The snack food category is seeing an increase in the number of products featuring plants as key ingredients and this growth shows no signs of stopping in 2017. In a recent article, Mintel predicts that in 2017 more packaged products and recipes for home cooking will leverage fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, botanicals and other plants as a way to align with consumer priorities for health and wellness. Almost half of all shoppers seek foods that help with weight loss and weight management, and about one-third look for foods that boost energy, cardiovascular health and digestive health, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2016 Food and Health survey.
However, this surge in fresh foods can create hurdles for brands that must accommodate these ingredients while keeping their products as fresh as possible for as long as possible. When fresh products are not packaged to maximize shelf life, they may end up in a landfill as full-costed food waste. Since consumer interest in health and wellness can often go hand-in-hand with concern for the environment, it is critical that snack brands apply packaging solutions that enhance the shelf life of products containing more of these perishable ingredients.
The war on food waste
The issue of food waste has gained greater attention in North America over the past few years as consumers are met with startling statistics. According to World Food Day USA and Canada, almost one-third of all food is lost or wasted globally, costing $940 billion per year. Additionally, food loss and waste accounts for about 8% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. In the US, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. The issue is also a concern for the UN as it aims to halve food waste and reduce food loss globally by 2030.
With mounting data on the matter, consumers are vocalizing their support for sustainability. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC), consumer interest in sustainability made 2017’s top US food and nutrition trends. And brands—supported by their packaging suppliers—are listening.
Packaging companies are tackling this issue head-on with innovations that delay the rotting of fresh food snacks. For example, Hazel Technologies has developed FruitBrites, a packaging insert that uses chemistry to help ward off fungus and mold and slow the spoilage of fruits and vegetables. Ethylene is a natural plant-ripening hormone. The active ingredient in FruitBrites mimics the effects of ethylene but blocks ethylene receptors, keeping produce looking and tasting fresh for a few weeks rather than a couple of days. The packaging is also biodegradable and non-toxic, allowing farmers to extend the sale-able lifespan of their fruits and vegetables without having to spray on any chemicals.
Innovations re-energize snack packaging
The effort to reduce food waste is not limited to fresh fruit and vegetable snacks. S cientists at A*Star have developed a new packaging material that lets less oxygen enter, and extends the expiration date for baked goods by at least 50%. The material is a three-layer laminate film with a naturally sourced clay-polymer composite inserted between two plastic layers, which are made of widely-used plastic films like polyethylene terephthalate. A*Star’s tests show that the packaging extended the shelf life of cakes from seven days to at least nine days without using any oxygen absorbers.
Snack companies can also reduce waste by incorporating biodegradable packaging. In 2015, Mars, McLean, VA, teamed up with Rodenburg Biopolymers and Taghleef Industries to debut a bio-based wrapping for its chocolate bars. The biodegradable wrappers are made of vegetable by-products from the potato processing industry and are designed to have a lower carbon footprint than traditional packaging.
Another solution from Sonoco combines brand-building transparency with product protection for a growing number of categories including meat snacks, nuts, trail mixes, snack and nutrition bars, cookies and crackers. The ClearGuard portfolio of flexible packaging provides a clear alternative to aluminum foil or metal films – a vital differentiator when almost 50% of shoppers would choose one product over another simply because they can see the product inside its packaging.
It pays to innovate
Not only does investment in packaging solutions that can extend shelf life prevent food waste and save consumers money, but it also offers financial benefits for snack manufacturers. New research by Champions 12.3 found that for every dollar US companies invested in reducing food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs.
With American consumers aiming to eat as many vegetables as possible—and a growing concern for sustainability and the environmental impact of food waste, baking and snack manufacturers should explore solutions that preserve fresh snacks.
PACK EXPO Las Vegas (Sept. 25-17; Las Vegas Convention Center) will provide a resource on the latest equipment and material and container solutions to minimize environmental impact. As North America’s largest packaging event in 2017, the event brings together 30,000 attendees from more than 40 vertical markets and more than 2,000 exhibitors. Executives, plant managers, engineers, brand managers and packaging designers will be able to see machinery in action. Attendees will also benefit from convenient and free on-floor educational programming that tackles sustainability and shelf life at the Innovation Stages. A full schedule of sessions will be available early this summer.
For more information or to register for PACK EXPO Las Vegas, visit packexpolasvegas.com.