Unpacking everything brands & producers need to know about food & beverage packaging
We can all agree that a first impression represents a make-or-break moment.
And when it comes to food products, getting your first impression right means getting your packaging right.
Thoughtful design catches the customer’s eye, keeps products fresh, and allows for easy access and storage—all of which sell products and keep customers happy and loyal.
So, what do food and beverage producers and brands need to know about food packaging to win and retain customers? What materials are most commonly used in food packaging?
What best practices should food and beverage producers keep in mind when designing effective packaging?
Read on to discover the answers.
What materials work best for food packaging?
The materials you use for your food packaging will depend on several factors, including how the item will be stored or shelved, the moisture content of the food, the desired shelf life, and what you plan on printing on the label itself.
In any case, you have many materials to choose from. Here are the most common options available for food packaging.
When it comes to packaging both wet and dry foods, the packing industry relies heavily on plastics due to their low cost and versatility.
Polyethylene and Polyvinyl Chloride represent the two most common types of plastics used. Packaging designers frequently choose Polyethylene Terephthalate, or PET, to manufacture bottles for beverages like milk, juice, soda, and even syrups. Unlike heavy, brittle glass jars, PET is light, durable, and less risky to transport.
On the other hand, Polyvinyl Chloride commonly gets selected for packaging medicine, water bottle sleeves, and adhesive tape.
While low-cost plastic has many advantages, including direct labeling, moisture resistance, and versatility, it comes with a high carbon footprint, can lead to widespread pollution, takes exceptionally long to biodegrade, and can be pretty challenging to recycle.
Thankfully, food producers have other packaging options to choose from other than plastic, including several metals.
When it comes to durable, cost-effective, and time-tested food packaging, metal offers one of the most dependable options. Like plastics, various metals work well for creating cans, bottles, boxes, and other packaging materials.
Typical metals used in packaging include Tin, Steel, and Aluminum. While Tin is a little more sensitive to moisture (which means it requires a special coating), most metals used in packaging food and beverages offer rigidity and protection against pests, moisture, and contamination. Plus, metal breaks down faster than plastic and is more conducive to recycling.
Despite its advantages, metal packaging comes with a higher cost and the risk of corroding or reacting to food in certain cases without being treated by protective chemicals or layers.
As one of the oldest forms of food packaging, glass still offers a dependable material for packaging most foods, whether dry, wet, or even acidic. Glass bottles work well for packaging oils, juices, carbonated beverages, syrups, and other liquids.
As a corrosion-resistant, extremely food-safe material, glass also has the advantage of appealing aesthetics that allow consumers to see inside the bottle. And as a highly hygienic and safe substance for humans, glass will not succumb to corrosion from acid and will preserve foods and beverages for lengthy periods.
However, glass containers break easily compared to plastic and metal containers and often cost more than other packaging materials.
Wood-derived products—such as cardboard and paper—see extensive use as food packaging. Paper derivatives have the advantage of being lightweight and low-cost compared to metal and glass.
Plus, wood derivatives are easy to print on and easy to recycle once they’ve been used.
However, wood derivatives do not have the same strength as other plastic materials, and their usefulness is limited primarily to dry foods due to their lack of moisture resistance.
Ceramics, which manufacturers can produce by processing materials such as clay and quartz, provide a solid packaging option free from toxins. Ceramic packaging offers a cheaper alternative to metal and glass, and it won’t corrode when in contact with acidic materials.
Beyond that, ceramics work well for packaging and preserving wet and dry food. Plus, naturally biodegradable ceramic packages possess a pleasing aesthetic that’s hard to replicate with the non-biodegradable, chemical-laden plastics so commonly seen on the shelves of supermarkets.
However, ceramics aren’t always safe for food, and their brittle nature can cause them to break easily. And while they’re easy on the eye, they can be a little harder on the budget since they cost more than plastic and wood derivatives.
Finally, scientists have figured out a way to turn cellulose—a type of plant fiber—into an organic packaging material.
Cellulose, which biodegrades naturally within months, works exceptionally well for making cellophane sheets and shrink wrap. Plus, it resists moisture and heat and can contact food directly.
Still, cellulose comes with a few drawbacks. Its lack of durability offers hardly any protection against outside impact, and it won’t work well to preserve food with longer shelf life.
While many different materials are available for packaging, knowing what material to use is only part of the equation. Determining the shelf life of your product is also paramount to success. That’s where Medallion Labs can help.
Beyond consulting with you on what packaging might work best for your products, our team of experts can also help you determine the shelf life of your product.
There’s no need to tackle that on your own. Let the experts help.
Top 4 best practices for designing food packaging
You now know which materials work best for food packaging, but the material makes up only part of the equation when designing effective packaging.
Here are some additional best practices to consider when designing food packaging.
Best practice #1: Choose material that preserves flavor & shelf life
Your food packaging might look attractive, but if it doesn’t keep your food product fresh, you can forget about winning repeat customers.
To win and retain customers, choose packaging materials and a design that, above all else, preserves the texture, taste, and quality of your products while they’re being shipped and stored on the shelf.
While our team of experts can consult with you on packaging, they can also help you determine the shelf life of your products.
To find an estimation of shelf life that’s accurate and specific, contact us for more information on how we can help.
Best practice #2: Ensure food safety
As important as maintaining the flavor of your products is, there’s something arguably more important—maintaining the safety of your food products.
As we mentioned in the previous best practice, your packaging needs to resist the wear and tear of traveling; however, the materials used also need to interact well with the food contained inside AND the surrounding air temperature and environment.
Olives, for example, if stored in PET plastic packaging, will only last on the shelf for a few weeks. Plus, they’ll require refrigeration the entire time. Because the PET packaging lacks an oxygen barrier, it leads to a shorter shelf life for the olives.
In this case, there’s a better option. Olives stored in a laminated composite package with an oxygen barrier will remain fresh and safe on the shelf for months at room temperature. Glass, in this case, would also provide a safer option.
To sum it all up, there’s a lot to consider when choosing the right type of packaging that will ensure safety and increase the shelf life of your product. But the good news is that you don’t have to figure this out alone.
Medallion Labs offers shelf-life testing that can help you extend shelf life and protect the safety of your products. Contact us for more information.
Best practice #3: Allow for versatility
You might only have one product that comes in one type of packaging. But if your business does well, you’ll likely want to expand the number of products you offer somehow. And if that’s the case, you’ll need to consider how your brand identity and logo will fit on different sizes and shapes of packaging.
For instance, if you manufacture a breakfast cereal, the cardboard box used to package your product gives you a lot of flat, printable space to work with.
But what if you want to turn that breakfast cereal into a new product, such as a granola bar with the same branding? Well, your logo especially will need to fit on that small area.
So, consider how your logo looks when it goes from large to small. Will your customers recognize it right away? And will your customers recognize your logo if you use it on multiple types of packaging, each with a distinct size and shape?
When designing your packaging, design it with a logo and a brand identity that transfers well from one type and size of packaging material to another.
Best practice #4: Include clear, accurate labeling
We all know that packaging needs to include labels that let customers know more about ingredients, best-by date, potential allergens, and basic nutritional information. However, food labels can look overwhelming and even deter customers from purchasing the product, depending on what they see.
For this reason, many food producers now use “clean labels.”
While the term “clean label” doesn’t have an official definition, we can define this term as a food label that contains a shorter list of more recognizable ingredients that customers can recognize.
Deli ham, for example, might include ingredients such as rice starch, sea salt, and celery powder instead of ingredients that are harder to pronounce or identify, such as sodium phosphates, carrageenan, sodium diacetate, and potassium chloride.
The point is this—clean labels are catching on, which shows that an increasing number of customers are paying attention to labels in the first place. For food producers and brands, this trend signals that they need to pay extra special attention to labeling food accurately.
Labels aren’t just formalities. They’re an essential piece of the food packaging that’s just as important as the material, the branding, or other design elements.
Luckily for food producers, Medallion Labs offers several easy, affordable testing options to ensure food labels—whether they’re listing ingredients, protein levels, sugar content, fats, allergens, or nutritional facts—accurately reflect the contents of the food contained within the packaging.
To discover how Medallion Labs can help you test and get your food products safely on the shelves and into the carts of willing customers, contact us online or call us at 1-800-245-5615.