Food Packaging 101
What’s the big deal about food packaging?
Packaging is integral to the way we present, view, interact, and consume products in the modern marketplace. Having evolved from serving its basic primary function of food protection and transportation, packaging has become a multi-functional extension of products and brands themselves.
The breadth of packaging options continues to extend, as manufacturers adapt to new materials and technologies. However, this advancement has also created confusion for brands in choosing the right packaging option for their products.
So how do new food entrepreneurs choose, when options seem endless?
The very first step for making any new packaging decision is to consider the fundamental needs of your product:
- Does it require a barrier from elements such as oxygen, moisture, or light?
- Is it a generally heavy, or lighter- weight product?
- How will the product be filled? By hand, machine, from the top or the side?
- Will the product be frozen, fresh, refrigerated, heated?
- How is it transported?
- Will it be displayed on the shelf, or hanging up, or stacked in multiples?
These are some of the vital questions you need to ask (and answer!) before you even begin to look at packaging options. Doing so will provide you with an essential guide through the clutter of unsuitable packaging formats.
Another thing to consider is your brand/product image, and how you want your product packaging to ‘speak’ to consumers on the shelf. Is it a premium product? Do you want it to appeal to health-conscious foodies? Is your product for people on-the-go? Is it for families?
Perceptions of your brand will be influenced by the type of packaging you use, so don’t disregard the importance of packaging!
You know your product and brand needs- where do you go from here?
The next step is researching each packaging category to match the specific packaging format to your product. Each format of packaging has its pros and cons, so it is worth reviewing options carefully to ensure a perfect match.
We can typically categorise packaging into two main groups: rigid and flexible.
Rigid Packaging consists of more traditional packaging options such as jars, hard plastic containers or bottles, glass, cans, and cardboard cartons or tubes.
The pros of rigid packaging types is that most are recyclable, and they provide an effective impact barrier for product protection. Many rigid options are ideal for liquid food and drink products.
The cons of rigid packaging are the excessive weight/size which many rigid options add to products (exacerbating freight costs), the high energy consumption used in production of rigid materials, and the mass of waste to landfill (global recycling rates for recyclable materials is poor). Cartons also provide a poor barrier for food products on their own.
Flexible Packaging is typically paper wrap or bags, plastic pouches, and plastic rewind film (used for confectionery wrappers etc.).
The pros of flexible packaging is that it is light-weight and is optimal for shipping volume (decreasing freight costs). Production costs and energy consumption are lower, and flexible packaging creates less waste-to-landfill than rigid packaging. Many options also offer great barriers to protect food products and prolong shelf life.
The cons of flexible packaging options are that they provide less of an impact-resistance barrier than rigid products, while recyclable and compostable options are hard to distinguish from their less eco-friendly counterparts. Similar to cartons, flexible paper options also provide a poor barrier for food products (unless combined with other materials).
You can easily gain inspiration from what is currently available in the market.
Rather than “re-inventing the wheel”, it could be beneficial to mirror a competitors packaging format rather than trying to stand- out from the crowd with a different packaging approach.
It’s also important to note here that some packaging materials are harder/more expensive to print than others- be aware of your desired aesthetic or design, and know when it’s worth compromising for a better packaging option.
You have chosen a packaging format, so what do you do now?
Ask the experts, of course!
Choosing the right packaging supplier is as important as choosing the right graphic designer; Think of it like creating a house- your builder needs to be as good as your architect! Get off the computer and call around, talk to the people you may be dealing with in the future, and ask them all the questions you have regarding your packaging needs.
Suppliers should be knowledgeable, have lengthy expertise, and should be able to give you honest advice and suggestions. Having someone local can be beneficial, as not only will they know domestic food accreditation standards, they will also have experience with other local brands. The last thing anyone wants is to end up with packaging that isn’t up to Australian standards- or worse- isn’t entirely safe. Being able to easily meet with and contact your supplier, as well as view samples in person, can be tremendous support for budding food entrepreneurs.
If you choose to buy direct from overseas, you should consider the level of business security provided by your packaging supplier. While buying online can be cost-effective, it can quickly turn into a burden if you experience quality or logistics issues. Like many things in life, saving a few dollars in the beginning can cost you big bucks in the long-run! Be careful and research, research, research. If time is of the essence, leave it to the professionals.
Hopefully by keeping all these factors in mind, you’ll be able to make informed packaging decisions that properly represent your product, and give your brand the best chance for success.
Co-founder and Director