Consumers and regulators push food packaging innovations

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food packaging, Packaging

The rising consumer demand for improved quality, extended shelf
life and environmentally-friendly products, along with increased
regulations in the EU is pushing innovation in the food packaging
sector, Frost & Sullivan says.

Consumer demands for health and convenience are the two trends fuelling growth in the food industry. With an increase in the sophisticated eating habits of consumers, these factors are likely tohave a more significant impact on the food packaging industry than before, Frost & Sullivan research analyst Kasturi Nadkarny stated.

Busy lifestyles are opening avenues for developing packaging solutions that are safe, easy to open, and convenient to use. Manufacturers are focusing on developing packaging solutions that cater tosingle and two-person households. Consumers prefer packages that are stable, rigid, and resealable.

Regulations continue to have a significant impact on the global food packaging market. To an extent these regulations are driven by the health concerns regarding use of harmful chemicals found infood packaging in conjunction with the impact of exceeding quantities of nonbiodegradable packaging wastes on the environment, she stated.

Food packaging manufacturers are responding to the consumer and regulatory trends by not only focusing on developing economic and effective packages for protecting the food products, but also onthe aesthetic value of the packages, Frost & Sullivan research analyst Kasturi Nadkarny stated.

"Consumers today demand a lot more from packaging in terms of protecting the quality, freshness and safety of foods,"​ she stated. "The passing of regulations all over the world onlyreinforces the need for more innovative and intelligent packaging concepts."

Many of the regulations have come into force due to rising health concerns regarding carcinogenic ingredients used in the packaging materials. For example, bisphenol-A, used in plastic foodcontainers, has been linked by research studies to breast cancer and miscarriages.

With the passing of certain regulations, plastics in particular have come under a lot of scrutiny. The most significant impact could come from the European Commission's proposed "SuperRegulation" that compels the food packaging industry to use only those materials mentioned in the positive list of permissible ingredients for making plastics.

The European Commission also stated in January 2004 that manufacturers would have to stop using semicarbazide in sealants for glass jars and bottles by October 2005.

Other regulations require food packages to use biodegradable and environment-friendly material.

"These regulations will spur advancements in the food packaging industry as manufacturers now have additional responsibilities for proving the suitability of their packaging solutions andmeeting the required standards,"​ Nadkarny stated.

For example Denmark-based Danisco has launched a plasticiser produced from hardened castor oil and acetic acid. It is colourless, odourless, and completely biodegradable. The product is also highlyeffective in softening plastics and increasing its flexibility.

The increasing flexibility plastics affords for designing cans and containers makes it the top choice for food packaging. Glass packages face stiff competition from PET bottles, which are thin,lightweight, have a high resistance to breakages, and are easy to handle. PET also offers flexibility in producing packages of varying shapes for food and beverages.

Graham Packaging has used its trademarked Active Traverse Panel (ATP) technology to develop panel-free hot-fill PET bottles. The technology ensures the effective removal of vacuum from the package,which makes it more flexible and suitable for vending purposes.

BASF has made its contribution to food packaging innovation with the introduction of a new plastic stabilizer called Uvinul 5050H, which the company is targeting for use in products as diverse aslarge bags for flour and grain, packaging films and milk containers.

Tetra Pak's development of a "wedge" aseptic food package is another innovation keeping the plastic market alive. The package can be directly microwaved and targets the ready-to-eatmeal market.

"There is also a tremendous emphasis on convenience of food packages,"​ Nadkarny stated. "Packaging that offers better functionality with increased convenience regardingportability and storage are gaining popularity."

In keeping with this trend, Norwegian dairy manufacturer Elopak recently announcing the launch of its new 'carton with a screw cap'. Another significant development is the introduction of thereclosable metal 'Dot Top' cans from Silgan Containers.

"While different packaging technologies and materials will continue to compete directly with one another in the future, its success depends on the functionality, cost efficiencies, and itsimpact on the brand value,"​ Nadkarny stated.

There is also a tremendous emphasis on convenience of food packages and packaging that offers better functionality, portability and storage capabilities, she added.

For example a new type of flexible beverage pack for noncarbonated water offers advantages such as ease in opening and non-spill characteristics. It also ensures on-shelf differentiation and is anideal give-away pack at events.

The material used in the packaging is useful especially for packaging noncarbonated potable water. The barrier property of the material, which possesses both chemical and organolepticcertification, also ensures that water remains pure and fresh for a longer period of time.

A new innovative carton introduced by leading Norwegian dairy manufacturer Elopak could also change the way milk is packaged. The curve present on the carton, called the "fifth panel",indicates the flavour of the milk present inside the carton.

"This carton is the only one in the market today that has a screw cap and its biggest selling point is the eye-catching design endorsed by consumer surveys and huge initial sales,"​Nadkarny stated.

The increasing demand for premium packaging and a packaging system that offers real added value has led German-based Nordenia International to develop the FlexZiBox that can be custom developed fora particular application.

It is square in shape and includes a front slider that controls the opening and closing of the packaging. The slider helps extend the shelf life of the food.

With the increasing health consciousness among consumers, manufacturers are also more inclined towards ensuring food safety through control of the environment within the package and minimizingdamage resulting from microbial attack.

High technology is coming into play in this area. For example, researchers at the UK's University of Leeds have identified nanoparticles of magnesium oxide and zinc oxide to be effective indestroying microorganisms.

Nadkarny believes the nanotechnology, which uses the qualities of microscopic particles, shows huge potential for safe, effective and affordable food packaging in the near future.

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) is also emerging as a highly useful packaging technique for maintaining food quality by altering the atmospheric conditions within the package.

The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (SINTEF) is attempting to use nanotechnology to develop plastic film that provide barrier protectionby preventing gases such as oxygen and ethylene from damaging the food content.

"While different packaging technologies and materials continue to compete directly with one another in the future, its success depends on the functionality, cost efficiencies and its impacton the brand value,"​ she stated.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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