OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. — All too often, foodservice packaging is an afterthought—a decision made after the menu item has been developed and tested and is ready for rollout. But the impact of hastily chosen packaging can be broad, from a poor convenience-store consumer experience to missed opportunities for branding.
So we hopped on the phone with Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), Falls Church, Va., to find out how retailers can make better packaging decisions. The result: a handful of innovations, tips and tools for the next time you’re seeking a vessel for your latest menu item.
1. Plastics are getting more sophisticated … Two of the biggest packaging innovations of the past few years were the introduction of recycled content into polystyrene containers, as well as insulated polypropylene—which gives the plastic similar insulation levels as foam. Convenience-store retailer Sheetz’s recent coffee-program revamp included the launch of a fully recyclable, BPA-free cup made out of No. 5 polypropylene.
2. … but mushrooms are getting in on the game, too. Along with ongoing innovations within tree-based products, some of the latest plant-based materials include bagasse, a fibrous byproduct of the extraction of juice from sugarcane, as well as sugar beet pulp, which is combined with a biodegradable polymer for a package that acts like soft polystyrene or polypropylene. Manufacturers are also working with straw, wheat and mushrooms to further expand sustainable packaging options.
“There’s always R&D in this space,” said Dyer. “Who knows what that next material is going to be, but that’s the exciting part.”
3. Consumer trends directly impact packaging. Both snacking and better-for-you trends have influenced foodservice packaging. Compartmentalized boxes allow for customized meals or snacks while keeping items such as chips and salsa or hummus and veggies separated. You can thank one hot category for triggering the trend, said Dyer: yogurt parfaits.
4. Use your container as a brand ambassador. “We’re starting to see more operators recognize that their packaging is an opportunity to potentially drive sales and can be used as an extension of their brand,” Dyer said. “It’s free advertising.”
5. Think of packaging in tandem with menu development. Know what you need before approaching manufacturers. FPI has a great form retailers can use as an internal questionnaire or as the basis for a supplier request for proposal.
6. Looking for packaging? Call Lynn. “I had an operator call me up one day from a very large chain and he said, ‘We just developed our next great item and we’re getting ready to go to market and realized, holy crap, we don’t have packaging for this’.” Dyer got his specs and sent it out to FPI’s supplier members—which reflect nearly 90% of the industry. “Within a few hours, they had multiple quotes.”
This wasn’t special treatment for a VIP member; rather, all operator-members can send specs to FPI for it to filter to the industry and receive leads in return. Even better: Membership is free for operators.
For more news on foodservice packaging innovations and best practices for choosing the right packaging for your menu, watch for the November issue of CSP magazine.