Dr. Anneline Padayachee is the Coordinator of the Master of Food and Packaging Innovation at the University of Melbourne in Australia. In an interview, the packaging expert shares her insights into trends and developments in the packaging industry, pointing out an increased desire for high-tech functional packaging solutions and at the same time a strong consumer demand for simple, recyclable or reusable packaging.
What do you think are the biggest trends in packaging in 2015 to 2016?
In the Australian context, it appears that consumer desire for more information on packaging is a major driver. They would like to see more information in terms of environmental sustainability of both the product and the packaging. “Clean and Green” packaging is becoming almost as important as the quality of the food product. Yet the design of the information and its presentation must be easy to understand, for example the voluntary nutrition star rating.
Interestingly, while consumers want more information, an increased desire in minimalistic-style packaging is also a trend – such as clear or coloured screw-top glass jars with plain labelling or reusable jars and paperboard. Clean simple designs made of clean, simple natural materials seems to be indicative of a high quality product that does not require the extra bells and whistles to sell it and also being good for the environment.
At the same time industry is increasing its shift to using active packaging such as packaging that can enhance shelf life or the sensorial qualities of the product, particularly fresh meat and fish products. While modified atmosphere packaging is being used extensively with packaged meat products, there is growing interest in the use of Darfresh Bloom packaging in conjunction with MAP packaging to improve perceived sensorial properties and also food safety producing a higher quality superior product.
Edible films, intelligent packaging, packaging with enhanced usability, environmentally sustainable packaging convey a range of information above the legislative requirements while also being convenient. Deluxe packaging is increasingly seen for gourmet premium products, yet simple old-school traditional jars and steel canisters are also making a comeback. Consumers want high-tech innovative technology. Yet there is a growing desire for traditional old-school packaging.
What are areas in which you are seeing innovations and new approaches?
Innovation seems to be across the board from fresh meat to packaged fresh fruits and vegetables, confectionary, yoghurts, milks etc. Anything that is packageable has the potential for innovation. An interesting option is “Choose your own ripeness” for packaged fruits. Fruits give off ethylene gas as they age. Hence it is possible for consumers to determine their own desired ripeness from crisp to firm to soft a juicy based on a qualitative indicator on the packaging showing a change in colour with an increase in ethylene production.
How is ecommerce changing the field of packaging?
E-commerce has made the world smaller in terms of accessibility but also bigger in terms of collaborations, accessibility to knowledge and materials as well as more collaborative opportunities. Industry-relevant research generated is being translated into usable practical solutions that is readily available. You don’t need to be a PhD qualified scientist to sift through the scientific technicalities, e-commerce is making packaging innovations practical viable options from the large multi-national to the gourmet small-producer.
What are the most important tools that brands can use to connect with the consumer through packaging?
The factors that drive new product development should be highlighted to consumers via the packaging such as convenience, functional nutrition, enhanced performance, ethical production, environmental sustainable ingredients, and disease prevention. One of the main concerns for consumers is country of origin of the food product. However, methods that are used to highlight changes in perceived sensorial quality (e.g. meat – oxidation of fat, tenderness, juiciness) and food safety (e.g. microbe growth) via qualitative assessment (as found in intelligent packaging where a gas sensor changes colour from optimal to lower quality to unsafe) is a way for packaging to connect with consumers on a more intellectual level.
Consumers want knowledge – especially instant information or instant gratification. Ease of usability or packaging with additional useability is another factor that should be highlighted to consumers. This is a major issue, especially for an aging population.
Functional packaging is an area that has received a lot of attention. Where do you see the most interesting developments in functional packaging?
Traditionally packaging has been used for unitizing, preventing structural damage, preventing contamination as well as branding and marketing a product. However, there is a move towards added functionality, for example edible polymers. Polymers can be used for traditional packaging purposes and when they are consumable they can lead to a decrease in food wastage. KFC UK has an interesting example of an edible polymer.
Instead of paperboard or polystyrene disposable cups, they have developed an edible coffee cup made of a cookie mixture and coated in white chocolate and a temperature proof polymer. Once the coffee has been consumed, the cup can also been consumed. Other functions include minimizing microbial growth in fresh meat cuts with the use of natural antioxidants and bioactives that have anti-microbial activity that are impregnated into biofilms resulting in enhanced shelf-life. This may also enhance tenderness properties; however, further research into the effect of functional packaging on sensorial qualities and food safety changes is an area of growing research.
One area is the re-use of packaging for example as a charger for Apple’s Watch. Another example is a wine box that can be used as a wine shelf after purchase. Do you think we will see more packaging solutions that become a product accessory?
It is part of the “green” image that companies are selling themselves on. Consumers on the whole want to believe that they are not major contributors to global warming and a growing carbon footprint. Yet the pressures of life, a need for convenience and a society driven by consumerism and technology do not produce the ideal environment for reverting to an entirely self-sustainable existence.
I think there will be more innovative ideas that bring “excess” and “sustainability” together in practical usable solutions. These packaging accessories may not be for everyone, but there is definitely a market for it. And it also helps the company to enhance their image as being environmentally sustainable, especially high-end companies that want to tap into a broader consumer group.
Sustainable packaging is another area that is seeing a lot of activity. Where do you see the greatest potential and what are challenges that need to be overcome?
I am seeing a lot of reusable style packaging such as jars, bottles, canisters for relatively shelf-stable gourmet, small-scale products like salted caramel pastes, hot chocolate mixtures etc.
For large-scale industries, sustainability is an important factor. Decreasing their carbon footprint is not just of benefit to increasing consumer acceptance and hence brand loyalty, but it is becoming more recognised that environmental sustainability is essential to maintain our current food supply in the longer-term future. The packaging is just as important as the product in contributing the food sustainability. There are new concepts that are being promoted – e.g. “stretchable paper” as an alternative to certain plastic polymers. Paper is biodegradable and is seen as being healthier and more natural than plastics. However stretchy plastic is also an example of traditional packaging being reinvented with innovative processes for a new novel use.