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The role of food packaging technology in a post-Covid world

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The pandemic has spurred a fresh spurt of growth in food retail and e-commerce, which will catalyze the demand for recycled flexible in the food and beverage industry.

The role of food packaging technology in a post-Covid world

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 much easier. This has also helped the growth of retail and e-commerce to smaller towns.

Also, as the coronavirus pandemic rages unabated across the world, there is now more awareness today about the significance of buying packaged products, especially when it comes to foods items. People have come to realize and understand that packed foods are safer in comparison to products/produce sold loose. While the coronavirus pandemic has certainly created a higher awareness about flexible packaging, the online retail boom that the crisis has fuelled has also created a big disruption in our shopping and consumption habit, especially among the rural folks who had hitherto been in the habit of buying loose.

So, until 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 in loose. There were issues of hygiene, spoilage and wastage due to the lower shelf life of loose items. However, thanks to the widespread use of flexible packaging today, rural and small towns have started buying packed, branded stuff of higher quality. In the immediate future, packaging technology will become so flexible that people will buy more of packed rice and wheat, which will be much healthier, compared to loose.

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

Packaging has evolved a lot over 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. In retail, flexible packaging and digital printing technology are helping to make packaging attractive in terms of design and aesthetics.

Companies have been moving from rigid packaging such as containers, duplex cartons or bottles and eco-friendly flexible packaging. Loose-selling products such as salt, atta, sugar or other major staples are being moved to flexible packaging, which enjoys many advantages like:

Recycled, biodegradable and sustainability: Flexible packaging could be easily recycled. The technology has been available for a while to recycle mono-layer plastics, be it polyester, polyethylene or poly propylene. However, today technologies are available for recycling 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 also in the process of framing policies on bio-degradable plastics.

Biodegradable packaging can be categorised into compostable materials, Oxo-biodegradable, aerobically biodegradable and anaerobically biodegradable. Montage has developed biodegradable packaging, which when littered and made to come in contact with the soil attracts more bacteria, which converts the pack into a biomass. It can also be recycled.

In retail, flexible packaging and digital printing technology are helping to make packaging attractive in terms of design and aesthetics. A major wave is currently sweeping when it comes to designing the pack and making it look unique, colourfully vibrant, secure and aesthetically appealing.

Packaging is the first handshake of a product with the consumer and a possible bridge to her lifelong loyalty. Realizing this, retailers, manufacturers and packaging companies are joining hands and coming out with innovative designs, never heard about in the past.

Below are some of the latest packaging design trends in retail stores.

– Brand story: We all are aware of Paper Boat juices, which weaves story around childhood nostalgia. The childhood paper boat inspires the artwork and design of the Paper Boat brand packaging. Similarly, Kurkure’s ‘Teda hain par mera hain’ theme is designed to convey story of the brand. The Cadbury silk packaging comes in satin, conveying the silk story.

– Shape innovation: The shape of the packaging is made unique and out-of-the box for the brand to stand out the crowd. For example, the Pepsi Lehar package has been made slimmer resembling the slim waistline, indicting the low-calorie advantage. During the Olympics in Russia, Montage made chocolate pack in the shape of a T Shirt for one of its Russian clients. In India, shape Innovation packs are mostly used for promotions or festival offers due to the high budget involved in making such packages.

– Holographic packaging: It helps protect brands from counterfeiting and duplication. Here, the holographic patterns are embossed onto the aluminium surface, which will diffract the light resulting in different colours and a three-dimensional appearance. It also gives a high aesthetic appeal to the packaging. The holographic packaging trends are rising in the country. Cosmetic companies make use of such packaging.

– Smart packaging: Such packaging make use of QR codes and smart labels, which could be scanned through a smart phone and understood more about such products. Food products are increasingly making use of Smart Packaging. FMCG companies such as Nestle or Unilever make such packs for their products.

– Nature and earth inspired packaging: Health and wellness products are packed using Nature and Health inspired packaging. Such products normally have a paper finishing on plastics. Beauty & wellness brands such as Nykaa and Body Shop make use of such packaging.

– Window packaging: The packaging has small windows, which will show products/parts of products. The package will be normally metalised barring the window part. Tata rock salt pack was developed with a registered customized window, which allowed customers to see the rock salt within.

– Personalised packaging: The packet, tin or container will be customised to a particular individual by embedding his image or name on it. Usually the personalised packaging is done for several unique set of company’s customers or influencers. FMCG companies such as Pepsi or Coca Cola make personalised packing for its customers.

– Vintage packaging: Here designs and certain fashions of the past are brought back for the nostalgia effect and even for their utility value. Fashionable jute or cloth bags, which existed in the past is back in fashion after the ban on plastic bags.

– Mono & multi-layer packaging: Nowadays, candies have monolayer packaging. However, in the pharmaceutical industry, multilayer packaging is executed in order to protect the medicines and their shelf-life. The product has to be intact with polyester foils, blister foils, alu-alu foils, maximum stuff is used to enhance the packaging and keep the products intact.

– Aseptic packaging: Ultra high temperature (UHT) films are the latest advanced packaging in the field of aseptic packaging. From bottles the juices moved to tetra packs, from where it has moved to high barrier UHT films that gives a super long shelf life. Cavin Care packs its Ma branded juices and milkshakes in UHT film packaging.