Packaging sometimes takes a backseat to other restaurant considerations, like food and technology. But today’s operators are recognizing the power that packaging has to drive sales and engage guests.

That was one of the most important insights that judges took away from the entries in this year’s Foodservice Packaging Awards, which will be presented at the Foodservice Packaging Institute’s fall meeting in Dallas at the Adolphus Hotel.

“Restaurant leaders understand that packaging is a critical part of foodservice operations,” says Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), which offers operators free membership and access to many packaging resources. “They know they need to seriously consider packaging, whether it’s related to convenience, branding, or new menu development.”

In fact, the industry is seeing so much growth in how restaurants leverage packaging to launch new menu items that a new category was added to the awards in order to recognize excellence in this field. Innovative, wacky, limited-time offerings—and their packaging—are also growing in popularity, as operators are seeing sales growth from these products.

Sustainability was removed as a category this year because environmental considerations have become an industry standard that foodservice customers have come to expect. But sustainability was still a feature of many entries.

“Sustainability is now just a part of designing a new foodservice packaging product,” Dyer says, “whether it’s in regards to what the product is made of or whether you can recycle or compost it.”

Interest in molded fiber products is growing, according to FPI data, and Dyer says she was not surprised to see many product entries made from molded fiber. Tamper-evident products were also widespread among entrants, highlighting changes to how customers are ordering and accessing food, notably with takeout and third-party delivery. Dyer says she will be interested to see which trends continue to grow in packaging over the next few years as the industry adapts to increasing demand for services like delivery, for which there were several entries.

As for this year and its crop of worthy entries, Dyer says the judges found it difficult to single out the best of the best. That’s part of the reason two items were selected for Package of the Year—a first since the competition started nearly 15 years ago.

“The top two entries used completely different approaches and were both winners in their own right,” she says. “The judges were looking for something that ticked all the boxes, and both ticked so many that the decision was made to award them both.”

Read on to see the best of what was submitted.

See the Winners →

Back of House, Design, Restaurant Operations, Story