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Food packaging innovations deliver longer life, sustainability and more

Food packaging innovations deliver longer life, sustainability and more
Perfectly proportioned packages of fresh food delivered to your door might be the ultimate in sustainability and convenience. Photo courtesy of Blue Apron.

Shelf life. Foods and beverages can never get enough, right? That’s why most packaging developers, when asked, say they want more options in barrier materials—despite the myriad choices already available.

Adding to the urgency of finding affordable barrier packaging solutions is the fact that we’re seeing food waste pile up in epic proportions—even though one in nine people around the world go hungry every night, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014. Sadly, more than 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted every year. To put both those numbers into perspective, the non-profit organization Food Tank also says, “Just one quarter of all wasted food could feed the 795 million undernourished people around the world who suffer from hunger.”

Further complicating the packaging challenges for many food and beverage companies are their aggressive sustainability goals, especially if these are being met by using bio-based or renewable packaging materials, many of which score low on the high-barrier scale.

A confluence of new developments might just make a positive impact on all counts: improving shelf life, reducing food waste and delivering a sustainable option.

In the recent article “We may have discovered the Holy Grail with new recyclable barrier pouches” posted on, sustainability and packaging expert Nina Goodrich of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition talks about a new packaging development she thinks could be a game-changer for food packaging shelf life and sustainability.

Now, new barrier flexible packaging using Dow Chemical’s Retain technology “has a viable recycling strategy,” writes Goodrich. “These new pouches can be recycled with other polyethylene (PE) films and bags at grocery store drop-off locations.”

But she goes one step further by saying, “I believe this new packaging option combined with up-and-coming high-pressure processing (HPP) food processing technology creates a real sustainable packaging innovation opportunity.”

High-pressure processing has grown into a mainstream technology being used and courted by many food companies, large and small. For example, Campbell Soup—which is already using HPP for its cold-pressed juice line 1915 by Bolthouse Farms—is now looking for packaging that visually indicates when a product has gone through HPP. Have an idea? Take up the challenge on Campbell’s Ideas for Innovation open-innovation website.

But I’m going to go another step further and remind you of upcoming opportunities—and challenges, of course—with grocery ecommerce, which I believe is worthy of another Holy Grail quest because it adds convenience to the trio of benefits italicized above.

Rigorous demands of an “always-on” supply chain—as the supply chain association MHI outlines in its 2016 MHI annual industry report Accelerating change: How innovation is driving digital, always-on supply chains—means packaging will have to step up even more.

Lots of moving pieces are fitting together quite nicely to solve some complex food packaging problems.

Want to learn more? Converting to flexible packaging and packaging opportunities for ecommerce are two of many key issues on the agenda for the one-day, high-intensity “Packaging for Food & Beverage” conference, taking place during EastPack 2016 (June 14-16; New York City).

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