Product Packaging Design: Marrying food safety with sustainability demands

Product packaging plays a key role in food safety—preventing product contamination, but also ensuring product freshness. In fact, the right kind of packaging can prolong food life and shelf stability, reducing food waste and contributing to overall sustainability. However, despite these benefits, some packaging persists in being viewed as having a negative impact on the environment. Given all the roles that packaging has to play in keeping food safe, fresh and convenient, how can brands meet those requirements—yet also meet consumer expectations for packaging sustainability?

AMC Global Food Pack Safety


Consumer Behavior Dichotomy

Single-use plastics offer a way to achieve safety and freshness standards, yet 62% of consumers in our ongoing AMC Global study say that environmentally friendly packaging is “very” or “extremely” important to them. They do not consider that single-use plastics fall into this category. Yet, in a true consumer behavior and expectation dichotomy, our same study found that nearly 40% of consumers consider packaging features that add product protection and safety when they are making a purchase. In fact, many are even willing to pay more for the assurance that packaging features are in place to avoid potential contamination of a product. 

This is a tall order: keep food safe AND put it in sustainable packaging. While a reduction in food waste is surely an environmental benefit, it isn’t as prevalent of a concern as plastic usage. This issue has gained widespread notoriety through multiple highly publicized documentaries about plastic pollution, including last year’s The Story of Plastic. And it’s not just safety that’s important to consumers, convenience is also a packaging aspect to keep in mind. In fact, according to a recent article in Marketing Week, “While marketers are trying to convey how sustainable their brands are, they are perhaps overestimating its importance to consumers that still see convenience and price as more important.”

Meeting Demands with Food Packaging

While there are creative sustainable packaging options out there, solutions like paper-wrapped shampoo bars and tablets to make-at-home cleaners are not quite part of the mainstream yet. And food packaging is even more difficult to adjust to meet sustainability demands due to government regulations, freshness and preservation needs, not to mention flavor, fragrance and appearance of the food.

Even in and on the printed food package itself, warning of allergens and other key messages must be included as part of the whole safety eco-system surrounding food sales. The materials from which the package are made are also important, even the ink must be safe for food products, the plastics or laminates can’t leach into the food, and so forth. 

When packs do not have individually wrapped items or sealed lids, consumers report that their main concerns are contamination of product (46%), freshness (25%), or damage (11%). But 73% of Americans are personally trying to reduce purchase and use of products sold in plastic packaging.

So faced with this challenge of maintaining food safety and freshness and meeting consumer demands for sustainability—what should you do?

Unpack the purchase decision: The importance of reassuring consumers about food safety, freshness and sustainability differs by category and by product. Decision hierarchy research will ensure you know your shopper and understand how pack features will factor into their decision making.

Optimize the power of your pack: AMC’s PackPulse™ methodology can help get deep insights on which elements of the package are doing the best job at communicating desired benefits like convenience, freshness, safety and sustainability. Package optimization research is a critical step to ensure we get the balance right in order to drive purchase.

Get the purchaser perspective: Always test new packages with real consumers in real moments!  When using new, sustainable materials, it is important to understand whether they hold up through the distribution process and live up to consumer expectations. AMC Global’s PFU™ (Purchaser Follow-Up) methodology provides insights from actual purchasers of new packages for a realistic assessment of how the packs perform with consumers.  

Want to learn more about how to balance the features of your new packaging or packaging update? Reach out to us.