How the development of hybrid foods has changed packaging

It is not just new food formats that packaging designers are having to cater for, but new eating experiences and conceps as well. Hybrid food to go literally allows the consumer to ‘eat anything, anywhere’, creating new avenues for the packaging designer to explore.

A guest article by Nikki Clark, the Group Marketing Manager of Benson Group. The company is one of the UK’s leading printed folding carton suppliers, producing packaging product for both the food retail and healthcare industries for a wide range of UK and European customers.

The Food To Go (FTG) sector has experienced recurrent growth within the UK Food Industry on an annual basis and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon. According to research consultants Kantar, the Food To Go sector has seen sales increase by 2.4% between 2012 and 2014, as the UK’s population leans further and further towards a metropolitan ‘always on the move’ lifestyle.

Now more than ever, this means a lot more than just sandwiches and snack rolls. Consumers are demanding food on the move throughout the day. From breakfast, through lunch and into dinner, there is a demand for healthy and varied food that busy commuters and professionals can eat straight from the pack.

So with such regular growth, FTG is basically a sure thing, right?

Not necessarily.

Despite the overall market growth, a variety of traditional FTG formats have experienced a decline in their popularity. The sandwich pack, a FTG steadfast, has seen a decline in pack sales of 2.9% in 2013-2014, with other sub categories such as snack rolls, savoury crackers and pasta salads also showing a gradual decline in growth.

So what will provide the revolutionary boost to reinvigorate the Food To Go sector’s slowing growth? We believe that hybrid food to go will prove to be one of the most exciting trends about to make an impact on the FTG category.

Hybrid food is a trend that gathered momentum in 2013 with the rise of a variety of innovative food mashups; amongst them the cronut (croissant + donut), the ramen burger (substitute the bun for compressed ramen noodles), and naan bread with a bacon filling (no explanation needed). Here are just a couple of the coming hybrid food trends picked out by the Food Network for 2014: “sweet and savoury collisions in the food aisle; salty desserts; pretzel-crust pizzas; black pepper chocolate and caesar salad pizzas”.

Hybrid food’s snowballing popularity has already made a considerable impression on the UK’s leading retailers with Marks and Spencer becoming the first to announce their intentions regarding hybrid foods with the release of the fabulous fish and chip pie. Cadbury has already made significant strides in providing an unusual clash of flavour with their melding of sweet and savoury with products such as the Philadelphia and Dairy Milk cheese spread and the Dairy Milk and Ritz biscuit combination.

So with an oncoming tide of hybrid “foods to go” potentially about to crash into local convenience stores, how can packaging designers and manufacturers prepare for what could be a revolutionary new field of food on the move?

Designing current food packaging has now become a process of evolution in which relatively small improvements and steps towards improving existing packaging are now viewed as innovations. The arrival of this new food concept provides the opportunity for a complete packaging revolution as opposed to the slow, gradual evolution of existing packaging. It is a brand new format to technically challenge packaging designers, providing them with an opportunity to design packaging that immediately contrasts with existing foods on the shelf just by product alone, allowing them to depart from the expected norms of FTG packaging and reinvent their approach.

With brand new designs in mind for brand new products, Benson Group are careful to consider how existing packaging knowledge and technologies can also be utilized to perfectly match the needs of individual products. Previously, their Hot Eat FTG offerings focused on repurposing microwavable and ovenable technologies and in several instances multiple packaging substrates have been used at the same time in order for a pack to perform well across several criteria. Designing hybrid FTG packaging will require similar thought processes as each product will be, even more so than before, unique and therefore in need of unique packaging to match.

It is not just new food formats that packaging designers are having to cater for, but the new eating experiences that these hybrid foods have to offer as well. Hybrid food to go literally allows the consumer to ‘eat anything, anywhere’, creating new avenues for the packaging designer to explore. Not only does this mean utilising new shapes and structures that reflects the radical new foodstuffs they contain but combining this with a functional approach that enhances the consumer’s eating experience regardless of where or when they are eating.

With these considerations in mind, packaging designers have to be producing flexible packaging solutions that can retain freshness across a huge variety of foodstuffs including both dry and wet food goods, often as a combination. Pack functionality will require that goods can be easily heated or chilled in the fridge, as well as enhancing the eating experience through the use of convenient tidy eat and easy share solutions.

It is not only the functionality of the packaging that designers need to consider, as standardised trends that have led packaging design throughout 2014 should still be implemented. Food Production Daily lists factors such as personalised packaging, pack differentiation and technological innovation as the key packaging trends of 2014.

That said, there will still be traditional foundations of packaging design that will make their mark in the hybrid FTG market. The food’s visual appeal and perception of value and healthiness/goodness will still be consumer considerations that drive the design process and factors specifically relevant to the Food To Go market such as packaging functionality and end of life will still take a starring role. The challenge for designers will be to update these visual and textual foundations to fit in with and compliment the exciting new trend in a way that will both inform and entice the consumer.

Hybrid Food To Go provides packaging designers with a rare opportunity to take the foundations of good packaging design that have been refined and optimised over decades, and build from these foundations a new family of packaging for a revolutionary new product. A new evolutionary path for the world of packaging.

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