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“Task assistance through packaging can add value”
Monday, 02 June, 2014, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Packaging is vital as value addition in food. India accounts for less than 1.5% of international food trade despite being one of the world’s major food producers, which indicates huge potential for both investors and exporters. Further, there is huge wastage of food ranging from 40-70% in different food items. It is such challenges that call for appropriate packaging solutions. Dr Tanveer Alam, joint director and regional head, Indian Institute of Packaging, Delhi, delves deeper into the details in an interview with Ashwani Maindola. Excerpts:

Brief us about value addition in food.
Value-added agriculture refers generally to manufacturing processes that increase the value of primary agricultural commodities. Value-added agriculture may also refer to increasing the economic value of a commodity through particular production processes, e.g., organic produce, or through regionally-branded products that increase consumer appeal and willingness to pay a premium over similar but undifferentiated products. And packaging is one of the important tools of value addition of foods.

Packaging helps notably in following areas: Brand Identification; Advertising at the Point-of-Purchase; Product Transport; At-Home Storage; and Task Assistance.

How packaging can be defined as a key element in added value?
Packaging can add value through brand identification. Busy consumers are zipping up and down the aisles. Each purchase may take only 30 seconds; these active consumers of today purchase more on impulse and may be somewhat less brand-loyal than years ago. But a well-known brand is dependable; once consumers know the quality, they can rely on it time and time again. The package establishes brand identification in several ways. Obviously, the name will be printed there, but packages have become brighter, products more numerous, and confusion on supermarket shelves has reached astronomical proportions. So if you’re in a hurry, just the brand name may not be enough to catch your eye. The total “look” must be recognisable.

Why  packaging  is  important  for  value  addition  of  food?
Proper food packaging is vital for great tasting and healthy food. Proper packaging is like armour for food. If the food is properly packaged, it will protect the state and quality of the food and prevent it from getting tampered with. It's important that you understand not only why packaging food is important but how to properly package the food. Unfortunately there is not one clear packaging option. Food packaging depends on the type of food, its size, and whether or not it's refrigerated or frozen.
What is the primary objective of packaging and its benefits for value addition?
Food packaging has several primary objectives. The biggest purpose is the physical protection of the food. Packaging is the encasement of products in packages, protective wrappings or other external covering that can provide protection, information, security and marketing benefits. Food packaging also provides barrier protection so oxygen, water vapour, dust or chemicals remain outside the package. Food packaging provides containment or agglomeration, so small items are grouped together in one package or powders and minute materials are contained. Last but not the least, packaging provides a space to paste nutritional labels as well as marketing information such as name of product, brand and price. Physical protection provides support from shock, vibration, compression, temperature, or other factors that may ruin or reduce the quality of the food. Common packaging materials include boxes, Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, plastic, bags, cloth and cartons.

How does packaging help in increasing the shelf life of a product?
One of the primary goals of food packaging is to extend the "shelf life" of the food. Some foods have a much longer shelf life than others. For example, canned goods and freeze-dried products have the longest shelf life, often lasting years on end. Other products will go bad quickly, especially when the original package is opened. In order to prevent the food from going bad, consumers must repackage the food or freeze it.

How to pack perishable foods?
Keep dairy-based foods in their original containers. Containers and packaging have been specifically designed to keep out air, odours and germs. For example for storing of fresh vegetables now selective permeable and breathable films are required. MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) packaged food are required.

Tell us about types of packaging.
Several materials are used either alone or in combination with other materials to provide proper food packaging. Aseptic processing helps protect whole eggs while cartons provide protection for a batch of eggs. Plastic trays may protect fish or meats in combination with plastic wrap. Bags preserve and protect chips, crackers, and even salads while cans package soup, fruit and vegetables.

Brief us about the growth and expansion in food packaging business.
Food packaging is a $110 billion per year industry. Food packaging is the third-largest industry in the United States. An estimated 350 billion packages exist on US store shelves alone. While most types of packaging are necessary to provide proper health and protection for food products, many environmentalists are attempting to find ways to save on paper, plastic and other materials used for food packaging. Consumers may do their part by recycling packaging products (such as aluminium, glass and plastic) instead of throwing them in the trash.

The Indian packaging industry is currently valued at $18.8 billion with a growth rate of above 12.36 per cent per annum more than twice the global average while our GDP growth was 8.5 per cent. Not only is the industry growing rapidly but it is also creating lucrative jobs for those who find a career in it. The food and beverage and pharmaceutical segments occupy the largest share in the packaging industry, accounting for 85 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.

Is improving at-home storage another way to add value?
Most food products these days are left in their containers until they’re used. If it is a single-use container, we need to be concerned with the ease of opening and dispensing after which the container is thrown away. But many of the foods today come in multiple serving containers. The package is opened, product dispensed, then the package needs to be resealed and put back on the shelf or in the refrigerator. So how do we add value to this basic function?  
1) Containment – enabling the food to be presented in a fixed measure by weight or volume of contents.
2) Convenience – provides convenience in using the product. Also furnishes consumer convenience about microwavability, reseal ability, ease of opening, and reusability.
3) Product information – conveys product information to the consumer, including description of food contents, weight/volume ratio, manufacturer’s name, and directions for use, sell-by date, and nutritional content.
4) Dispenser – certain packages facilitate dispensing of product (e.g. beer, salt, or soft drinks)

How a package can add value by providing task assistance?
Providing task assistance through packaging is one of the major ways that manufacturers can add value to their products. More and more manufacturers are offering their frozen foods in dual oven-able packages and containers. Others are formulating their foods strictly for microwave oven cooking, targeting their brand toward the busy consumer. Here we find many efforts to make these packages more convenient. To develop this innovation, we looked carefully at the task that the consumer was involved in and how we could help make the whole process easier.

What are your observations on the industry?
Although packaging has made tremendous strides over the years, it still remains as one of the main avenues for increased added value in the food distribution industry. These efforts pay off for the industry as well as for the consumers. We know consumers will often pay as much for these packages as they pay for the product itself.
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