Produce industry sees online models influencing packaging landscape

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Submitted by Elsewhere on 2020-Aug-18 Tue 12:59
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500Foods shared this story from Produce Ops Feed.

The burgeoning online delivery channel is leaving a considerable impact on packaging styles and materials, marketers say.

Safety is a priority, said Cindy Blish, brand and communications manager with Shelton, Conn.-based Inline Plastics Corp.

“Consumers demand that their online delivery of food is not tampered with, which is why tamper evident packaging has such a great fit for the delivery market,” she said. 

“Tamper-evident packaging” will continue to evolve to meet the burgeoning needs of the market, including developing new styles which not only provide safe and protected transportation of the products, but also provide enough style to be attractively served straight from the container, Blish said.

That’s a key point, said Jeff Brandenburg, president and primary consultant for the Greenfield, Mass.-based JSB Group LLC and QFresh Lab in Salinas, Calif.

“We get back to how do you protect it,” he said. 

There are a number of key questions that come to the fore, where packaging for online delivery models are concerned, Brandenburg said.

“Is that online delivery going to be refrigerated? How do you maintain temperatures? If you have fresh and stable side by side, how do you manage that from a shipping standpoint? Is it Amazon Fresh, USPS, FedEx?” he said. 

“There’s different levels of packaging. You have secondary package, primary. You have tertiary and quaternary packaging. How many levels do you need to get that to where you want it to go? And with home delivery, you need more layers.”

Other issues touch on what to do with extra packaging or how to ensure food doesn’t spoil, so there aren’t any quality and food-safety issues, Brandenburg said.

“There are challenges all around home delivery,” he said. 

Many revolve around shelf life, he noted.

“If you can ship it and have it arrive the next day, that’s one thing, but how many days are you going to be in that shipping and what kind of abuse will it see?” he said. “That’s one area where foodservice companies are actively looking at: Can we move into that home-delivery space?”

E-commerce has experienced “phenomenal growth and flexible packaging” for many product types and offers convenient and lightweight packaging options, said Victoria Lopez, marketing representative with McAllen, Texas-based Fox Packaging.

“This is another reason that the pouch bag segment has growth, due to this application’s lightweight nature and a direct result of reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

The so-called “click-and-collect” business model – ordering groceries online and then picking them up, curbside, at the store at a designated time – also figures into packaging, said Steve Lutz, senior vice president/Insights and Innovation with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Category Partners LLC.

“I think in short term, that’s more viable for the produce industry,” he said.

The coronavirus pandemic served as a kind of launching pad for online sales, said Jay Singh, professor & packaging program director with the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“The panic buying at the onset of the pandemic had a dramatic impact on e-commerce spending, particularly for groceries,” he said. 

Online grocery shopping platforms that have adapted well to the surging order volumes are likely to “come out winners” after the pandemic is over,” Singh said.

“Walmart, due to its unparalleled physical store presence, and Instacart, due to platform model, are amongst those best positioned to lead,” Singh said. “Whether it is curbside pickup or a delivery to your doorstep via a small parcel carrier dictates the packaging needs for CPGs.”

“With the dramatic surge in e-commerce shopping the amount of packaged products received by consumers at home continues to surge,” he said. 

One result is “substantially increased” volumes of curbside trash and bottlenecked recycling streams, Singh said.

“Pre-pandemic initiatives such as Amazon’s packaging material and design-based frustration-free-packaging and ships-in-own-container are already alleviating the sustainability burden associated with e-commerce,” he said.

The trend for more packaging is bound to continue, as more shoppers buy online, said Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager with Wenatchee, Wash.-based tree-fruit grower-shipper Stemilt Growers LLC.

“Fruit with UPC-labeled packaging goes through the supply chain easier, requires less handling for automated facilities and is easier to shop when buying online,” she said. 

“We’ve been on the forefront of marketing intent on our packaging (Lil Snappers for kids, etc.), and that really helps people make quick purchase decisions online.”

Bulk fruit is still very important to the category, “but it seems like packaging will be the best offerings to ensure retailers sell volume via their online format,” Shales said.

Package makers will churn out products that meet growing e-commerce demands, said Dave DeMots, CEO of Canby, Ore.-based Package Containers Inc.

“Retailers are still in the process of figuring out how to make (the) online channel work for them; our job is to make packaging that works in the online channel,” he said.

The growing need for online delivery channels has brought an increase in the use for packaging materials across the board, said Jeff Watkin, graphic and marketing manager with Collinsville, Ill.-based packaging manufacturer Sev-Rend Corp.

“The beauty in this need is the streamlining of the process so less materials are still used and what is being implemented maxes out that material use,” he said. 

“This is an ever-evolving field and we have done work to support it as we start to see automation come into play with our Smart Packaging Technology program.”

Consumers are wary of the excess packaging, said Julie Davis, director of public affairs for Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific.

“Due to COVID-19, consumers are more readily adopting online ordering and delivery or store-side pickup,” she said. 

“Consumers appreciate the convenience of online delivery but are also aware that online shopping can lead to excess packaging versus their in-store shipping experience. They want packaging that is easy to open, less wasteful and curbside recyclable.” 


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