Packaging Serves a Purpose – Food Products

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Packaging for food

If you live in Minnesota and don’t want to come down with Scurvy, please be grateful for the advancements in packaging.

On a recent trip to Arizona my wife and I were delighted to find a large and bustling farmers’ market happening in downtown Scottsdale. Although we had just eaten breakfast and weren’t hungry, the market was a perfect place to spend some time before our departure flight early that afternoon. On display was an amazing array of all types of fresh foods ranging from fruits and vegetables, to meat, cheese, breads and desserts. Each vendor was more than willing to let you sample their foods; the prospective consumers were happy to oblige.  The willingness to sample the variety of products was not just due to the fact that everything looked so good, but also because you are actually standing face-to-face with the producer; they are in your immediate presence waiting for your reaction to the taste test, and literally standing behind their product.

The amount of trust created in a farmers’ market cannot be recreated in a typical shopping experience. In the retail setting you are perhaps thousands of miles from where the product was produced so sellers have to develop other means of building trust with the consumer. This brings up some of the reasons why packaging is so important: safety, transportation, freshness, and recognition.

Because of our pending flight we were not able to buy anything perishable that morning. Not only is bringing fresh foods on a plane not allowed, it is just not practical. The products sold at the Scottsdale farmer’s market are intended for local consumption. If desired, the vendors could accommodate you by sending the product via freight to a chosen locale, but the amount would have to be small, and the recipient would have to share the same vendor appreciation and trust to sample the given product. A box of cookies, no matter how enticing they look, would not be eaten without scrutinizing the ingredients. Do they contain nuts? Gluten? Trans-fats? Where were they baked? Under what conditions? Do they come from a clean environment?

But in the middle of January, with the temperature hovering somewhere to the south of zero degrees, you can actually buy organic strawberries in Minnesota. I know they are organic because the label tells me so. I trust the label because the product has a brand name, a brand for which I am familiar and have purchased in the past. Maybe these strawberries aren’t as fresh as the product sold at the local farmer’s market, but they are more than suitable for my tastes…and readily available. The packaging label is colorful and bright with the brand name and logo being most prominent. The volume and country of origin- Mexico- is also displayed. Nutritional and serving information is absent, this being so because it is unnecessary. The back of the label includes even more information such as a contact number.

Beyond the labeling function, another important packaging property comes to play: protection. This product has traveled a great distance from where it was grown. The PVC container, rigid for protection and well ventilated for freshness, did its job in getting the strawberries from Mexico to Minnesota. Bulk packing them in a large container is not an option. The entire shipment would perish in transit. Although the PVC container needs to be disposed of after its use, the amount of waste generated by that container is dwarfed by the amount of product that would have been wasted had it not had the protection of the package. A simple paper or plastic bag is all you need at a farmers’ market.

A recent study conducted by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology analyzed the role of packaging in minimizing food waste in the supply chain. Although there is already an adequate amount of research and data already available on food waste, this study took a different direction by focusing on the opportunity packaging may play in reducing this waste. The importance of the study is due to increasing population growth – a projected 9 billion people worldwide by 2050, and the corollary increased demand for food – 77%  in the same period. The authors acknowledge the potential trade-offs between increased packaging and reduced food waste.

I will focus more on this subject in following blogs. The authors of the study are: Dr. Karli Verghese, Dr. Helen Lewis, Simon Lockey, and Dr. Helen Williams. In the meantime, though, I encourage you to check it out at I would also suggest that if you are ever in the Scottsdale area, that you check out the Old Town Farmers’ Market .


Author: Nicole Hannover

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