Over nearly two decades of working in the food industry, in product development, sales and marketing, this is at once the most innovative and the most turbulent time I have seen.
For example, on the product side, fluid milk consumption continues to decline as it has been for decades. And even while traditional milk products are being replaced with expanded product offerings — think almond-, soy- and coconut-based beverages — even these new products by themselves have not been enough to stem that tide. On the consumer side, buyers are not only turning to new products, but they are finding new ways to purchase them.
Here are the five biggest challenges I am seeing in retail brand management across the food and beverage industries, and the role I see for flexible packaging to help solve them.
- IMPLEMENTING INNOVATION — If the food and beverage industry were a storefront, they would hang a sign that reads “Innovation Required.” As consumers’ wants and needs drive product innovation, packaging must also evolve with it. Flexible packaging can be applied to beverages and prepared foods of all types, such as dairy and dairy alternatives, non-dairy beverages, prepared foods, edible oils (e.g., olive, avocado, canola). Alcoholic beverages are candidates for flexible packaging, as we see from the success of wine in preformed pouches and bag-in-box dispensers.
- USER EXPERIENCE — Packaging innovations benefit consumers in addition to retailers and manufacturers. For example, here at Fres-co, we built both convenience and functionality into our taps, which were tested with consumers. The improved flow rate has resulted in a faster pour with less mess. And less mess also means less loss of product.
Flexible packaging is also much easier to fit into a refrigerator or a pantry, whether due to the pliable nature of a pouch or the rectangular dimensionality of a bag-in-box that stores more easily. Put convenience and functionality together for both the retail and food service markets, and the new configurations become easy to pour and easy to store.
This experience can even be evident when purchasing a product. When foods and beverages are delivered to the door in flexible packaging, they can be better protected in flexible packaging than in certain rigid containers, such as glass or plastics.
- HIGH QUALITY — Innovative and protective packaging can be successful in two ways. For brand managers, the high-end, expansive graphics that are unique to flexible packaging helps make new product offering look fresh and exciting, whether through shelf appeal or in ads. For producers who are committed to freshness in their products, the high-barrier materials used in flexible packaging offer new and improved qualities. For example, they can help extend the shelf life of its contents and enhance product performance, which are both critical. Also, the sustainability and recyclability inherent in flexible packaging can appeal to a select and discerning audience.
- PRODUCT PROTECTION —The term product protection takes on a different meaning in this era of alternative purchasing options. (Compare to food safety, below.) Consider how popular shopping online has become compared to purchasing goods in a traditional brick-and-mortar store. Consider also that drones — automated aerial delivery devices — are being developed and tested by a variety of retail outlets to transport orders more quickly. In these cases, packages must be designed not only to protect the product, but also to withstand transport. Flexible packaging is much more impact-resistant than traditional rigid packaging, plus it is lighter and cheaper to transport.
- FOOD SAFETY — Food safety and flexible packaging are intersecting at a time when consumer behavior is changing significantly. First, according to a variety of sources, more consumers are ordering food online and at an increasing frequency, whether they are ordering perishable fruits and vegetables as part of a deliverable grocery item or if they are receiving the various ingredients for a ready-to-cook meal. In either instance, flexible packaging is uniquely capable of protecting food physically and keeping it fresh.
Consumers are also willing to buy shelf-stable foods because both the processing and the flexible packaging materials help them keep the food longer as leftovers. For example, Fres-co offers a fully automatic low-acid aseptic VFFS packaging system for multi-viscosity liquid food and beverages with or without particulate. With its stainless steel washdown qualities and FDA validation, our equipment offerings like this one helps ensure freshness, making “shelf-stable food” a safe and tasty reality.
The signposts in food and beverage all point to a rapidly changing landscape. Consumers are increasingly receptive to new, innovative products that can be delivered right to their doorsteps, easier to open and pour, and best of all, fresher for a longer period of time. Flexible packaging is uniquely capable of assisting all the stakeholders in in this value proposition: The producers, the retailers, and the end users can all get what they need.