With each passing decade, food packaging evolves. Sometimes this is based on trends, sometimes it’s based on practicality, but there’s always good reason for that change. One of the most recent changes in food packaging is the increasing use of the pouch. The super-advanced world of futuristic, industrial and concentrated nutrition is finally becoming a reality; only without the space travel and hovercrafts.
About 50 years ago, when everyone was nuts about NASA, moon landings, astronauts and atomic decimation, people started this frenzy of engineering foods that would last for as long as earthly life endures. Instant pudding entered the market, as did dehydrated beverages, processed cheese food and TV dinners. The term “food product” entered the common marketing lingo. Today, we’re trying to backtrack from the chemically-infused and artificially-enhanced foods we’ve created — heck, half the time we don’t even know what an ingredient is. We like our foods organic, locally sourced and sustainable, even though many of us who yell the loudest about it have never been within 100 miles of an actual, working farm.
So, how can we who live in bustling, energy depleting cities get our farm-fresh, organic and fairly traded foodstuffs in an environmentally responsible way? By packaging it in easy-to-transport pouches, that’s how. We don’t want our food to be futuristic any more, but we sure want our packaging to be! Food packaging designer, to the rescue!
Service-sized Food Pouches
Kraft recently began packaging their food service-sized salad dressing containers in large, flexible pouches, which will reduce the amount of package material by 100 million pounds by 2015, and also make really tempting full body cushions (though we suspect lying down on them is highly discouraged). The large glass and plastic jars that were previously used for transport led to a significant carbon footprint, since fewer units could be transported at one time, and the vehicles also had to make return trips with the empty transport containers once the product was used. The pouches, on the other hand, can be disposed of with greater ease since they can collapse into a manageable mass. Unfortunately, at the moment they aren’t accepted for recycling in many regions, but this could change as production of the pouches increase since recycling is really a function of demand. After all, massive amounts of carpet is used in the convention and trade show industry each year, but it wasn’t until about the mid-2000s that recycling of it really got under way. Where there’s a demand, there’s a way.
The food pouch solution is more natural for the service industry, since restaurants don’t rely upon food packaging to sell their products the way supermarket chains do. There really is no reason for foods that are sold in bulk to be individually wrapped, and it might even be a boon for restaurant owners, since this could reduce waste disposal costs significantly.
Food Pouches for Consumers
The food pouch for the standard retail market might be a little more difficult to negotiate for certain products since pouches are notoriously malleable – beverages sold in bags just don’t look as good as those sold in bottles. Customers also tend to shy away at breakfast cereals that are sold in bags rather than boxes because, while cheaper, they pose a bit of a storage problem. But the main concern is that they look cheaper, and it’ll require a consumer mind-set change in order to really get it off the ground.
But pouches are beginning to become common in the baby food market, and with good reason. Babies can suck on pureed fruit pouches themselves without being messily spoon-fed. Also, newborn babies aren’t as swayed by the power of shelf appeal as older consumers.
The popularity of bulk food chains like Costco and Smart and Final create a golden opportunity for food product manufacturers to try a market-specific packaging solution. Why wrap 10 individual packages of American cheese slices when one massive package would serve just as well? Maybe not an ideal example, but we’re just brainstorming, here.
Of course, there are ways that unscrupulous manufacturers and food packaging designers can do away with many of the environmental benefits of packaging foods in pouches – they can over-package the products and use un-recyclable materials. Nevertheless, the reduction of package materials should be the goal of any company and food package designer, for the simple reasons that it is cheaper for the manufacturer and the consumer, and it reduces environmental waste.
So, what have we learned today? We learned that if we do ever colonize Mars, we’re bringing hydroponic agriculture technology and not thousands of pounds of Tang. We learned that the food service industry is a great testing ground for pouch packaging and its potential environmental benefits. We learned that babies aren’t especially nostalgic about baby food jars. Finally, we learned that if we’re going to buy breakfast cereal in a bag, then we’re going to need a large airtight container and a scoop – but we’ll go ahead and buy it because that’s how much we love our planet. We’ll go hug a tree now.