Even back in 7000 BC, our predecessors were formulating their own food packaging from pottery and glass. By the 1880s, Quaker Oats had developed the first folding box for packaging cereal. Fast forward to 2020, and Wipak continues to be at the forefront of devising innovative sustainable packaging solutions, as demonstrated by the resounding success of our recent digital product launch. In the second instalment of our Insights series, we take a look at why food packaging is so important, with a special focus on some of its key functions in the present day.
It seems sensible to begin with a look at packaging’s core function as most of us know it: physical protection, which is essential for reducing food waste – a problem that has 5-10 times the environmental impact as a product’s packaging. The current pandemic has shined a light on a strong barrier’s myriad benefits for shelf life, particularly when infections were rising rapidly and panic-buying led to massive stock shortages at supermarkets worldwide. Insufficient packaging can decrease a product’s shelf life and generate unnecessary food waste, but excess packaging wastes resources and increases transportation costs, as well as contributing to unfavourable consumer perception of a brand, so striking the right balance is imperative. Softer foods often require protection from shock, vibration, compression and temperature changes during transport, so packaging quickly becomes the first line of defence. Barriers against oxygen, water vapour and dust are equally paramount for fresh foods, leading to the use of desiccants and oxygen absorbers to improve the efficacy of core packaging. Every effort is made to mitigate the effects of external factors in a controlled or modified environment so a product arrives in our hands in the best possible condition.
Convenience, portion control and containment
Our second section highlights three interlinked functions of food packaging: optimising both carrier and customer experience when transporting and purchasing a packaged item; controlling portion sizes to allow for budgeting, meal-planning and waste reduction; and logical grouping of products for more efficient handling. Smaller items are typically packed together if cross-contamination can be avoided, sometimes saving on packaging costs with a “less is more” approach that sits well with environmentally conscious consumers. For perishables to be packed effectively, there needs to be consistency between primary, secondary and tertiary packaging. Primary packaging refers to the materials that come in direct contact with the food in question, before secondary packaging envelopes these materials and groups the items together in a multipack. Tertiary packaging centres on more practical elements like shape and form, which are essential for efficient distribution to warehouses and retailers. Once at the supermarket, resealable packaging strips add to shelf life and prolong at-home storage. Single-serving packaging, such as a pint of milk or a box of six eggs, similarly aids habitual buying by allowing customers to plan ahead with fixed quantities and offering them the chance to purchase items in bulk, thus reducing food waste if they only buy what they need.
Packaging plays an equally essential logistical role in the successful transportation of an item from farm to fridge. Logistics aim to get the right quantity and quality of materials (or services) to the right place at the right time, for the right client, and at the right price. Many of us tend to neglect the direct or indirect effects of logistics on all areas of our life until one of these “rights” goes wrong. At Wipak, our 22 pouch-making lines, 5 of which are internal, thankfully ensure far more daily rights than wrongs. Our flexible pouch packaging solutions are up to 8 or 9 times lighter than their rigid tin counterparts, with 1 pallet of empty pouches equating to 29 pallets of empty tins when carrying the same volume of any given product. In saving lorries huge amounts of storage space when moving these goods, fewer trips are needed, thus leading to shorter transportation times and possibly even an extended product shelf life to complement a reduced carbon footprint.
Security and information transmission
Packaging often has legal obligations to fulfil with regard to disposal, recycling and transport, as well as providing clear instructions for how to use the product it encases. In the 1970s, the barcode system revolutionised the retail and manufacturing industry, allowing for all manner of important information to be stored and accessed digitally at just the scan of a uniquely assembled strip. This has since led to the introduction of active packaging, such as Wipak’s own Digimarc brand: an invisible barcode that can be embedded into the printed design of a package, enabling users within the value chain to quickly scan large portions and obtain live updates on a product’s shelf life with a simple smartphone or tablet. By integrating Digimarc barcodes into printed films, Wipak is able to decrease wastage throughout the supply chain, preventing costly errors such as using the wrong film or incorrect pallet labelling. Instore, it can be used to help maintain accurate inventory levels and information relating to product expiration dates, enabling retailers to promote and relabel products to minimize food waste and users to dispose or recycle responsibly, ensuring that recyclable materials are retained within the circular economy. Other technical aspects such as tamperproofing, counter-pilfering mechanisms and authentication seals similarly contribute to retail loss prevention, aiming to cultivate brand loyalty through secure and consistent packaging.
It would be foolish to underestimate the significance of packaging aesthetics in the buying process and how much they affect product sales. In the ever-evolving world of graphic design and point-of-sale displays, choosing the right colour and shape for packaging can even cause customers to believe that the food they are consuming has a superior taste vis-à-vis competitor brands and, ultimately, repeat their purchase. Much research has gone into the relationship between colour and decision-making. Yellow is said to evoke joy or a certain playfulness; pink conjures a delicate sensitivity; and black resonates with strength and power, giving companies more food for thought when it comes to tinting their image. On the more practical front, Wipak is one of the leading specialists in refining and printing packaging films, including gravure printing, flexo-printing and inkjet digital, all of which provide a product with premium-quality, economical and sustainable images. Our separate gravure- and flexo-print solutions cater for printing plate production, as well as the possibility of combining the two methods to balance cost-effectiveness and lustre. Using our unique technology, we can offer equally exceptional print images on paper laminates. As well as contributing to a product’s perceived value, effective packaging can go as far as enhancing it, marrying form and function to entice customers into investing in a brand for its sleekness, reliability and, more recently, environmental stance. This is where Wipak’s N.E.X.T. Innovation Centre comes in: our comprehensive offering of innovation workshops, training sessions and seminars to conceptualize, develop and prototype the future of packaging or, quite simply, your organisation’s N.E.X.T. big thing.
So it’s quite clear that food packaging is of paramount importance, but is it enough to simply protect our produce in this day and age? We believe that our customers value sustainability as much as reliability. Bearing this in mind, Wipak combines the two to innovate, create and facilitate a fuss-free journey from place of origin to plate.