The Latest in Food and Beverage Packaging

A diet coke bottle is littered in the mud

At Pioneer Packaging Worldwide, we specialize in providing innovative packaging solutions for products across a wide range of industries, including the medical, wine, moving and storage, and manufacturing sectors. One of our healthiest sectors is the food and beverage industry. As part of our commitment to our clients, we are constantly on the look-out for the latest news and trends in the packaging industry. Here is a brief round-up of the latest news in that sector.

An important industry gathering. Just two months ago, some of the key players in food packaging gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for a seminar put on by the Global Midwest Alliance, a Chicago-based non-profit education organization. That meeting, “Fresher, faster, tastier: How packaging innovations are changing the food industry,” centered around highlighting how food packaging has evolved over the years, going from its initial purpose—to contain a product to keep it safe and fresh, along with allowing for distribution and merchandising—to its ramped-up mission of today. Gail Longmore, chief executive officer and managing director of the Global Midwest Alliance, said, “Food packaging has become a vital source of reinvigoration for a stable yet evolving sector. The food industry is undergoing rapid changes as new products and categories are developed for consumers demanding fresher and tastier options. Packaging provides a valuable link between those producing and those consuming food products,” she continued. “Businesses can leverage packaging innovations to create value, develop new markets and foster employment. Moreover, important issues related to food safety, distribution and trade revolve around innovative packaging techniques and equipment,” she concluded. 

At the seminar, the senior business economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago discussed how much money is allocated for food packaging. David Oppedahl said that approximately 2.5 cents of every food dollar are used for food packaging. That amount goes to cover not only the physical package a consumer purchases, but also printing costs, shipping containers, and other expenses. Those can include sealants; advanced technologies, such as ultrasonic sealing, are used to minimize seal sizes, which helps to reduce materials and increase profits. According to a spokesperson for an Ohio-based company who spoke at this seminar, “It’s case pack economics. Take chips, for example. The number of bags that fit into a case impacts how many cases are used,” he said, continuing, “This, in turn, impacts corrugated costs and delivery expenses. If you change to a bag with lower air content and a thinner, stronger seal, you can increase the number of bags in the case.” He then spoke about the advantages to retailers of using ultrasonic sealing, saying, “If the bag is narrower, the brand’s facings stay the same at the shelf, but there’s now extra space in an aisle for additional merchandising.” He went on to discuss how packaging can be designed to influence the perception of a product’s quality among consumers, using PepsiCo Inc.’s Lay’s potato chips as an example. After the chip maker changed the inside layer of the bag from a metallic aluminum to white, “You do not see oil on the white layer. When this switch was made, there were less product quality complaints and returns,” he said. 

There are two types of innovation when it comes to products and packaging: hard and soft. Soft innovation is demonstrated in the form of new flavors, sizes, and seasonal offerings, according to Sam Ciulla, CEO and executive creative director of Ciulla Associates, a Chicago-based brand design firm. He said, “Way too many companies do this, with questionable success.” He then went on to discuss hard innovation. He said there needs to be more of it, in the form of proprietary structural changes to a typical package or delivery system. Hard innovation is when both structural and graphic design are part of the development of new products; at the end of that process, there should be no questioning of, “What came first: the product or the package.” Both should be developed simultaneously, providing a solution to a real need. He cited an example: General MillsPillsbury’s frostings in filled pastry bags. “Through research, we learned that consumers like cakes and cupcakes, and they like decorating them at home,” he said, adding, “But they do not want to buy and fill pastry bags. We helped develop a filled pastry bag that allows anyone to pipe frosting like a professional.” The product’s built-in star tip give consumers a choice of four distinct designs: stars, rosettes, swirls, and waves. This makes it a packaged product that identifies, and solves, a consumer need.

Ciulla also gave another example: Maine-based Backyard Farms L.L.C., a company that markets tomatoes picked ripe and delivered to grocers within one day. The company uses the tagline, “not grown too far from here.” This slogan had to support the attributes of Backyard Farms’ brand, which are fresh, friendly, local, sustainable, ripe and delicious. “Our challenge was to develop a package structure that not only helped ship and display the tomatoes but kept them bundled in their unique set of eight tomatoes on a vine,” Ciulla said, adding, “A craft paper box with a picket fence and the clear window does just that.” The final package design considers the environment, along with addressing both form and function. Boxes are made using 100% recycled paperboard, with a minimum of 35% post-consumer content. They are made using 100% wind power and are printed with soy inks from a nearby Maine community. In keeping with its promise to the environment, Backyard Farms also uses master cases from another nearby town to cut down on delivery miles. The company makes sure to capitalize on its commitment, touting it on the back of the package, and on its website. Ciulla spoke about one more example: Nonni’s Foods, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based firm that was expanding into the crowded specialty natural foods market. To differentiate from the company’s core club store offerings—sold under the La Dolce Vita brand—Nonni’s decided it would be advantageous to share its story and adherence to using whole food ingredients on its packaging. “La Dolce Vita was inspired by the founder’s Italian heritage, and the biscotti are made with non-GMO ingredients and nothing artificial,” Ciulla said. “These are product qualities that today’s N.O.S.H. (natural, organic, sustainable, healthy) consumers are actively looking for. The original club version of La Dolce Vita looked dated and overly ornate for the N.O.S.H. consumer. Nonni’s wanted to communicate a more contemporary classic product, made using an authentic recipe with only high-quality, clean label ingredients,” he added. Ciulla thinks the firm’s approach to packaging and brand identity are working, allowing the biscotti and ingredients to stand out in the marketplace. “The simple iconic doily serves multiple functions,” he said adding, “It holds the flavor communication, it features the product, and it helps create strong brand blocking at the shelf. The pinstripe backdrop communicates traditional baking, as well as a modern, bright brand expression that feels authentically premium.”

The sustainable packaging movement is taking off in the beer packaging industry. Diageo, the company that packages the beer that’s become a St. Patrick’s Day favorite, Guinness, announced in April that it will eliminate plastic from its beer packaging. Diageo has poured $21 million into this new plastic-free packaging program. It also owns the Harp and Smithwicks breweries; it will also eliminate plastic packaging from those brands. Currently, plastic accounts for about five percent of Guinness’ packaging. By swapping out plastic ring carriers and shrink wrap with 100 percent biodegradable or recyclable cardboard, Guinness will eliminate the equivalent of 40 million plastic bottles worth of waste each year. Diageo is committed to using sustainable beer packs in Ireland by this August, and expand to international markets by next summer, but some U.S. consumers can already reap the rewards of the company’s shift to being eco-friendly. That’s because, in May, Guinness announced that it’s Open Gate Brewery would sell canned multipacks in eco-friendly carriers that are sustainably sourced, made from by-product waste and other compostable materials, and are fully compostable and biodegradable. 

Guinness is in good company in its efforts to eliminate plastic ring carriers: the brewer of Corona beer has introduced a new can that doesn’t require plastic ring carriers. The company has partnered with Parley for the Oceans to help eliminate plastic waste from our oceans. The brewer has signed onto the A.I.R. strategy to avoid, intercept, and redesign to eliminate plastic pollution. Corona’s intercept campaigns include a commitment to clean two million square meters of beach, in 23 countries, this summer.  In addition, the company is running a promotion in several countries—including the United States—will allow consumers to trade three empty PET (#1) plastic bottles for one bottle of Corona.

To learn how Pioneer Packaging can deliver innovative, industry-leading solutions to you, contact us today. Learn more about PDA’s approach to packaging, and discover how Pioneer Packaging is committed to making Imagine it . . . Done more than just our motto—it’s our promise to you. 

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