It may seem like an obvious concept, but packaging is the first step to connecting with customers and, in turn, making greater sales. According to experts, you’ve got about seven seconds to make that first impression in order to capture the attention of your customers.
But packaging isn’t only about good looks. It’s also the vessel that keeps your product preserved, fresh and protected until it’s time to enjoy. If you have a food or beverage product that you're planning to put on the shelves — whether in stores or online — you’ll need to ensure that it is properly packaged, easy to ship and stands out from the competition.
The way you package your food products depends on a lot of factors, such as storage, transportation and the perishability of the product. The key to ensuring that your packaging is successful is to select the package design and material that satisfy competing needs, regarding a wide variety of factors, including product characteristics, environmental concerns, costs and marketing considerations.
Balancing all of these factors can be challenging and requires proper analysis for each food and beverage product. These analyses consider the type of food that’s being packaged, properties of the packaging material, product shelf life, the possibility of food-package interactions and much more.
These factors can sometimes be interrelated. For example, the properties of the food packaging material, as well as the type of food, determine the possibility of food-package interactions in storage. Sometimes these factors could also be at odds with each other. One example is how bulk packaging could be better for the environment, but single-serving packaging better addresses consumer needs.
Common Types of Materials in Food Packaging
We’re sure you’ve seen all of these food packaging options in your local supermarket before, as they’re some of the most common options out there. However, food packaging isn’t arbitrary or chosen at random. Every type of packaging is picked for a specific purpose, whether it be to hold up well in the freezer or to keep your food extra-fresh.
Food-package interactions play a major role in the proper selection of the right packaging materials for a variety of food applications. Each material used for packaging has its different properties, and those properties determine which material is ideal for a particular food or beverage product. Here are some of the most common materials used in food packing, along with their most important properties.
● Aluminum — Aluminum is primarily used in packaging for bulk items, such as stream-table pans, bakery containers, frozen entrees and party platters. It’s a popular choice because of its ability to retain both heat and cold very well. It’s also very resistant to leaks and cracks in the freezer. Aluminum is one of the most versatile packaging materials and can be used from the freezer to the oven, aling with the serving table.
● Polypropylene — This is a very common material used in takeout packaging. It’s often used in bakery and microwaveable food packaging. It’s a very rigid, leak-resistant and crack resistant material, and it can be coated with an anti-fog material to preserve its clarity. Polypropylene is the preferred material for microwaves, as it can resist temperatures up to 240 degrees.
● Pressed Paperboard — This material is primarily used for frozen applications or meals that are fresh and film-sealed. You’ll commonly find this material in supermarkets for ready-to-cook meals and other types of packaging for takeout. Pressed paperboard is also ideal for mass production for high-speed equipment processing. It can handle a very wide variety of temperatures from 400 degrees in the oven and -40 degrees in the freezer.
● PVC PETE — This material is perfect for packaging because it’s sturdy, clear and durable. It also doesn’t crack under heavy weights or freezing temperatures. This makes PVC PETE ideal for packaging cold foods, deli, snack items and bakery items. Its unique properties also make it perfect for drinking cups and frozen foods.
Types of Adhesives
In general, the three most common types of packaging adhesives used for food and beverage products are solvent-based, water-based and hot melt adhesives. As adhesive manufacturers strive to reduce VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions and improve air quality, the water-based and hot melt systems are increasingly edging out solvent-based adhesives.
Water-Based Adhesives — With regards to packaging applications, water-based adhesives are the most commonly used. They offer the advantages of energy efficiency, ease of use, safety and strength, in addition to all the air quality benefits. They are available in both natural and synthetic variants.
The natural variants are composed of ingredients such as animal and vegetable-based materials like animal glue and starch. The synthetic variants of water-based adhesives are increasingly being used in the place of their natural variants for various packaging purposes. These include labeling containers, making composite cans and sealing cartons and cases.
Hot Melt Adhesives — The usage of hot melt adhesives for packaging applications also continues to increase, especially for automated case and carton sealing. This adhesive is 100 percent solid, containing no water or solvents. During packaging, the adhesive is applied via a dispensing system to substrates such as polyethylene, paperboard or film laminated material. The hot melt adhesive quickly dries after it has been applied, causing a strong bond between the merged surfaces. Since hot melt adhesives dry fast, they are ideal for high-speed operations.
Freezer Grade and Cold Temperature Adhesives
Selecting the right adhesive and label combination can be a little bit complicated under typical circumstances. However, finding one that could work in freezing or service temperatures, for example, can be even trickier. Here are some tips and considerations that could be useful.
● Cold temperature and freezer adhesives are not similar in any way. It is important to understand the service and application temperatures and moisture levels that the labels will be applied to. Good freezer adhesives not only have low application temperatures, but they are also able to withstand moisture, frost and blast freezer conditions.
● Freezer-grade adhesives are also very soft, which makes them very suitable for frozen environments. This softness makes them more likely to “ooze” at room temperature and could increase costs to convert.
● Also, as with any label application, it's best to consider other elements that could have an impact on performance. These elements include environmental conditions, substrates, and moisture that the label might encounter.
When deciding what materials to use to package and label your food and beverage products, it’s important to consider the above information and thoroughly analyze the various factors that could affect the quality of your product.
This is particularly useful in regards to not only keeping these products fresh but also complying with FDA regulations that deal with food packaging and storage. Ensure that your packaging can also fit into a store display, making a statement about your product that you want your customers to see. Happy packaging!