Consumers in Asia are increasingly redefining traditional values and eating behaviour is no exception. Once rooted in a strong culture of home cooked family meals made from scratch with fresh ingredients, today’s fast-paced and busy lifestyles are giving way to convenient meals and snacks.
In the Philippines, reports have highlighted a growing number of consumers patronising convenience stores as well as an increase of ready-to-eat food options. Similarly, in Singapore, supermarket and convenience store chains have reported a 3-10 percent jump in the sale of convenience food, such as frozen pizza and microwavable meals.
But convenience is not the only thing driving food buying decisions. Health, safety and sustainability are also critical to attracting and winning the loyalty of today’s more discerning Asian consumer. They are acutely aware of the dangers of damaged or contaminated food products and are demanding high-quality and fresh products, faster and for less, while also having information associated with the origins of ingredients and product materials.
Many Asian consumers are also concerned about the significant economic, environmental and societal impact of food wastage. While food wastage is highest in Europe and North America, it is also a big and growing problem in Asia, and consumers want to take preventative measures to address the issue.
To compete and win in Asia, food brands are looking for ways to meet these evolving consumer demands. But how can they provide added benefits that will enhance consumers’ on-the-go lives, rather than just meeting their basic needs?
The answer appears to lie in packaging, which is providing a powerful means for the food industry to innovate and introduce new on-the-go lines that meet consumer needs for convenience, health, safety and sustainability.
Redefining Food Packaging For Convenience
With convenience being a major differentiator for food brands, many are looking at recent developments in packaging design and innovation to make on-the-go food items easy and relevant for time-starved consumers.
Packaging features such as ease of opening, resealability, portability, lighter weight and no-mess dispensing are just some things that consumers expect. More innovative packaging features are emerging and appealing to consumers’ desire for flavour and convenience.
For instance, Pace Ready Meals from the Campbell Soup Company are packaged into colourfully printed, microwavable plastic stand-up pouches that transform into ready-toeat bowls. The package has a wide gusset, which keeps it stabilised during microwaving. The clear film allows consumers to see the ingredients and ‘cool touch’ areas are available to transport the pouch, and to open it.
Another highly desirable feature is one-handed operation and dispensing. Take Mentos’ Multi Serve gum, for example, which has a plastic pull tab rather than a shrink band, making it easier for the consumer to pull off and access. The flip top lid also provides a satisfying ‘click’ sound when it is reclosed so the consumer has confidence it is sealed.
Packaging For The Health And Safety Conscious
When it comes to health and convenience, food brands are now competing with innovators such as the New Egg Company, which identified an unmet need for a nutritious snack of eggs on-the-go.
They partnered with RPC Design to develop a two-piece, thermoformed polypropylene system that allows consumers to boil and eat an egg within the packaging. The product is a precooked, runny boiled egg, which comes packaged with pre-cut slices of bread, salt, and a spoon. The pasteurised, free-range egg is pre-cooked in its shell using the sous-vide method.
To complete the cooking process, consumers remove the lid and all contents except the egg, adding boiling water to the roundpot container for five minutes. The lid then serves as an egg cup, and the spoon design includes a sharp tooth so consumers can remove the top of the egg.
New Egg Company and RPC Design needed to solve several packaging challenges before launching the Yowk. RPC Design created a hollowed section to fit the egg, then cut the lid’s underside to fit the top of an egg to keep it stable during transit. Packaging volume also needed to be precisely accurate to allow the proper amount of boiling water.
In addition to delivering high-quality and nutritious food, secure packaging is an essential way to avoid counterfeiting and ensure safety of goods. This is especially important as the trade in counterfeit foods continues to grow across Asia, something that can seriously harm consumers and in many cases have proven fatal.
With secure packaging, the number of levels at which authentication, tamper-evidence, and track-and-trace elements can be added to products, and particularly to their packaging, has grown significantly. This is especially important to assure consumers that food safety is of utmost importance for manufacturers—from farm to fork.
Convenience Food Packaging For The Green Bin
The biggest innovations in food packaging are going into the development of new materials that will be environmentally sustainable and, at the same time, serve to extend the shelf-life of products by incorporating better barrier functionality. By extending the shelf-life of products, packaging also has the ability to keep food waste out of landfills, reducing both the economic cost and environmental burden of producing more goods.
Havi Global Solutions has also recently developed a new raw material called Visor-Cote, which is a new plastic-free barrier coating from Visand B.V that can be used on any substrate, on one or both sides of a choice of sustainable or recycled fibre-based packaging materials.
The material is 100 percent recyclable, repulpable and compostable and can also include anti-fungal, anti-microbial properties to help prolong shelf-life. It is flexible for a wide range of uses including ambient, chilled and frozen foods, and is ideal for sandwich packs, desserts, pet food, bakery and salads.
Of course, packaging is also an important medium for communicating information about food contents, nutritional value, preparation and storage, as well as sharing recycling and composting instructions to consumers.
Labelling is another key element in maintaining food quality and reducing waste. Smart labels can communicate information to consumers about the quality and freshness of food products by monitoring environmental storage conditions. This not only enhances consumer safety, but also reduces the likelihood that the consumer will prematurely discard food due to uncertainties about its freshness.
Exciting new packaging innovations are emerging such as the bioreactive Bump Mark, a prototype-labelling concept that allows consumers to run a finger over product labels to determine the food’s freshness. This label was inspired by the desire to create a food freshness system for the visually impaired—a smooth label indicates that food is still fresh; a bumpy label indicates the product has passed its sell-by date.
A New Level Of Convenience Through Breakthrough Innovation
Over the past decade, oven technology has developed rapidly, allowing restaurants and convenience stores to produce quality food in a very short timeframe. However, packaging technology has not kept up with these advances. Restaurant and store operators have been frustrated by the lack of safe, highly functional, and disposable packaging options available for extreme commercial oven environments.
That is about to change with newly developed ready-to-serve, accelerated cooking packaging material. Developed by HGS and Manitowoc Foodservice Incorporated, the material provides food processors, convenience stores, and restaurant operators with an enhanced packaging solution that can safely withstand temperatures up to 525 deg F for six minutes.
Conventional packaging options have not been designed to withstand the extreme conditions that can occur on some platforms. However, this packaging not only provides optimal performance, but it has been meticulously developed and iterated to ensure all materials used are safe for the processor, operator and end customer.
This new material—and its use of proprietary moisture barriers and laminations—is specifically designed to withstand high temperatures and steam, which allows for food products to be rapidly cooked in disposable packaging. Food can be pre-packaged, cooked, and then served in the same packaging carrier which creates time and labour efficiencies throughout the product lifecycle.
This supports and fuels the rise of convenience stores such as Tesco Express convenience chain in Shanghai called Express which has a focus on fresh foods. Through these packaging innovations convenience food is becoming significantly more convenient, not only providing easy accessibility and affordability but also offering nutritious ingredients, built-in safety and greenness.
In today’s digital age Asian consumers, especially millennials, are growing accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it. Soon, consumers will no longer feel the need to compromise on their health, safety or green values amidst their busy schedules.
To address the rise of convenience food trend and win over consumers, food manufacturers must consider packaging as critically as its content. Ultimately, brands that use advanced packaging to improve their visibility as a highly convenient product will drive buying decisions and win over Asia’s on-the-go consumers.