November 12, 2021
Today’s consumers are looking to eat and live healthier, but at the same time they are living busy lives and opting for convenient food options. That means demand for on-the-go packaging that keeps food nutritious – but not at the expense of sustainability. Food packaging contributes negatively to our climate challenges, and consumer want to play their part in changing that. A survey carried out by Boston Consulting Group shows that 74 percent of consumers would pay more for sustainable packafing.
So how do we move food packaging forward? As Laura Latišonoka, Director of Food Solutions at Tetra Pak, says, “We have to rethink it from the ground up. Today, much packaging includes plastic due to its protective qualities, but plastic is heavily based on oil, which accounts for one-third of global carbon emissions.”
We cannot simply remove plastic, however, as challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic have stressed the need for health and safety. Packaging plays an important role in ensuring this – so the search for viable alternatives is on, a search where we take a look at the latest trends as well as what the future might hold for food packaging.
As the industry becomes increasingly digitalised, new innovations make sustainable choices possible for consumers and producers. The future points towards smart packaging – such as intelligent and active packaging that can do more than contain a product, increasing consumer engagement and improving product safety and traceability. Intelligent packaging uses various technologies to communicate, inform and engage and it can also be used to track production and supplies while creating unique experiences and branding opportunities.
That is something we have already launched at Tetra Pak. Our version of intelligent packaging, the Connected Package, allows producers to turn their products into data carriers with a unique QR code on every package. Digital printing is also an exciting field with technology that offers new levels of customisation.
“Digital printing can help reduce production complexity and we now offer full-colour digital printing on our carton packages. That means we can reduce time from design to print and make order placement and product customisation more flexible," Laura explains.
And that’s not all. We could be moving towards a complete change in packaging such as edible packaging that eliminates the need for recycling. Examples already exist, such as the ice cream cone and coffee cups made of chocolate, but there is still a ways to go.
“I don’t think we have seen a real breakthrough here yet. Edible packaging is a complex area with potential hygienic issues. It’s not the answer to all challenges, either,” says Laura, pointing to take-out – an increasingly popular option these days – or the fact that food needs to be transported safely.
“Intelligent packaging enables manufacturers to work more efficiently and helps improve everything from value chain monitoring and transparency to data collection that increases consumer understanding and waste reduction,” says Laura.
Intelligent packaging also provides ease of use for consumers with information about ingredients, nutrients, recipes and inspiration for serving available through a smart device. It can be used to monitor the condition of a product and diagnose, indicate and provide information about how fresh a product is. Colour changes can alert consumers if a package has been perforated or if there is evidence of contamination and time temperature indicators (TTIs) can indicate if foods that spoil at certain temperatures have been exposed to such temperatures.
Active packaging, on the other hand, directly interacts with the content of a package. It can help improve shelf life or quality by releasing or removing certain substances through filtering, oxygen absorbers, moisture-regulating material or antimicrobial coatings. It is also possible to insert active components in packaging as is the case with some beers in plastic bottles that contain oxygen absorbers in the cap to extend shelf life from three to six months.
“We are going through exciting times when it comes to packaging – and the next decade is sure to present great innovations within the field. At Tetra Pak, we are always working to increase food safety and availability. We envision a future where where intelligent packaging interacts with smart appliances such as your fridge to give you updates on its contents and suggestions for what to cook based on your favourite recipes,” says Laura.
Laura concludes: “When it comes to packaging, we are focusing a lot of our attention on creating the world’s most sustainable food package. To ensure food safety across the world, aseptic packaging is a must – and we are excited to continue innovating together with others and take food packaging to the next level.”