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Innovative food packaging trends in 2022
Tuesday, 07 December, 2021, 15 : 00 PM [IST]
Amit Shah
Evolution is inevitable in order to grow and habituate to the changing times. The world of packaging is ever-changing as well, as it responds to evolving environmental factors, social change and consumer habits. However, when one hears of the word packaging, they unquestionably think of food packaging, in the first place.

Food packaging that brings ‘farm to plate’ and is primarily linked to preserving food for a longer duration has also been through numerous changes.
The origin of food packs can be dated back to approximately 3,500 years ago in Egypt and since then packaging has seen transformation, industrialisation and growth in terms of design for better storage, preservation, visual appeal and is now being driven by sustainability.

Packaging has been revolutionised not just for food but for almost every next thing that we use in our daily life, be it beauty creams, electronic products, medicine and more. A different kind of package is required for each product comprising of different features, designs, and non-negotiable aspects such as barrier strength, compliance and brand protection that marks for a brand’s identity.

The packaging industry has seen a number of innovations, both accidental and intentional, all of which that stemmed from a need or design flaw that was obstructing the natural use of the pack or of the packed contents. With innovations in design and identification of multiple materials that can be used for packaging came the need for recycling and sustainability. Over the years, not just customers, but manufacturers as well have certainly implemented or attempted to adopt the circular economy model.

From conveyor belts at the manufacturing units to the consumer’s shelf and storage racks at home, a product’s journey can be a long one that passes through various conditions of transportation, warehousing, handling, weather conditions. All of these factors trigger the need for a packing that not only extends the life of a product, but is durable and safe and is worth the money a consumer pays to buy it.

Besides the functional attributes, packaging converters and brands are also mindful of the competitive forces and counterfeiting threats and find the need to factor in the ‘how’ of making their product packaging stand out while simultaneously making it almost impossible to copy. As a result, brands bring forward new trends and features in packaging which not only help make advancements in the industry as a whole, but also help the brand emerge with a unique proposition to fight the fakes.

With world gaining cognizance of the menace of plastic waste and increasingly embracing sustainability in all things, including packaging design, the future of flexible packaging as a market is set to shine high. It is also interesting to take note of packaging that is functionally rich and connects instantly with the consumer and is well received by the consumers. Let me share some of the latest trends in packaging that will rule the game in years to come.

Recyclable packaging & post-consumer recycled content packaging
Companies are nowadays educating consumers on the importance of segregating plastic waste for easy recycling. The government's probable ban on single-use plastics beginning from July 2022 is perhaps another way to promote circular economy model in plastic packaging waste management. It is interesting to take note of brands contemplating a threefold approach towards sustainable packaging by i) eliminating single use plastic and replacing it with eco-friendly packaging  ii) making less use of virgin material and more recycled content in packaging, and iii) switching to mono-polymers in their packaging structure that allows easy recyclability.  

This transition to sustainable packaging is on account of vocalisation of environmental concerns coming from regulatory authorities, brands and end consumers as well. With adoption of sustainability, our planet is certain to appear greener in the coming years.

Bio-degradable packaging
Biodegradable packaging is one of the most promising novel solutions which companies have started to offer making packaging truly sustainable. This packaging can be made from corn starch, bagasse, banana leaf, plastic and other sources. However not all ‘bio-degradable’ options offer the best barrier strength required to retain the integrity of food packed. Likewise, not all fully disintegrate or take too long to do so.  Enzyme based plastic packaging that degrade into biomass within a fixed period of time when it comes into contact with soil and water, will address the problems of many brands, consumers and ecological warriors.

Re-fillable parent packaging  
A fairly newer concept forming the trend nowadays is ‘Refillable parent packaging.’ It is a concept wherein brands provide stores with bulk products and customers bring their own containers to refill the product they need. This helps reduce the cost of producing new packaging. However, this method will succeed only if consumers choose to accept this as a viable way of refilling products. This method also dissuades consumers from hoarding large quantities, a trend which is being seen more often since the outbreak of the pandemic. Another setback can be the cost incurred on supply chain and making large quantity containers available for re-filling.

Returnable packaging
In simple terms, this type of packaging can be returned to be refurbished into something else once the product is consumed. The returned pouches are then washed and recycled into new packs or any other usable form of product. This not only reduces virgin plastic content from being used but also promotes the use of recycled plastic content into making more packs or other items. Additionally it supports and boosts the circular economy model, in turn protecting the environment from further damage. The returned packs asking for customer’s effort can be a successful model only if the consumers are incentivised with refunds or discounts.

High performance Packaging promoting see, feel & buy   
Forming an instant connect with the consumers marks one of the latest trend in packaging. Brands and packaging converters now prefer high on performance and higher on barrier packaging that allows them to make the consumer see the product they are considering to buy. This helps in triggering an instant buying decision in the minds of the consumer.

Technological enablement and digitalisation of packaging for smart consumers
Technology today has its fingerprints on every aspect that connects with human race. It would not be incorrect to say that technological advancements play a pioneering role in influencing production, processes, substitution of packaging materials and opens door for innovation in plastic packaging. Technological innovations in flexible packaging have already engineered high-performance machines that have developed remarkable flexible structures like stand-up pouches, retort pouches, 3D and 4D pouches to name a few.  

In the quest for data enablement on packs, the packaging industry has recognized the need for smart packaging for intelligent storage, sales tracking, product tracking and inventory management with less physical handling. Packs with data enabled feature such as QR codes  are serving as the gateway through which brands and consumers can have a two-way communication which will further pave way for developments in packaging in future.

Smart packaging will not also trace a pack’s journey it has travelled to reach consumers’ homes, but will give consumers information on how responsibly were the contents sourced, best use of this content and the green path that the pack will follow post consumption, all of this information enabled via embedded technology.  

As we progress the pressure to develop user-friendly and sustainable solutions, that do more with less and can contribute to a circular economy, will continue to gain momentum and will shape newer trends.

The collaborative efforts of the value chain in harnessing the power of packaging will play a key role in the development of innovative solutions that offer sustainability benefits and will enhance the commitment flexible packaging will be able to make to the human race.

(The author is joint president at Flexible Packaging Business, UFlex Ltd)
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