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COVID-19: Consumers shift to packaged food

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The extended lockdown is bringing a huge change in the human consumption habits in the country. It is said that it takes 21 days of daily practice for an activity to become a habit. It is believed that most of ‘social distancing’ practices we are going through during the current lockdown, be it opting for packaged products, buying products online, social distancing, use of hand wash, hand sanitizer, and masks will convert into full-blown habits for a long time to come, even after exits the earth in a few months.

COVID-19: Consumers shift to packaged food

Let us take the preference for buying packaged products. We are seeing an increasing demand for packaged – food products, meat and agriculture produce – over loose. The advantages being, there is limited manhandling of the products inside the packets. Also, the packets could be easily sanitized at home. Packaging makes transportation of products easier.

Considering, the present COVID-19 crisis arose in China from meat and seafood, the Chinese government is believed to enforce tighter regulations to change meat and seafood handling and distribution practices. According to experts, distributing meat in packets makes it much safer.

As travel and social gatherings are heavily restricted, people are spending time at their homes. Usage of Internet and data is on an all-time high. Tendency for buying goods online is at an all-time high.

Other emerging trends:

Earlier, people in small towns had to come to a city to buy a big brand. With the convenience that flexible packaging offers in terms of lightness, flexibility and durability, transporting products or brands to the smaller towns or rural parts of the country has become easier. This has also helped growth of retail and e-commerce in smaller towns.

A decade back, people in small towns and rural places used to buy most of the staple items such as salt, sugar or oil or atta loose. There were issues of hygiene, spoilage and wastage due to lower shelf life of loose items. However, thanks to flexible packaging, rural and small towns have started getting packed, branded stuff of higher quality. In the immediate future, packaging technology will be so flexible that people will buy packed rice and wheat, which will be much healthier, compared to loose.

Packaging has evolved a lot during the past decade. Today with barrier nano-coating technology in flexible packaging, the thickness has significantly reduced, resulting in far lesser amount of plastics used. The barrier for oxygen or moisture has also become better; power and water consumption, and wastage of materials have also been significantly brought down. Flexible packaging is also enabling easy e-commerce by making products lighter, thereby cutting down the freight bills.
Companies have been moving from rigid packaging such as containers, duplex cartons or bottles to eco-friendly flexible packaging. Loose-selling products such as salt, atta, sugar or other major staples are being moved to flexible packaging.

Flexible packaging over the past two decades has been growing in double digits and due to the factors mentioned above, will continue to do so in the new decade. In advanced markets such as Europe and the US, nothing is sold loose. That’s why the per capita consumption of packaging is more abroad compared to India. The per-capita packaging consumption in India is still very low at around 9 kg in comparison to Western markets, which is above 40 kg as per industry statistics. So, the potential for deeper penetration of packaging and higher adoption of packed products in the country is tremendous!

Flexible packaging could be easily recycled. Today technologies are available for recycling monolayer plastics as also multilayer plastics such as a combination of polyester, metallised layers, polyethylene and polypropylene. Government is also coming up with favourable policies to promote recyclability and sustainability. There is an active public campaign in India towards sustainability. People are investing in recycling technologies as sustainability is today’s core mantra. Post recycling, the multi-layer plastics could be used to make roads, crates, dividers, furniture etc. Government is in the process of framing policies on bio-degradable plastics. Montage has developed biodegradable packaging, which if littered and comes in contact with soil, attract more bacteria and convert the pack into a biomass. It can also be recycled.