Packaging makes convenience food portable

 

As time-strapped consumers become increasingly health-conscious, convenience foods have evolved to provide easy, on-the-go nutrition across categories.

But it’s not enough for manufacturers to simply offer quick and healthy meal solutions. To truly stand out on the shelf, product packaging needs to deliver the same value-adds that shoppers expect from snacks and meal solutions.

As a result, food and beverage manufacturers have raced to develop packaging that meets consumer demand for functionality, transparency and premium quality. These product attributes help position convenience fare, which has expanded from mostly shelf-stable, highly-processed products to include fresh, refrigerated items like pre-cut vegetables, as an engaging and nutritious eating experience.  And while investing in innovative packaging designs can be costly, it can also be a key influence on what makes consumers pick one brand over another.

Functional, hassle-free personalization

Just as translucent wrapping can communicate a product’s freshness or healthfulness, complex packaging designed with interactive functionality can hint at a premium and high-performing product.

For convenience food, it’s an added bonus if that functionality lends itself to customizable eating and drinking experiences. This demand was what drove the development of Karma Wellness Water’s bottle technology. Called KarmaCap, the bottle’s plastic top is filled with a mix of powdered superfruits, antioxidants and nutraceuticals, which is separated from the water. Consumers can “punch” the cap throughout the day to release the flavored, nutrient-rich powder into their drink, maintaining “maximum potency and peak freshness.”

According to Karma Wellness Water CEO C.J. Rapp, this system better preserves vitamins and probiotics, which deteriorate over time when suspended in water, and allows consumers to get the nutrition they want when they want it. The Karma line includes five nutrient mixes tailored toward different categories of holistic health, such as “mind,” which the company claims promotes sharper thinking, and “spirit,” which serves as a mood booster.

Functional innovation has also come to the yogurt category in the past few years. Manufacturers have developed split plastic cups that separate yogurt from mix-ins like fruit, honey or chocolate pieces, allowing both sides to maintain their flavors and textures. The Chobani Flip’s plastic packaging is flexible enough for consumers to add all of the toppings side of the cup into the yogurt at once. The ingredients can also be spooned into the yogurt to taste. This packaging innovation has helped move yogurt from being seen as a morning-only food, transforming it into a healthy snack or dessert, depending on the topping in the “flip” side.

Squeezing nutrition into busy lifestyles

Convenience food packaging doesn’t need to be sophisticated. On the contrary, one of the trends sweeping the CPG food space is inspired by products designed for toddlers.

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

“Squeezie” pouches, as the category is often referred, are made from flexible plastic surrounding an aluminum core, and are designed to have resealable, wide-mouth openings that consumers can easily suck the product through. Once marketed as an easy way for infants and young children to serve themselves pureed fruits and vegetables, manufacturers have begun experimenting with larger portion sizes and more complex ingredients to target busy adults.

In addition to its design for efficient eating, companies who sell products sold in pouches say this packaging style can also preserve more of the nutrients in purees than glass jars, which are heated to higher temperatures to pasteurize.

Shazi Vishram, founder and CEO of Happy Family Brands, recently launched a line called SHINE Organics that caters to grownups’ busy schedules. The company had previously focused on organic pouched products for babies, toddlers and older children.

“We had customers and athletes emailing us about the package for not only the entire family, but also adults in general,” Vishram said and a large number of cyclists reached out and so it seemed like something we should try.

SHINE Organics products weren’t developed as a workout aid, but athletes have been early adopters of the pouches because the product is so easy to transport and eat on the go. The product’s packaging is similar to eat-while-racing energy gels, which are popular with endurance athletes.

In order to lure adult consumers to a category that can be viewed as babyish, Happy Family integrated seven grams of plant protein into its SHINE formula. The company is also experimenting with flavor palettes that include functional superfoods like green tea, chia, turmeric, kale and ginger to create a product that’s “distinctly more grown-up.

The market for adult squeeze pouches is still fairly small. It was around 2 million last year and expanding at about 10% to 15% annually. A growing number of manufacturers are experimenting with this flexible packaging. However, sales in the segment have been disappointing.

Transparency is king

In years past, food and beverage manufacturers have relied on bright, eye-catching colors and designs to lure shoppers to their products, and for good reason — color is the consumer’s first indicator of product flavor. According to a study by Emerald Insights, 90% of shoppers decide whether or not to buy a product based on color and taste.

Attractive, opaque packaging has also been used as a way to hide products’ less desirable attributes, like crushed chips or powdery residue. But as consumers demand transparency — and brands have cleaned up their labels — manufacturers have begun to swap vibrant hues for clear panels on their packaging, allowing the color, texture and shape of their products to speak for themselves.

This trend can be seen in products like trail mix and granola, but it’s begun to extend beyond dry goods as well.  Still, shifting to transparent packaging isn’t without challenges. The thin material of clear, flexible packaging is more susceptible to oxygen and water vapor transmission, which can undermine product freshness and quality, an obstacle and manufacturers are trying to overcome it.

 

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