Industry weighs convenience, eco-friendly needs in packaging choices

Two of the biggest trends in food packaging are on a collision course.

The first trend is convenience. Grab and go options, single-serve — today’s consumers want their food in a variety of ways, and the easier and more user-friendly, the better.

The use of convenience and small-serve packaging is becoming more popular in the baked goods category thanks to new digital packaging tools like inkjet and electrophotographic presses. And brands are increasingly using innovative packaging technologies to capture new buyers and create unique experiences.

More convenience often means more packaging, and that’s where the second trend comes in. Consumers want “simple,” but an increasing number also want the companies they buy from to reduce their environmental impact. One of the most effective ways to do that? Less packaging.

Balancing those two, opposing trends isn’t easy, but it can be done.

“Navigating between growing demands for single-serve, convenience packaging and environmentally friendly options is becoming increasingly important today,” said Kathy Sargent, Strategic Innovation Director for Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion. “Research from GlobalData shows that 53% of consumers say that buying environmentally friendly products makes them feel less guilty when shopping, and 41% of consumers look for on-pack ethical or sustainable logos when shopping. People are typically motivated to buy brand-name products, but if that also means they’re doing the right thing, even better.”

Innovation balances conflicting needs

Many manufacturers, Sargent said, are already taking note. In the baked goods industry, changes include removing packaging  — things like individually packed products, or plastic divider trays inside cookie boxes with plastic sleeves. Manufacturers are also beginning to incorporate multi-pack tubs.

In the bread category, ethical packaging is influencing positioning claims. Some packaging manufacturers, for instance, are using front-of-pack callouts that highlight sustainability messages like “plastics from renewable sources” and “reduced use of plastic.” Some companies are even rethinking their packaging design and manufacturing processes altogether in order to reduce the use of raw materials, while ensuring reliable protection against spoilage.

With the increasing awareness around environmental issues and ethical consumption, the use of smaller portion-sized packaging and reduced waste can help manufacturers reach today’s consumers, Sargent added.

For example, some manufacturers are using smaller, bite-sized items to meet growing snacking and convenience trends while minimizing food waste. Some are even selling half-sheet cakes and half-size pies. In addition to meeting the growing demand for less food waste, these alternatives provide smaller portions and allow those consumers who are health conscious to still indulge in the treats they crave.

Other bakeries are incorporating more eco-friendly paper packaging that helps keep their products fresh, while minimizing the effects on the environment. For example, a popular bakery in Amsterdam uses paper bags, which allow the heat from the freshly baked full-grain breads to still escape so the bread isn’t soggy or too soft. Other European in-store bakeries are giving up paper wrappers altogether in order to minimize waste.

“Front-of-pack claims indicating ethical and conscious ways of producing environmentally friendly products (e.g. claims about the packaging’s use of recycled materials) are important for today’s consumers, and packaging is a great way to communicate those priorities with shoppers,” Sargent said. “Consumers associate these claims with attributes like locally produced, fresher, healthier, safer and superior quality.”

As the plastic-free movement continues to grow, manufacturers will continue to look for ways to incorporate more sustainable packaging techniques. Convenience and value will continue to be factors, and anything that can help manufacturers deliver while reducing waste and implementing more sustainable methods will be crucial.

Total Corbion PLA resin and the Luminy® PLA portfolio from Total Corbion PLA, the 50/50 joint venture between Total and Corbion, allows processors to develop compostable end products, Sargent said. Certified as compostable by the European certification organization Vinçotte of Vilvoorde, Total Corbion’s PLA products are biobased, have a lower CO2 footprint than traditional oil-based plastics and offer more end-of-life options, according to Julia Lovett, Marketing Communications Manager at Total Corbion PLA.

The company’s PLA and PDLA resins are available for commercial sale in pre-marketing volumes and help divert organic waste from landfills. PLA, or Poly Lactic Acid, is being used in a number of packaging applications today, such as fruit and vegetable packaging in supermarkets, single-use shopping bags and disposable drinking cups at concerts and sports events.

“Today’s bakeries and suppliers can differentiate themselves as being environmentally responsible, without compromising on product quality, by designing packaging that both meets the needs of their supply chain while also utilizing the most environmentally-friendly solutions for that particular product” Lovett said. “Packaging gives bakers the opportunity to provide their customers with something their competitors can’t.” 

“Navigating between growing demands for single-serve, convenience packaging and environmentally friendly options is becoming increasingly important today.”

Kathy Sargent, Corbion

Corbion also offers several food ingredient solutions to help its customers meet today’s demands for quality and convenience, without impacting packaging. For example, the company’s Ultra Fresh® enzyme solutions offer several days of extended freshness for in-store bakery products and up to 45 days of extended freshness for packaged baked goods.

Corbion tailors its enzymes to address all aspects of freshness, including issues with softness, moistness, resilience, tenderness and shelf life, Sargent said. Solutions can be optimized based on the desired texture and incorporate tolerance to ensure product quality throughout production and distribution.

SweetPro™, Corbion’s line of sweet goods emulsifiers, is  specially designed to protect the taste, texture, quality and consistency of sweet goods regardless of the type of packaging used. The line is especially helpful, Sargent said, when reformulating a product. It also helps keep inclusions from sinking to the bottom or drying out end applications.

Understanding that every formulation is different, Corbion’s team of experts can work directly with customers to help them implement the most fitting solutions for their specific application and consumer needs. Contact the team today to find out how they can help you.