Evolving food trends
Busier, faster lifestyles are driving changes in the type of fresh produce products sought — and providing excellent opportunities for innovative packaging.
Packaging’s main functions are to protect, preserve and identify foodstuffs. According to the “Journal of Food Science”, a very close second comes communication (both mandatory and marketing information), traceability, tamper indication and portion control. (See here how optimising your packaging can optimise your supply chain.)
Now, more than ever, economic and social changes are altering consumers’ behaviour with fresh produce. And this, in turn, is driving change in the fresh produce packaging.
Some of the driving factors are:
- higher working population
- desire for food convenience as well as willingness to pay for that convenience
- growing social awareness of the need for healthy eating
- increased environmental awareness and impact of human habits on the environment
- hygiene and food safety
- greater scrutiny of food origin
- closer attention to “food miles” and the rise of the “locovore” (being a desire to consume only produce grown with a certain radius of one’s home)
These trends are driving change by increasing demand for pre-chopped, frozen, canned or processed fruits and vegetables on one end while also encouraging supermarkets to source local.
So what changes in packaging are all these factors causing?
Active and intelligent food packaging is a continually growing area.
Along with the relatively well known modified atmosphere packaging [MAP], are smart packs that can communicate produce quality — such ripeness indicators, biosensors, time-temperature indicators and RFID [radio frequency identification] tags.
Bio-degradable packaging — including bulk packaging — will become more common, as environmental pressures grow; and this includes customer perception of what a processor does. Some of these technologies are not very cost competitive right now, but this will change as their design improves. In the short to medium term, however, legislation and retailer guidelines may force their use.
QR codes, which is short for ‘quick response’, are one method to communicate directly with end customers and engage them. A QR code is a matrix, or 2D, barcode. It has fast readability and a large storage capacity compared with ‘traditional’ UPC [Universal Product Code] barcodes.
Overseas, fresh produce companies are using QR codes to engage their customers — for instance, a QR code on an apple takes the consumer to a YouTube video on how to get kids to eat more fruit and veg. Others, such as on mangoes, offer recipes.
Coding & labelling technologies and standards
The cost and efficiency benefits of generic packaging see flexible uses for coding and labelling.
For example a small, fresh produce processor is using two Linx thermal transfer overprinters to print on both sides of packs in plastic film. The processor doesn’t have to sit on thousands of reels of film for individual products. They have one generic film for their entire range, and use the TT5s to print the details for every product line. They can even print Chinese translations on the back for export products.
Some other technologies that are used in fresh produce are Label Applicators for applying pre-printed pressure-sensitive labels; and Label Printer Applicators, which print labels, then automatically apply them to an item — these are ideal for barcode labels. There’s also continuous inkjet printers — or CIJ – that are often used for product-ID codes, batch numbers, date codes, logos and text.
In Australia, the next ‘big thing’ in coding will be GS1 DataBars; these encode and compress more information into less space than the current GTINs [Global Trade Item Numbers]. Their smaller size suits them to labelling fresh, loose produce, and they’re being trialled globally for shipping. GS1 DataBars will be able to be used worldwide in open trade from 2014.
Such developments show that innovation in fresh produce packaging will continue to expand.