A taste of the future

22 April 2014

Speaking to Packaging Today, a panel of experts from the food manufacture, foodservice and retail sectors – including Jocelyne Ehret, director, Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions (Havi Global Solutions); Abbie Gregory, director CSR for Subway; and Frieda Sporen of Mars Food Europe – discuss the immediate challenges and opportunities facing food packaging.

What do you see as the biggest innovation in food packaging/preparation for 2014?

Frieda Sporen: In the food areas where Mars Food is present, it's all about convenience and delivering easier foods to the consumers.

Consumers have less time to prepare meals, but they also like more variety. Therefore, we see packaging getting smaller to serve smaller households or to offer more variation.

It is important that consumers can open or close packs without difficulty, that the package should be practical to use, and can be easily disposed.

Jocelyne Ehret: The biggest innovation that we are seeing in food packaging is the research that is going into developing new raw materials for food packaging. The aim is to develop new materials that will be sustainable environmentally and, at the same time, serve to extend shelf life of products by incorporating better barrier functionality.

Havi Global Solutions recently contributed to the development of a new raw material called Visor-Cote, which is a new plastic-free barrier coating from Visand B.V that can be used on any substrate, on one or both sides of a choice of sustainable or recycled fibre-based packaging materials.

Visor-Cote is 100% recyclable, repulpable and compostable and can also include anti-fungal, anti-microbial properties to help prolong shelf life. It is flexible for a wide range of uses including ambient, chilled and frozen foods, and is ideal for sandwich packs, desserts, pet food, bakery and salads.

Abbie Gregory: The biggest trend is for packaging to act as a communication channel for the brand and product, particularly on CSR issues that add value, such as provenance, authenticity, nutrition and sustainability.

Consumers want to know about the authenticity and sourcing of the packaging itself, such as whether packaging contains recycled material or uses water-based inks. One of the big challenges the Quick Service Restaurants sector faces is reducing the amount of food and packaging waste it produces. The Subway brand is actively seeking to address this problem, both by improving the sustainability of its packaging and eliminating unnecessary packaging material.

Last year Subway introduced a new sustainable cup for hot drinks, which saves around 30 tonnes of pulp per year across Europe and takes approximately 25% less energy to produce. Additionally, all Subway franchisees are encouraged to serve their dine-in guests with a reusable basket, which reduces Sub Wrap usage by up to 30% in stores and aims to minimise the waste stream.

In what ways do you think variability or randomisation can be of help in convenience or food packaging innovation?

JE: There are four overarching consumer drivers that motivate purchasing and influence packaging: safety/peace of mind ('It won't hurt me, my family or the planet'); wellness ('It's really good for me'); gratification, enjoyment ('It makes me feel good'); and convenience, freedom ('It's so easy for me').

When it comes to package design, brands can predict what consumers want and plan future packaging by uncovering the "a-ha" behind consumer actions, thoughts and behaviours. A great example of this is mass-customisation, which serves to satisfy consumers' need for gratification by making products tailored and personalised for their use.

Mass customisation allows consumers to have something that is unique to them and makes them feel special; such as the recent 'Share a Coke' campaign, whereby the soft drinks giant replaced its usual branding with 150 of the UK's most popular names, which resulted in consumers rushing to supermarkets to grab a bottle bearing their name.

Each of the consumer drivers outlined above, though evolving and changing, is always present in some form, and has an impact on packaging.

They are the factors that compel innovation and inspire trends.

What other drivers or opportunities do you feel are going to shape the industry?
AG: I think the key drivers will be the regulation with landfill tax and the potential charging for carrier bags. All Subway franchisees are already encouraged to reduce plastic bag usage where possible, with stickers to wrap individual Subs for on-the-go customers, and using reusable baskets for customers who are dining in.

Where do you feel the biggest opportunity lies in the field of sustainability and waste reduction?

JE: The biggest opportunity in sustainability within food packaging is the reduction of food waste through innovative food packaging. The European Commission reports that approximately 90 million tonnes of food is wasted in Europe each year. Over 40 percent of this waste occurs at the retail and consumer level.

Globally, nearly one-third of all food produced is wasted each year, and the uneaten food produces an estimated 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (source: UN FAO Sept 2013).

Food packaging has a very important and positive role to play in minimisation of food waste. It can help to protect food, maintain its freshness and extend shelf life through delivery vehicles such as individual portion sizes, re-sealable closures and airtight wraps.
Packaging in its purest form - as protector - plays and will continue to play a crucial role in curbing food waste in Europe and globally.

AG: Sustainable packaging that can be used either in closed loop systems; so recycled packaging used again in POS/uniforms/menus etc, or packaging that is biodegradable and compostable.

Looking ahead in 2014, we see a constant, and growing trend for the increased use of QR codes, where you can scan the code with a smartphone and be able to download all the information relating to that product, its packaging and nutritional information.

Increasing day parts (subdividing the day into sections, and which has seen explosive growth in Breakfast, Late Night and Early pm categories of consumption) and food on-the-go will be a big influence. When Subway stores extended their opening hours around breakfast last year, we had to think carefully about how we addressed the additional packaging and ultimately the waste that this would create. For example, our Breakfast Subs are served in the fully recyclable Sub Wrap that is made from 30-40% recycled material, and we also introduced stickers to wrap individual Subs and reduce bag usage for consumers, in line with the incoming EU waste directive legislation on single-use plastic bags.

Can innovation exist alongside upcoming changes in regulation?

JE: Yes, innovation can exist with incoming regulation. In fact, regulation serves to drive innovation by changing the rules within which we operate and forcing manufacturers to develop alternatives.

An example of this is recent regulation by the French government that has implemented a ban on use of Bisphenol A (BPA), coming into effect on 1 January 2015. Owing to the debate surrounding BPA, metal packaging manufacturers have started developing BPA-NI (not intentionally added) coating systems, which counter the negative effects posed by BPA.

Is there any legislation or trend that you feel can be addressed - and if so what technology or materials are needed to achieve this?

FS: Technologies regarding measuring chemicals in substrates are getting better and better. And legislation is evolving because scientific studies are better able to prove the influence of these technologies on human health.

On top of that, information is distributed faster and faster, and consumers have increased abilities to complain or to speak directly to the legislating body and influence change.

This all has an impact on pack materials and prevention of the possibility of contamination. The industry therefore needs to continue to invest in new pack technologies and materials to address these issues.

Are there examples of innovation you are seeing that you feel are in tune with consumer needs?

JE: Consumers have a need to be able to access information regarding a product easily and quickly. Innovation in food packaging that allows consumers to do this is most in-sync with consumer needs.

Intelligent packaging is a trend that we will see being adopted increasingly within food packaging in the next few years. Intelligent packaging interacts with the product and provides real time information to the consumer, thereby allowing them to make an instant informed decision. Examples of smart packaging include pharmaceutical products containing printed conductive traces connected to an electronic module to alarm, track and record patients' use of pills accurately and reliably, such as those developed by Stora Enso; or labels on meat products containing special ink that darkens as the meat gets old and releases increasing amounts of ammonia.

What is your favourite packaging innovation, and why?

FS: I like to drink a good cup of coffee. The innovations that have been launched in recent years regarding single serve coffees such as Dolce Gusto, are among my favourites. The cups preserve the coffee, and making the coffee is part of the experience.

You can argue that this is not a sustainable way to drink a coffee, because of all the 'excess' packaging compared to a standard 500g coffee pack, but I can tell you that I often throw out excess coffee that was made in a big pot - this method uses less packaging, but I end up throwing out the coffee...

In the coming years, I expect that innovations in the area of packaging sustainability will become more and more important.

Consumers are more environmentally aware and, as better communication is achieved, consumers will place increasing value on this information.


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