A convenient truth – customer-friendly packaging

6 April 2017

Food and beverage companies are using packaging to create more convenient, eye-catching and sustainable products. Jim Banks looks at how consumables are becoming healthier, more environmentally friendly and better suited to consumers’ busy lifestyles.

Whether it is in more sustainable products, healthier food, more convenient packaging or the differentiation of premium brands, many companies in the food and beverage market are rethinking their packaging and using innovative designs to achieve diverse marketing goals. Their goal is to stay one step ahead of consumer trends, which are changing rapidly.

One example highlighted by the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies (PMMI) is the growing emphasis among consumers on health and sustainability. A report at the end of 2016 showed a 25% increase in vegetarian and a 257% rise in vegan global food and drink product launches that year compared with a similar period five years ago. PMMI also noted the growing concern among consumers about the environmental impact of the supply chain, particularly in terms of food waste as well as packaging.

“Increasing consumer demand for more healthful foods and beverages continues to fuel the rise of organic, vegetarian and vegan products,” said Jorge Izquierdo, vice-president of market development. “Meanwhile, growing demand for convenient, on-the-go and single-serve options underscores the need for brand-owners to accommodate more active consumer lifestyles.”

Major food companies such as Mondelez International have taken these messages from consumers to heart, and are focusing on the impact of their supply chains and the quality of their ingredients. For Mondelez, it takes the form of its ‘Call for Well-being’ initiative.

“Well-being represents one of our biggest growth opportunities over the next few years and is a core part of our company’s larger growth strategy,” says Frank Sabella, vice-president of quality, food safety, and scientific and regulatory affairs at Mondelez International. “People are increasingly interested in well-being for themselves and for their families. This is true for consumers in developed and emerging markets.

“Consumers are aware of the connection between what they eat and their health. As such, they are seeking out foods, including snacks, that that fit their lifestyle and well-being needs. To meet those needs, Mondelez is focusing on making meaningful improvements in the areas that matter most to consumers, such as simpler ingredient lines, and improved nutritionals, as well as improving the balance of its portfolio.”

For the snack market in particular, the issues of food safety and well-being must be coupled with convenience. Packaging increasingly needs to provide easier access to products while preserving the quality and, in many cases, providing the option to reseal the packaging effectively.

Open to innovation

Resealable packaging is becoming a much more familiar feature on food products and has long been identified by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and other organisations as one of the most useful innovations to hit the consumer market in recent years. The drive in the packaging industry to add flexible packaging solutions with resealable finishes is fuelled by a need to increase convenience and function, while maintaining the freshness of the contents, and is particularly suitable to the snack market, though it has found many applications outside that sector.

Resealable bags are a popular choice for many products, not only because they improve convenience, but also because they reduce the amount of waste that is generated. Whether they come in the form of zips, drawstrings, strips, seal tapes or films, resealable products are set to become even more prevalent, and many more companies are expected to enter the market for such solutions alongside the more established players.

One high-profile food firm to move into the market for resealable bags is The Kellogg Company. Its MorningStar Farms brand has recently moved many of its products out of bag-in-box cartons and into flexible and resealable pouches to ease storage, promote convenience and to prevent the freezer burn that can happen when food comes into contact with air in the freezer. The bags use a double-zip for the closure that has been designed to make the act of closing quick and simple. The double set of interlocking elements help to guide the consumer’s hand along the right line to form a complete seal.

Not only is this new solution more cost-effective, but this new zip also has the added benefit of helping to differentiate the product on the shelf, as many competing products still use the bag-in-box approach. Kellogg’s has also started to use resealable bags for other flagship products, such as breakfast cereals. The box is not yet a thing of the past, but Kellogg’s granola in an easy-to-open, resealable bag is proving popular with consumers.

In the UK, a similar move in the breakfast cereals market – albeit with a different solution – has been seen with the Great Little Grains brand, Sown & Grown, which has launched muesli and granola products in a resealable tube. Sown & Grown wanted to challenge the idea that cereals had to come in flat boxes, and to provide a product that was reusable and sustainable. Its solution was a disruptive, resealable and reusable tube that not only locked in freshness, but was also sure to create a stir at point of sale.

Commenting on the launch, Great Little Grains co-founder Phil Toms said: “Entering the competitive cereal category with a new brand required a unique point of difference. The use of the visually disruptive tube, when combined with the striking brand design, gives the Sown & Grown brand the opportunity to be noticed at the point of sale.”

Similarly successful innovations have been made in snacks. Resealable packaging is increasingly making its way into meat and cheese products. BelGioioso Mild Provolone is just one example of a venture into this market: it provides the convenience of an easy-to-peel film and can be resealed at least 20 times with just fingertip pressure.

“The package is a real breakthrough in terms of packaging science and innovation,” says Jane Skelton, a representative of the judging panel that awarded BelGioioso the 2015 Silver Award for Dupont Packaging Award. “These club-sized, dual packages can be easily separated for storage and use. Due to the resealable technology, the cheese stays fresh after multiple openings, avoiding food waste.”

Access granted

As far back as 2013, a report by consumer association Which? suggested that food companies were losing customers because packaging was too hard to open. A survey suggested that a fifth of people found that complicated packaging limited their food choices. Ease of access continues to be a key area of focus and there are often breakthroughs, as in the case the UK’s Innovia Films.

The company looked closely at the problems associated with peelable films in order to create a solution that would improve customer convenience with packaging that is easier to open.

“Innovia keeps up to date with the latest trends and their possible effect on packaging requirements,” says research and development director, Andrew Bayliff. “It is a well-accepted fact that the population is ageing, and the average consumer’s dexterity is reducing. For older adults and people with physical limitations, opening packs can often be a challenge. In addition, there are a variety of articles written on the subject of the so-called phenomenon of ‘wrap rage’. With difficult to open packaging, consumers can get so frustrated that they resort to desperate measures: using sharp implements to the risk of serious injuries.

“Last, but not least, Innovia’s customers have also indicated that they are interested in easy-to-open packages. Adequately protecting the product through its life cycle is critical to food producers. Opening bags made with traditional films can result in the packs tearing and all the contents being scattered on the floor. Product spillage is highly undesirable and an element that we have worked on resolving with our peelable films,” he adds.

Easily opened packaging is greatly valued, not only by older consumers and people with reduced dexterity, but also younger consumers who encounter ‘wrap rage’. Innovia’s Propafilm RCP greatly promotes easier opening and is designed to provide consistent performance on existing packaging machines and without any adjustments.

“While the seal strength has been reduced compared with traditional materials, they remain at a level that they can still ensure that the products are protected adequately,” explains Bayliff. “Propafilm RCP films have been designed and developed from proven technologies. They show many additional benefits. Innovia’s proprietary acrylic coating ensures a broad sealing range, which enables a wide packaging operating window and good machinability in all standard formats: flow wrap, vertical form seal or overwrap. Their moisture and aroma barrier properties make them an ideal choice to preserve many food items, including dried and chocolate-based products.

“Innovia’s easy-opening portfolio also includes heavy-duty, high-barrier and snap-wrap options – materials for a variety of applications and requirements. Due to confidentiality, Innovia is unable to name its customers that are currently using or trialling Propafilm RCP. It has, however, a variety of samples that it will be exhibiting to demonstrate the effect of easy opening. Customers who have experienced the easy opening effect of Propafilm RCP have valued the positive experience. Innovia currently has many projects in this area and hopes to expand its product portfolio shortly,” he adds.

Convenience plus sustainability

On the list of new product releases in 2017, convenience is one of the most common buzzwords for packaging in the food and beverage market. Sustainability is another, and while resealable packaging that prolongs the freshness and improves the convenience of food products has a noticeable impact in this regard, in the beverage market there are also many innovations.

One key area for the beverage market is in the use of lightweight containers, which are much in favour among consumers. Convenience and sustainability come together in packaging that uses less in the way of raw materials and includes recyclable elements such as aluminium. Indeed, the latest report from market research analysts Technavio suggests the global metal cans market for the food and beverage sector will grow at a rate of 3% for the next four years.

The industry is trying to bring the key strands of convenience, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and brand identity together, and there is no shortage of innovative ideas that are pushing the sector forward on all fronts. 

Mondelez’s ‘Call for Well-being’ focuses on the impact of supply chains and the quality of ingredients.
Sown & Grown’s muesli and granola comes in sustainable, resealable tubes.

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