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COVID-19: Creating opportunities for the packaged food industry In India

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The Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent unlock phases have seen a major shift in the consumer buying patterns. There has been a rise in the demand of products like biscuits, breads, cakes and other snacking options as consumers are working from home and these food items are meeting their demands of all-time snacking. Even the definition of essential food items has changed within a couple of months and along with basic food items this now includes snacking and munching items.

As many restaurants are closed and people are still skeptical about ordering food from outside, these packaged food items have come as a rescue for preparing food at home and sometimes improvising it too. Overall, the average purchase value per customer has gone up in this quarter after facing a dud in the first three quarters.

With the shift in the buying pattern, a major change in lifestyle has been witnessed towards hygienic living, be it through sanitization, personal hygiene practices, social distancing or buying hygiene conscious products. Seeing the change, government and regulatory bodies globally are expected to strengthen the requirements related to food processing and packaging in order to provide safe food to consumers.

Why packaged food in a crisis?

In India, majority of people still used to prefer unpacked food, but the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has changed this preference and slowly and steadily we have seen a shift towards packaged food in even Tier III cities now. The packaged food reaches consumers in protected packs and with minimum handling. Packaged food also offers ease of identification and reduces the risk of adulteration and wastage due to spillage. Even packaged foods meet all the food standards and are fortified. The future may also see a surge in development of antimicrobial packaging for processed foods. Since social distancing will be new social norm, in near future people may avoid crowded places like restaurants and cafeterias and will prefer ‘take away’ or packed food leading to an increase in packaging for cooked food.

Rise in E-Commerce Increases Demand of Packaged Food

Since people are still observing social distancing measures, therefore most of the edible items are purchased online not only in metro cities but also in small cities. This will further see a rise in packaging sector and will also boost development of anti-counterfeit solutions in packaging. Another trend which is expected is development of e-packaging, in which there is minimum manhandling and the product reaches the customer with minimum human touch.

Eco-friendly Flexible Packaging

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 lose ones. Today, with barrier nano-coating technology in flexible packaging, the thickness has significantly reduced, resulting in far lesser amount of plastics used. Flexible packaging is an advantage for easy e-commerce as products have become 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 have moved to flexible packaging. In developed markets like US and Europe, there is nothing which is sold loose. So, there is a need of deeper penetration of packaging and higher adoption of packed products in our country.

Moreover, it has been seen that flexible packaging could be easily recycled. Technologies are enabling monolayer and multilayer plastics such as a combination of polyester, metallised layers, polyethylene and polypropylene to get recycled. The 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. 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, attracts more bacteria and convert the pack into a biomass. It can also be recycled.