Learn the science behind:
Developing a new food product? Then choosing the right packaging material is crucial for its success. Without it, your product may not retain its quality for long enough, can’t be shipped, or simply doesn’t look good.
But, what packaging solution do you choose?
That depends on your final vision and product. But, here’s a simple checklist to help you get started in figuring out your preferred packaging solution.
Step 1: What does your pack need to do?
The first step in choosing a suitable packaging solution is to consider what it is that you need the packaging to do. For instance:
- Is the packaging crucial for meeting shelf life requirements?
- Does the pack simply have to keep your product together?
- Does it need to add protection during transport?
- Does it need to prevent your product from drying out?
- Or does it mostly serve to communicate what it is and why people should buy it?
If you’re not sure about some of these technical product requirements, it might help to simply store your product in a few different types of packaging material. Store it in a paper bag, a ziploc bag or a tupperware box. What happens? That’s a great practical way to see what your product needs (or doesn’t need).
Let’s have a look at a few examples.
Freshly cut vegetables – extend shelf life
A mix of fresh salad leaves and freshly cut vegetables won’t stay good for a long period of time. If you pack it in a closed plastic bag, it will start to spoil in a matter of days. Produce needs to ‘breathe‘, and if it’s in a closed bag, it can’t do so. Instead, you’ll want to package the vegetable mix in a special plastic material with little holes, allowing the product to breathe. This can easily double the shelf life of the product! The exact choice of material has a tremendous impact on how fast (or slow) your product spoils here!
Keep out the light
Olive oil is prone to turning rancid over time. Exposure to (sun) light speeds up the spoilage of olive oil. It’s why olive oil is often stored in green glass bottles, or even jars or cans that don’t let in any light. It keeps the olive oil fresh for longer.
2. How do consumers use your product?
Do consumers pour the oil onto their salad? Stick in a knife to spread the product on their bread? Or scoop it into a bowl?
Keep that in mind when designing packaging. If an ice cream scoop needs to fit in, you’d better make sure there’s enough space for it. Same for that peanut butter jar that people will want to put their knife into.
Don’t underestimate people’s habits here. If a certain product category has been packaged in a certain type of packaging for a long time, people might automatically expect a new product to be so as well. Doing it different might put off some consumers, but attract others who’d like to try something new or weren’t happy with the ‘conventional way’ things were done.
Of course, marketing plays a key role when deciding on a packaging material. How do you want your product to appear on shelves? It’s a crucial aspect alongside the more technical considerations.
Look at the competition
If you’re new in your field, have a look at your competition. How are most candy bars, licorice sweets, chips or coffee beans packaged? Often (but not always) there’s some reason for that packaging material. It can help you get started.
3. What should your packaging be able to withstand?
Does your product get wet? Is it frozen, or maybe heated up in a microwave? Is a bottle squeezed? Or can oil leak out?
You want to make sure your packaging doesn’t break down under those conditions. If it’s to be used in a microwave, it had better be microwave safe (many plastics aren’t). If your product is moist, paper might not be the best solution.
This aspect is gaining more and more importance in the world of food. But, sustainable packaging is more than just using and choosing a sustainable packaging material. Since packaging can have a tremendous impact on the shelf life of products, you can significantly reduce food waste by choosing the correct materials. As a matter of fact, there are ample examples where adding packaging to extend shelf life decreases the overall impact of a product compared to the unwrapped version, simply because less product goes to waste.
Multi layer foils & Recyclability
This is also a fascinating packaging method on which, unfortunately, I’m less of an expert. Sometimes a product requires different types of protection. As mentioned, a lot of juice should be protected from (sun)light. However, a juice should also be in a sturdy pack to prevent it from leaking everywhere. At the same time, it should be possible to print on the pack. Also, we don’t want oxygen to enter the pack either.
Those are a lot of different requirements and most materials will not fit the complete brief. That’s when they came up with multi layer packaging. This type of packaging consists of several layers pressed together in one thin sheet. Each layer will have a different role in the pack. Together they can fullfill all the various requirements.
This type of packaging is a lot more complex than the ‘simple’ carton box used to pack a pie. If you think you have to go this way, it’s best to talk with a supplier of these materials to give you advice.
That said, alongside preventing waste, the actual sustainability of a material is important to keep in mind.
5. Practical considerations
Fancy, beautiful, complex packaging might look great and work well. But, it can come at a cost. So, don’t forget to lose sight of some of the more practical considerations:
- Costs: costs can add up, an expensive packaging material can make the overall product unaffordable.
- Can you use it?: even if the packaging material works great, can you use it in your factory, or in the facility where you’d like to use it?
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