The outbreak of COVID-19 has heightened concerns about the safety and security of our food supply chain. How has the packaging industry responded, and can clever packaging help alleviate health and hygiene worries?
COVID-19 has changed consumer priorities and behaviour, giving rise to a new challenge for the food industry: reassuring the customer that what they eat is safe.
Coronavirus aside, we frequently read about food recalls due to salmonella, e-coli and foreign particle contamination. But the pandemic has only fuelled fears about food safety, with frozen singled out in numerous reports that the virus could be transmitted via frozen food packaging.
In October, Chinese health authorities discovered live coronavirus on a package of frozen food in Qingdao—the first time active virus was detected on the outside of refrigerated goods.
All this has led to a shift in consumer priorities when it comes to food packaging. According to research firm FMCG Gurus, 47% of consumers are concerned about food poisoning because of chemicals in packaging contaminating the product.
Yet packaging can be a key tool in building trust in claims made about product safety and alleviating consumer concerns, so what are the options for frozen brands?
QR codes, in general, are used to connect the customers to online information. These codes are conveniently accessible and scannable using smartphone devices which makes them a go-to tech-innovation for sharing information.
While they’re often used as a marketing tool, QR codes on food labels can also help quickly trace supply chains, vendors and retail destinations. They can also provide the consumer with details of ingredients, their origins and allergens.
Access to information is perhaps the greatest tool in boosting consumer confidence in the safety of their food. The more data available on the origins and journey of food, the higher the confidence of retailers and grocery customers.
Thermochromic ink reacts to changes in temperature by exhibiting a colour change. This is currently an expensive innovation, therefore it’s use has largely been limited to short-term promotional purposes.
But intelligent packaging incorporating thermochromic ink has the capacity to show when microwaved food or drink is too hot to consume, or show when perishable foods are being stored correctly at a cold temperature This could alert retailers, producers and consumers if a material intended to be cold was outside acceptable temperatures during transport, delivery or storage.
Antimicrobial and tamer-proof packaging
Antimicrobial products kill or slow the spread of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, mould and mildew. Antimicrobial packaging has been around for a while, and such materials are increasingly being offered by packaging companies. Looking at market reports published before the pandemic, the main markets then were in food packaging and niche medical areas. Going forward it is likely most shared touch-surfaces will include an antimicrobial treatment; from supermarket trolleys to escalator handrails, end-users will look for reassurance their products are treated to avoid bugs growing on the surface.
In addition to reassurance about unintentional contamination, people also increasingly want to be sure their food has not been deliberately tampered with.
GlobalData found 51% of the global population agree they are concerned about the safety of the packaging on the products they purchase, and 52% also believe secure and tamper-proof packaging is more important than ever.
Tamper Evident Packaging typically features one or several barriers of entry that provide visible evidence to the consumer that a product has been tampered with.
Next time we’ll take a much-needed break from COVID-19 to explore how packaging design can further boost the image and reputation of frozen food.