily transferred to other fresh food systems.”

Innoseal manufactures and distributes tamper-evident bag closing systems. The company uses a proprietary blend of FSC recycled paper and polypropylene tape to create a virtually airtight seal. 

“We take pride in minimizing our packaging waste and offsetting our carbon load with newly installed solar panels at our manufacturing facility in The Netherlands,” Rebh says. “We source material locally and globally distribute our products by maximizing efficiencies through the entire supply chain. Our goal is to minimize the energy it takes to move raw material and finished product through the system.”     

Environmentally friendly options

As a result of impactful industry trends, the packaging industry is showcasing new products that meet the surging demand for convenience and environmentally friendly options.

good natured Products Inc. a North American leader in plant-based products, launched Canada’s first innovative assortment of compostable microwavable to go containers as a viable alternative for businesses faced with a single-use plastic ban in Canada.

Minimizing waste and environmental impact is top of mind for both consumers and organizations, yet at the same time the widespread effect of COVID-19 has led to higher requirements to protect food in grocery stores and increased demand for take-out from restaurants due to rolling restrictions on in-restaurant dining. This, in combination with growing government and corporate mandates, is driving demand for innovative packaging solutions that do less harm to the planet and human health.

Packaging made from renewable materials that can be commercially composted at the end of its useful life is considered a viable option to create a closed loop, zero-waste solution. This is especially true in foodservice applications, where traces of food and oils on packaging can make them problematic for easy recycling, regardless of the material they’re made from.

Compounding the recyclability issue, some traditional petroleum-based plastics have been found to contain chemicals of concern, like BPAs and phthalates, which pose the risk of leaching when heated. Heat resistant plant-based options with no chemicals of concern were not previously viable due to high price points. In an environment where restaurants are fighting to survive, absorbing substantially higher costs in operations is simply not an option.

With leak resistance and durability in line with traditional plastic options, good natured Microwaveable To Go Containers are suitable for hot foods and microwave re-heating. This is one of the first available hot food packaging options on the market that combines the zero-waste benefits of commercial composting with affordable price points, according to good natured.

The company is launching the most popular 16, 24 and 32 oz formats in a variety of trending 2021 colors with interchangeable leak-resistant lids – a crystal clear lid for grocers to maximize product visualization and a translucent lid suitable for microwave heating, which is particularly appealing for restaurant and take-out applications.

“We’ve been collaborating on the commercialization of certified compostable, microwaveable technology for several years, and now we have a commercially viable, affordable product that is ready for launch,” said Paul Antoniadis, chief executive officer of good natured. “The demand for secure storage and transport of food that is respectful of the environment, in combination with increasing emergence of single-use plastic bans meant we needed to get our plant-based microwaveable technology across the finish line.”

According to good natured, “we're delivering one of the first available hot food packaging options that combines the zero-waste benefits of commercial composting with renewable materials and affordable price points. Whether you need a microwavable lid that can stand the heat or a crystal-clear lid for maximum product visualization, we've got you. Both lid styles are compatible with our 16, 24 and 32 oz. take-out containers, because we know mix-and-match makes your inventory life much easier. We've designed a grippy stacking feature to lock these to go containers in place and keep them steady whether they're stacked on the shelf or popped in a delivery bag.

“Our eco-friendly, microwavable to go containers are available in modern, sleek colors: dusk and stone. Our brainy scientists have been working hard to create a translucent base with a super low haze level, for awesome product visualization.”

The packaging features crush-resistant and stackable space-maximizing design. Much of good natured’s packaging has features such as rippled walls for drop-kick durability. The ridges give the package more stability and crush resistance.

Renewable materials

good natured is passionately pursuing its goal of becoming North America's leading earth-friendly product company by offering the broadest assortment of plant-based products made from rapidly renewable resources instead of fossil fuels. The company is focused on making it easy and affordable for business owners and consumers to shift away from petroleum to better everyday products that use more renewable materials, less fossil fuel, and no chemicals of concern.

good natured offers more than 400 products and services through wholesale, direct to business, and retail channels. From plant-based home organization products to certified compostable food containers, bio-based industrial supplies and medical packaging, the company is focused on making plant-based products more readily accessible to people as a means to create meaningful environmental and social impact.

“We believe that doing what's right is more than just the ingredients we use— the products need to work, and they need to work well. We're focused on the business fundamentals of smart product design, skilled manufacturing, and customer service. These fundamentals are often overlooked in the sustainability industry, where the focus is often on the latest development that may be years away from commercial viability. Our growing product assortment enables more people to make the switch to a more sustainable solution.”

At good natured, Simply Secure tamper evident packaging is perfect for those looking to add that extra level of security but not lose the commitment to planet friendly. Made from our certified compostable 99% plant-based material, these containers offer the same smooth lines, drop-kick durability and easy stack ability as our other packaging, but with an easy-to-use locking clasp to keep sticky fingers out until you’re ready to dig in. And you still get our signature re-sealable snaps to keep food super fresh so you can save some for later.

GoodGuard meets the needs of both the environment and customers. This US patent pending innovation includes a dual-hinge tamper evident design with no tear-away strips or small pieces that can escape waste/recycling streams to accumulate in land and marine environments.

The GoodGuard innovation comes at a time when food safety and chain-of-custody security is at an all-time high and is expected to grow in importance given the growth in popularity of grocery and restaurant delivery and take-out industries. GoodGuard allows for the necessary security without creating plastic waste.

Minimizing waste and environmental impact is top of mind for both consumers and organizations. GoodGuard will be available in both commercially compostable PLA and curbside recyclable Bio-PET, both of which make use of renewable, plant-based materials to deliver an industry leading and exclusive assortment of tamper evident food packaging in the US and Canada.

“Our Simply Secure tamper evident packaging is perfect for those looking to add that extra level of security but not lose the commitment to planet-friendly,” the company says. “Made from our certified compostable 99% plant-based material, these containers offer the same smooth lines, drop-kick durability and easy stack ability as our other packaging, but with an easy-to-use locking clasp to keep sticky fingers out until you’re ready to dig in. And you still get our signature re-sealable snaps to keep food super fresh so you can save some for later.

“We’ve expanded our line of commercially compostable tamper evident food packaging to make sure your goodies stay snuggled safe and secure on their road trip to the customer. Sporting all the important features you expect from good natured, like durable plant-based materials, crystal clear visibility and super stack ability, our expanded range of 20-plus tamper evident containers comes in two distinct closure options.”

Bakery food packaging has re-sealable snaps, which means the food stays fresh even after opening. You don’t have to worry about eating the product all at once.

“From mega cupcakes to the tiniest of bite-sized treats, we’ve got you covered. Made from annually renewable plant-based material and no BPAs, phthalates or other nasty stuff, good natured bakery packaging is more than just drop-kick durable. From snappy seal ability to easy stack ability, we’ll have you rightsizing your way to eco-friendly nirvana in no time.”