In their 2023 State of the Industry, the Food Packaging Institute included the public perception of foodservice packaging as “waste” among the top five challenges facing the industry. But how does this over $460 billion market impact consumer preferences and customer experience?
Given the popularity of takeout from fast food restaurants, and the amount of packaging required for these orders, we focused on fast food packaging. We surveyed over 1,500 consumers across North America to get their insights on foodservice packaging and found there was little consensus. However, when we asked consumers to tell us about a recent positive or negative experience with foodservice packaging, the results were much more revealing.
Here we’ll look at how foodservice packaging matters to consumers whether they know it or not and what attributes they care about the most.
Is foodservice packaging important to consumers?
To begin with, we asked consumers how important foodservice packaging was in deciding which fast-food restaurant to visit. While more consumers reported that packaging is important than those who said it isn’t, over a third of consumers had no strong opinion either way.
However, in reviewing consumer comments, this neutral group might mean more than it appears at first glance. From a consumer perspective, packaging is a “no news is good news” scenario. Consumers are interested in what’s inside the container. This means the less they have to think about packaging, the more positive they see the experience.
Comments like these suggest that consumers who are neutral about foodservice packaging are likely to change their minds if it doesn’t meet their needs.
What do consumers want from foodservice packaging?
To help brands avoid negative customer experiences with their packaging, we asked what attributes consumers want most from foodservice packaging. Here the leaders were no surprise. Consumers want foodservice packaging to be durable enough to protect their food and insulated enough to keep it at the correct temperature until they consume it.
First and foremost, the purpose of foodservice packaging is to transport the items inside. So the number one thing consumers want from their fast-food containers is that it maintains it’s structural integrity until they have finished with their meal.
As we saw in the 2023 Annual Drive-Thru Study, temperature has a significant impact on food quality. As such, the second thing consumers want from foodservice packaging is that it maintains the initial temperature of the items inside as long as possible.
Here we see consumers echoing the challenge mentioned by the Food Packaging Institute. While not quite as important as being durable and insulated, consumers prefer foodservice packaging that has the least impact on the environment.
Connected to environmental impact, is a preference for the least packaging while still protecting the meal’s structural integrity and temperature. Minimal packaging not only reduces waste, but can also help operators reduce cost—making it a win on all fronts.
Bonus Point: How the meal is packed
Though not an attribute of the packaging itself, we received a number of comments about negative experiences that stemmed from how the meal was packed. Regardless of the type of packaging used, if it is applied improperly or thrown into a bag carelessly it will be less effective.
What do your customers have to say?
Voice of customer programs can both provide context and reveal new aspects that you should be measuring. The above data and comments were collected from consumers across North America. But nothing can replace listening to your customers.
Laura Livers is Head of Strategic Growth at Intouch Insight, a leading partner to some of the top quick-service restaurant chains. Laura is a passionate business leader focused on using innovative methodologies to help brands deliver exceptional customer experiences. She believes in the power of data and is committed to empowering her clients to bring the voice of the customer into the boardroom. You can contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org.