When brands and operators think of the more glamorous aspects of the foodservice industry, marketing, branding, and menu development may come to mind; packaging, however, likely falls to the bottom of the barrel. But that doesn’t mean that operators can—or are—forgetting about foodservice packaging. In fact, it’s increasingly becoming a priority for brands, says Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute.

“Packaging has, I would say, evolved a bit, and the operators are really starting to understand the opportunities that they have with their packaging,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to put some sort of message in front of their customers.”

With so many orders in the quick-service industry leaving the store either through takeout or the drive thru, packaging presents an opportunity for brands to replicate their in-store environment and brand message for guests to carry outside of the unit, Dyer says.

“Because it is more and more being tied to the brand itself, [packaging is] part of the image for the brand, so that’s why you often are seeing more operators thinking more about the packaging that they’re using and how does [it] lend itself to the brand or what is the message they’re trying to convey.”

Just as menu, operations, and marketing trends come and go in the restaurant industry, so too do trends in foodservice packaging. Primarily, over the last few years, Dyer says sustainable packaging has no longer become optional—it’s now a standard operating procedure.

“A few years ago, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, we may have this,’” Dyer says of brands’ attitude toward sustainable packaging. “But now almost everything you see has some sort of green story to it because that environmentally conscious customer wants to think about their package.”

The expectation for sustainable packaging is largely driven by consumers’ desire to know as much about their food—and the vehicle it’s delivered by—as possible, she says.

“We’re in the information age,” Dyer says. “People want information on everything, and at the same time, the operators want to share that information.”

She adds that brands are using more recycled paper and plastic in their packaging than ever before, and many brands are opting for materials that are recycled, as well as products that can be composted or recycled after use.

Going hand in hand with the trend toward sustainable packaging, Dyer says there has also been a more pronounced quest for information from consumers about packaging products and materials throughout the entire supply chain—even down to the source of the paper used in cups or boxes, for example.

“Were the forests sustainably harvested?” Dyer says of the questions guests ask about their packaging materials. “It’s going all the way back in the supply chain. Where did this material come from, and how was it made?”

While brands want to satisfy consumer demands for sustainable packaging, they’re also increasingly focused on making their packaging as economically efficient as possible.

“Operators are taking a more holistic look at their packaging,” Dyer says. “They have a lot of pressures on them, so … is that packaging they’re using going to slow down their speed of service in some form or fashion? Is there a way that they can perhaps … reduce space in the back of house?”

When it comes down to it, she says brands and suppliers continue to be concerned most about the cost and performance that their packaging provides.

“That product has to perform,” Dyer says. “You still want to make sure that lid’s going to fit so [customers] don’t have a spill. You still want to make sure that the food stays hot or cold, because at the end of the day, it’s not about the package. It’s about the food.”

By Mary Avant

Show us what your packaging is made of by entering the QSR/FPI Foodservice Packaging Awards. For more information and to enter, visit http://www2.qsrmagazine.com/packaging-awards/.

News, Restaurant Operations, Sustainability