CONSUMERS’ eating behaviors are evolving. More and more are tucking into convenience food and snacks to complement their busy schedules and active lifestyles. Traditional sit-down meals served at home are increasingly being replaced by convenient meals or snacks consumed in transit.
Jai Rastogi, Vice President, Packaging Technology Integrated Solutions, a division of HAVI Global Solutions
A study done by Mintel1 on German consumers’ eating habits revealed that half of the respondents had eaten breakfast, which is traditionally considered the most important meal of the day, on-to-go. In the USA, a survey2 found 48 percent of Americans skipped meals at least three times a week and the percentage of Americans who snack three or more times a day rose to 56 percent.
The trend is also prominent across Asia, as more consumers turn to products with ease-on-the go and functional packaging. In the Philippines3, reports have highlighted a growing number of consumers patronizing convenience stores as well as an increase of ready-to-eat food options. Similarly, in Singapore, supermarket and convenience store chains have reported a three to 10 percent jump in the sale of convenience food, such as frozen pizza and microwavable meals.
This convenience-driven lifestyle trend has driven the food and retail industry to innovate and introduce new on-the-go lines to meet evolving consumer needs. However, one major change in convenience food that allows consumers to indulge in eating or snacking on-the-go, is packaging.
Re-shaping food packaging design
It is safe to say that food products with packaging that offers enhanced convenience and value-added features are more likely to land into consumers’ shopping carts.
The packaging industry’s answer to the demands of time-starved consumers can be seen in the recent developments in packaging innovation and designs. For instance, resealable packaging and flexible pouches are some of the more popular and trending developments. Honey Maid crackers with Fresh Stacks has developed portable snacks in smaller portions, allowing consumers to eat a limited quantity and prevent the rest of the crackers from turning stale.
Another highly desirable convenience food package feature is designed for one-handed operation and dispensing. Take Mentos’ Multi Serve gum, for example, which comes with a plastic pull tab rather than a shrink band, making it easier for the consumer to pull off and access. The product also has a flip top lid also provides a satisfying ‘click’ sound when it’s reclosed so the consumer has confidence it is sealed.
Indeed, features such as ease of opening, resealability, portability, lighter weight and no-mess dispensing are just some things that consumers expect. However, for brands to remain relevant and capture the attention of consumers, convenience food must also satisfy consumers’ expectations in three other areas: freshness and quality, food safety and sustainability.
Retaining food safety and freshness
In fact, a study4 done on over 1,000 millennials’ snacking behavior revealed that the freshness level of a snack trumped all other criteria when choosing a snack, with 94 percent considered freshness as an important or very important factor.
Not only does packaging enhance consumers’ habit of eating on-the-go, it also helps preserve the integrity of food; playing a key role in maintaining freshness, protects food from damage and contamination.
In addition to maintaining the quality of food, secure packaging is an essential way to avoid counterfeiting and ensure safety of goods. This is especially important as the trade in counterfeit foods continues to grow across Asia, something that can seriously harm consumers and in many cases have proven fatal.
With secure packaging, the number of levels at which authentication, tamper-evidence, and track-and-trace elements can be added to products, and particularly to their packaging, has grown significantly. This is particularly important to ensure consumers that food safety is of utmost importance for manufacturers – from farm to fork.
By extending the shelf life of products, packaging also has the ability to keep food waste out of landfills, reducing both the economic cost and environmental burden of producing more goods.
Of course, packaging is also an important medium for communicating information about food contents, nutritional value, preparation and storage, as well as sharing recycling and composting instructions to consumers.
Labelling is another key element in maintaining food quality and reducing waste. Smart labels can communicate information to consumers about the quality and freshness of food products by monitoring environmental storage conditions. This not only enhances consumer safety, but also reduces the likelihood that the consumer will prematurely discard food due to uncertainties about its freshness. Exciting new packaging innovations are emerging such as the bioreactive Bump Mark, a prototype-labelling concept that allows consumers to run a finger over product labels to determine the food’s freshness5. Inspired by the desire to create a food freshness system for the visually impaired, the label concept won the James Dyson Award for product design. A smooth label indicates that food is still fresh; a bumpy label indicates the product has passed its sell-by date.
To address the rise of convenience food trend and win over consumers, food manufacturers must consider packaging as critically as its content. Soon, consumers will demand for convenient and healthy food and they will no longer feel the need to compromise on their health amidst their busy schedules.
At the end of the day, brands that can offer food products and services that aid consumers in their wellbeing journey will emerge the ultimate winners.
1Mintel: How on the go eating habits are impacting breakfast innovation in Germany
2Hartman Group: America’s Changing Eating Habits
3Nielsen: Convenience is key to appealing to busy Filipinos
4Y-Pulse and The Culinary Vision: Dividing the Millennial Generation: Snacking Behavior by Age and Lifestyle
5Gibbons, L. (2015, March 23). Innovative Food Packaging to End Sell-By Date Labels, Food Manufacture. Retrieved from http://www.foodmanufacture.co.ukBalenciaga
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