How we’re protecting your health and safety COVID-19 Update
Mar 03, 2021 by Mark Dingley
The future of packaging is almost here. Want to know what packaging technologies we believe have the power to change the world? Here they are:
Thanks to the rapid digitalisation of the world, new packaging technologies have been able to reach exciting heights. We’re not just talking about design (although that is also important), we’re talking about packaging that has the ability to change our lives as we know them.
The moment fruit and vegetables are harvested, they begin to deteriorate. Microbes (like pseudomonas, acinetobacter and moraxella) start to spoil produce, eventually giving it that bad taste and odour. There is one thing, however, that has been known to stop microbes in their tracks – packing food with oxygen-free gases, which prevents bacteria from growing and keeps the produce fresh for longer.
This is known as Modified Atmosphere Packaging (or MAP). MAP pioneer, Linde Gases, says that the packaging’s atmosphere should vary depending on the food item – it could be nitrous oxide, argon, hydrogen or it could be a more traditional mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and a tiny amount of oxygen. This will allow companies to meet consumer demand for fresh foods – a sandwich’s life can be extended from 3 to 10 days, whilst the lifespan of raw poultry can even triple. Is it any wonder why the MAP market was expected to hit US$13.78 billion last year?
Picture this: you're baking a cake, but instead of measuring out each ingredient before putting it into the bowl, imagine the ingredients are pre-measured and can be simply tossed into the bowl – packaging and all. This could become reality thanks to the concept of edible and dissolvable food product packaging. We’ve been enjoying the convenience of individually wrapped detergent tablets that can be tossed into the dishwasher or washing machine, packaging and all, for years now – why is it so crazy to think the same might be possible for food? The challenge, as it has always been, is finding packaging that is stable enough to hold the contents as well as safe for use with food.
There are several companies who are hard at work creating packaging that disappears into the food – like Monosol (who created water-soluble bags for pre-portioned oatmeal and rice, which are made from food-grade ingredients and dissolve when cooked) and WikiCell. This is good news, particularly for professional kitchens who will save time on measuring ingredients out. One of the key drivers behind this trend is the environment – the American Chemical Society (ACS) has created an eco friendly film made from casein, the milk protein, which is purportedly 500 times better at protecting food from oxygen than plastic.
The wrapper is sustainable, biodegradable and completely edible as it’s technically made from milk. Scientists are also looking into ways to add probiotics, nutraceuticals and vitamins so that food will also be encased in nutrients. They can even add flavour to the wrapper. In the future, we might find that our cheese sticks are wrapped in milk rather than plastic.
A huge trend in packaging, lightweighting meets three objectives – reduced material, reduced manufacturing costs and reduced environmental impact. Coca-Cola is actually leading this trend – their official lightweighting program is said to have resulted in savings of around US$180 billion. Over a couple of years, they were able to reduce the weight of their 20oz (nearly 600ml) PET plastic bottle by more than 25%, it’s 12oz (355ml) aluminium can by around 30%, and it’s 8oz (236ml) glass bottle by more than 50%.
German filling and packaging company, KHS, is another innovator in the lightweight packaging space – in 2015, they won the World Beverage Innovation Award for their ultra-lightweight 1-litre PET milk bottle. With a thread diameter of an incredible 32 millilitres, the bottle only weighs 20 grams – a saving of 2 grams per bottle! It may not sound like much, but it equals up to 140,000 euros (or nearly AU$200,000) a year based on 50 million bottles.
With consumers becoming increasingly tech-savvy, new packaging technologies are taking us in exciting and sometimes unexpected directions. Champagne producer, GH Mumm, developed a bottle that is embedded with an RFID chip, which notifies clubs and bars when a consumer has opened it. Once it’s released, a sensor embedded in the cork sends a signal to the bar and the venue’s audio and visual system, which triggers an interactive, personalised audio visual experience – the consumer’s table is placed under the spotlight, enhancing the celebration. It should come as no surprise that alcoholic beverage brands are at the forefront when it comes to smart packaging.
Diageo created a smart bottle for Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which utilises printed sensor tags to detect both the sealed and opened state of each bottle, allowing customers to be targeted with timely marketing messages. The launch of Anheuser Busch’s Oculto beer brand sees thermochromics ink used on the back of the label, which changes colour depending on the temperature of the beer – plus there’s interactive elements for consumers to scan.
Malibu have also launched NFC-enabled bottles, which deliver content directly to consumer’s smartphones. Smart packaging’s potential, however, goes beyond clever marketing – it also has big potential for educating people on how the packaging can be recycled.
Many champagne houses aren’t content with smart packaging, so they’ve also looked into isothermal packaging. Whilst it’s still early days, the idea is that it will keep the beverage cold for approximately 2 hours after it has been removed from the fridge – imagine!
Another technology that is geared towards extending a food product’s shelf-life, anti-microbial packaging incorporates properties that suppress the activities of targeted micro-organisms. Antimicrobial resin supplier, Parx Plastics and Additives, are experimenting with this technology – they say that their Sanipolymers make the plastic antimicrobial, which can reduce bacteria by as much as 99% within 24 hours. But how is this possible? One word – nature.
Parx utilises zinc in place of toxic materials, which is naturally present in food and also required by the human body daily. Other companies, like Sirane, have taken it upon themselves to tackle the short shelf-life of fresh meat, seafood and delicate fruits. They’re applying a blend of fruit extracts to absorbent pads, which work to reduce microbes and bacteria to extend the shelf-life.
Research has shown that 3 to 15% of wasted food is actually left inside of bottles – think about it, how many times have you given up on that last little dollop in the bottom of the mayonnaise bottle? The good news is that a company in Norway has solved this problem with a non-stick coating.
Working alongside US company Liquiglide, Orkla is applying a non-stick coating onto their mayonnaise packaging. This coating, made entirely from food, leaves a ‘permanently wet’ surface on the inside, which helps viscous liquids slide out more easily. If employed more widely, this trend could save one million tonnes of food waste a year!
Our senses are more powerful in terms of packaging than you might think, which is why food and beverage companies are choosing to hone in on the power of sound. Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, conducted an experiment back in 2004 using Pringles to determine how different wavelengths can affect our perceptions of taste. He discovered that louder, higher-pitched crunching noises were rated around 15% fresher than softer, lower-pitched ones.
After this, Spence went on to study how the auditory aspects of packaging affect a consumer’s perception of the product inside. This has huge potential – beer brands are actually already using the concept in order to get the right ‘fizz’ sound when a bottle is opened, enhancing the product experience.
Have you spotted some exciting and innovative new packaging technologies when you’ve been out and about? Perhaps you’ve even developed some of your own! Tell us all about it!