Antimicrobial packaging: What, Why & The Real Benefits

People are increasingly consuming packaged food products. These come in both, cooked and uncooked formats. The shelf life of these products is usually limited by their degradation due to bacterial action present inside them. It is due to these microbes that food rots and get spoiled. It also increases the chances of food borne diseases. If these microbes can be removed or neutralized from the food, it can be stored for very long periods, vastly improving its shelf life. Most of the traditional methods such as air tight packing of food with removal of all air/oxygen or substituting air with nitrogen, achieve the desired effect to some extent, but they alter the taste and aroma of the food. This makes them less desirable.

Anti microbial packaging on the other hand involves an active packing material that act to reduce or inhibit the growth of micro organisms that may be present in the packed food. For example; silver has long been used to reduce the microbial or fungal content in food. The downside of using silver is that it’s quite expensive and can be prohibitive if used in large scale commercial application. This has led to development of other compounds that can achieve similar effect of reducing or inhibiting the growth of bacterial and fungal microorganism in packaged food products. They represent one of the most promising concepts in future of food safety and quality. Active packing system in one where the packing material itself interacts with the food substance to provide desirable effects and enhance the shelf life of the packaged food.

Anti microbial packaging can take several forms

  • Sachets filled with antimicrobial agent, which are added to food packages.
  • Antimicrobial coating onto the polymer surface. i.e application of antimicrobial layer onto plastic surface that is in contact with food.
  • Incorporation of antimicrobial compound directing into the packaging material itself.

 

Of these the first one, i.e the sachets that are either enclosed loose or attached to the wall of packaging are most successful. They absorb the oxygen, water vapour and also emit ethanol vapour, not making the environment inside the packaging inert for any microorganism growth. This reduces the spoilage of the food, such as off-flavour, discolouration and rotting by changing the initial conditions immediately after packing of the food. It also prevents the formation of toxic substances.

 

On the other hand, the antimicrobial layer on the packaging works by releasing an active substance into the food and headspace which actively renders the microbes inert in the food due their affinity to the food particle. The layer is designed to release the active component in a slow controlled manner throughout the designated shelf life of packed food. This type of packaging is slightly more challenging as it involves choosing the right packaging material that can withstand the application of active layer and choosing the right active compound that will not only not react with ingredients in the food, but act against the right set of microbes which have highest probability of being present in the food being packed.

 

The global market for antimicrobial packaging is over 250 billion USD already and is expected to grow at CAGR of 7% over next 5 years. The growth will be primarily driven by active and controlled release packaging (which will consist of enzymes, organic acids etc) which will in turn be driven by rapid rise of packaged food and beverage industry. Further, the advancements in technology will make it possible to apply more complex antimicrobial layers to packaging, increasing the shelf life even more.

 

Following are the key trends that will drive the demand for antimicrobial packaging

 

  • Increased consumption of processed food that is manufactured in factories instead of freshly cooked meals. More processed food will need better packaging for longer storage, especially the out of season food products that need to be stored much longer.
  • Smaller portion sizes requiring large number of individual units in retail market consuming more overall packaging, including antimicrobial packaging.
  • Repackaging of the food (Food not fully consumed once package is opened but stored for consumption at later time) will need antimicrobial packaging that continues to counter the pathogen that enter food once it is opened and exposed to air.
  • Increased awareness about health benefits of food packed in antimicrobial packing, leading to more demand for food packed in such packing, directly by the consumer.
  • Increase in competition, which will lead to cost pressures. Reduction in refrigeration requirement of food will be key attractor to use antimicrobial packaging (especially for organic raw food such as milk, meat etc.)
  • Processing of food across borders requiring longer storage and increasing the risk of foreign contamination. This will require stringent safety measures for the food to reduce the chance of foreign diseases spreading across the border.
  • Increased regulation to maintain health and safety standards of packaged foods by government.
  • Technology advancements, making it possible to use antimicrobial packaging for greater variety of food products, more economically.

 

 

Packaging industry is undergoing a rapid change. New materials are being discovered that are safe and sustainable. Old methods are being rediscovered that are efficient and cost effective. The changing global dynamics are changing the food habits of people globally. Food is being prepared long before it is consumed and far away from where it is being consumed. Retaining the quality and integrity of food in such situation has become essential to stay relevant to the consumer. Antimicrobial packaging serves to enhance the shelf life of food once it is packed and also after the packaging is opened for consumption.

8 alternatives to plastic packaging

All products need to be packed in a safe secure packaging that not only provides the protection to the product but also adds to the aesthetic presentation of the product. Today plastic packaging is one of the most common and popular form of packing material. It is cheap, strong, and durable and can be moulded into any shape required. However plastic has one major disadvantage. It is not bio degradable. Once discarded, it goes into the landfills where it sits for thousands of years. With consumer becoming environmentally conscious there is a need to move away from plastic packaging and use more eco friendly alternatives. Most of these alternatives have been around for years. They just need a fresh perspective to add some aesthetic appeal. Here are some alternatives which are not only better than plastic, they also add to the aesthetic appeal of the product.

  1. Paper is degradable. Not only that, paper is also reusable many times: Brown paper bags were quite common until some years ago. They are now making a comeback. Paper is used to make paperboard that is in turn used to make strong boxes which are used commonly to pack small light items. Paperboard has come of age and can be used for making food grade packing as well. Paperboard based sandwich packs are quite common. Paperboard cups are also commonly used for serving beverages. These can be shredded and reused again for different (non food grade) products or can be put down for bio degradation. It is made of wooden pulp that is natural.
  2. Cardboard is a thick form of layered paper is also very common in packaging industry: Cardboard needs no introduction. It is very popular packing material in form of boxes and cartons. It comes in all sizes, for small hand held products such as mobiles and toys to large boxes well above 1 meter on each side. Corrugated cardboard boxes have good strength to handle heavy products. They can be carried unfolded, requiring minimal space and can be easily disposed off. In fact strong large cartons are now being reused at homes to make coffee tables and as storage space among other things. And they disintegrate quickly, just like paper.
  3. Corn Starch: Corn starch is used as a Styrofoam replacement in packaging. It has the strength similar to plastic. It is shaped in form of beans and peanuts for providing cushion in packing large products and in making packing trays for food items. If disposed properly it decomposes into water and carbon dioxide within months, which is much shorter than the decomposition time required for plastic. It is made from corn, which is cheap and readily available.
  4. Zip lock bags: Though these are made of plastic, they are designed to be reused. They are airtight plastic bags that can store any product, which they can accommodate. Many households reuse them for storing food products. They may not be easily decomposable, but they are definitely reusable which increases their usable life and reduces the stress on resources used to produce them.
  5. Glass by itself is made from plain silica: It is an excellent material to store food items as it is water tight, air tight and inert. It also lends a classy look to the product and well designed glass jars are quite presentable. The jars and bottles that have wind up caps instead of crowns can be reused as household storage for Jams, sources, marmalades and many other items. If nothing else, a well designed jar is used as decorative item by itself. It is not only degradable (it is just sand after all), it is highly reusable. In fact soda companies reuse most of their bottles. There’s no reason why a business cannot have a well designed glass container that lends an aesthetic look to their product and remain eco friendly.
  6. Jute has become a coming of age material when it comes to its use as packing material: It was used to make large gunny bags to carry produce and grain (such as potato, rice, wheat etc) in large quantities. But today it is being used as a chic packing material that comes in various shapes, sizes and colours. It gives a rustic, classy old world feel to the product while retaining the earthy look. It is used to pack speciality items such as Tea leaves, dry fruits, speciality wines and gift items. It certainly does lend a certain class to the product. Jute is strong and can carry good amount of weight in small size packing, making it ideal for shipping.
  7. Wood is totally eco friendly: It has been used as packing material for large items for very long time. Even though the plastic pallets all are rage in the industry, wooden pallets are still very commonly used in freight industry. Wooden crates have been used for long. With recent advances in cutting and carving tools, small wooden boxes have become popular to pack speciality items. These are now used to increase the perceived status of the product and are by themselves reusable. This makes them a very effective choice as a packaging material if you want to increase the status of your product.
  8. Various forms of metal have been used for packaging sensitive material: With recent advances, the metal, in form of aluminium cans, foils, steel cans and jars, it has again become popular. It can be reused by consumers in the home for storage, and can also be easily recycled. It has been used for packaging food products like Oils, tea and other aromatic substances that need to be kept away from light and air. The thin aluminium foils are used to pack candies and chocolates. A non reusable but recyclable form of packaging made of metal, is the very popular can of soft drink. These are crushed, melted and reused to make cans again. Metal packaging is very versatile. It has been around for a long time. With new innovation it has become cost effective and attractive.

 

Packaging can be fun. It can be reusable, recyclable and economic. Producers just need a little imagination to use eco friendly products and make their product elegant and attractive.

Top 5 trends in Packaging Industry

Consumers today are more conscious and more aware. They care not only about the product they need, but also how using that product is made more convenient for them. And packaging plays a very important role in that. The primary reason of packaging always has been the protection of the product that is being delivered. But today packaging does a lot more than that. Packaging is used as a canvas where the brand communicates with the consumer. It not only attracts the customer, but based on the information that is printed, the material that is used for packaging and the shape and size of packaging; it conveys your brand values to the customer. It tell the customer what your brand stands for, creating a unique impression about your brand, even before your product has a chance to be seen by the customer. Needless to say, packaging in itself has become a key differentiator.  Here are some of the top trends in packaging industry.

  1. Sustainability: Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues. They are changing their buying habits to be more environmental friendly. They are increasingly looking for signs on the packaging that manufacturer has a green conscience and increasingly wary of greenwashing. And expert white paper by PWC goes on to explain how sustainable practices have become essential to the perception and identity of the brand. A top sports company has also produced an environmental profit and loss statement highlighting the impact of their sustainable practices on environment, in dollar value. It has become imperative that brands continue to carry businesses based on sustainable practices and also communicate them to the consumer. Sustainability is no longer just an add on. It has become an essential part of the packaging industry. The complete story of where the product comes from, how it was made, is becoming an essential factor in buying decisions of the consumer.
  2. Healthy living: Just like environment, consumers are increasingly adopting healthy lifestyle and practices. They are more conscious of health quotient of the products they consume. In fact there is a whole segment dedicated to products that promote healthy consumptions habits. Packaging is not immune to this. In food and beverage industry, the ingredients’ were always listed as required by regulation. But that is no longer enough. The health benefits of the product also need to be communicated to the customer. Is it organic? It is low in sodium, does have daily dose of essential vitamins that will help to boost the performance while playing the sport? The packaging must focus on communicating the unique benefits of the product and offer transparency in the label. Innovative methods of preserving and displaying fresh food will become the key to long term success. The size of the product, the smaller servings for snacks, which reduce the  intake of sodium, fat and other things to just the required amount, while satisfying the hunger pangs of the consumer will become standard. After all when you are hungry you reach for the box says cookies even if it’s just 2 cookies inside.
  3. Convenience: The way the products are being used by the mobile consumer is very different than how it was consumed at home. The standard box packing of food is not longer suitable for on the go consumption. Be it a beverage, or a sandwich, more and more people are consuming these while walking, or while driving, or when they are simply sitting on the bench in the open park. The design of packaging makes it an important factor in a buying decision is such cases. The smaller, lighter and easily disposable packaging makes the consumption on the go, easier. For other product categories, the ease of transportation and ease of use becomes important factor. Innovations such as dispensers and no mess applicators eliminate the need for additional packaging and make disposal easy. In supermarkets, in food section, many product now coming in reseal able packs. Many producers are moving from plastic to paper based packaging for food items, which is more environment friendly and easier to dispose off. When the competing products are more or less similar, the convenient packing goes a long way in aiding the impulse purchase decision of the consumer.
  4. Cost –effectiveness: This one seems to be a no brainer. However, it has wider connotation than just base packing. Global economic uncertainty is increasing. Consumers don’t want to pay more than what they have to for their goods. And as consumers get savier, they are looking at all costs, the base packing of the product, the transportation, storage and disposal of the packing material. The paper based packaging may look good and meet initial ‘eco friendly’ criteria, but if the consumer needs additional packaging for its transportation and storage, then it’s no good for the consumer. If the packaging is strong and will last longer, much longer than the product itself, again it is of no good to the consumer, if it cannot be reused in some way at home. If consumer is getting his peas in reseal able bags, which he can use for storing other things, after consuming peas, then that’s a very good value proposition for the consumer. The complete cost effectiveness of packaging should be looked at from the point of view of the consumer. After all if he doesn’t purchase the product, the whole value chain is pointless.
  5. Authenticity and trust: There have been several scandals around food industry. Discovery of undesirable meat (eg. Meat of another animal in beef products), Pathogens and foreign elements and inorganic items being sold as organic etc. These deplete the consumer trust for not only the guilty producer, but also for industry as whole.  The origins of the product must be traceable to the source to re establish the trust. Advertising the place of origin on the packaging increases the perception of credibility and authenticity. Packaging should be used to reassure the customer of high quality and truthfulness about product and brand claims.

 

The retail market is changing. Consumers are getting savvy, more eco friendly and more cost conscious than before. They are more demanding on all these fronts. They now understand that the overall cost of the product is not just retail purchase price they pay. Packaging plays an important role to clam the customer and reassure them that the product as a whole will meet their expectation.