Future trends of packaging for food & beverage

Published: 09/11/2022

Sustainability drives evolution in the food & beverage packaging, both primary and secondary, that go directly into consumers’ homes, and tertiary, that mainly influences transport and logistics.

The lion’s share goes to the materials, with paper and cardboard replacing plastics, wherever possible, and aluminium that, thanks to its high recyclability, is entering the preserved food industry. As regards technology of packaging lines, sustainability is achievable in improving energy efficiency of machines.

However, certain dynamics governing the relationship between customers and suppliers in the food & beverage supply chain are deemed less sustainable, posing some reflections to professionals.

This is what emerged from the seminar ‘Packaging: What’s new and what’s on the horizon. The manufacturers’ point of view’, organised by the Smart Packaging Hub, a virtual platform and reference point for all those who work in the food and beverage packaging industry. The seminar was held during the first Cibus Tec Forum, a conference and exhibition on food technology that took place on 25th and 26th October at Fiere di Parma, organised by Koeln Parma Exhibition.

A major sponsor of Cibus Tec Forum, Smart Packaging Hub, introduced itself to the food & beverage community to talk about future trends of packaging voiced by representatives of six companies that are part of the Hub – Baumer, Cama, Clevertech, Open, Tosa, Zacmi – thus offering the audience, including several users of packaging, the opportunity to meet machine manufacturers, to put questions and find a response as well as answers to simple questions out of curiosity.

Getting to know the trend not to miss a business opportunity

Although we are going through a really uncertain time, when all kinds of variables – economic, geopolitical, health – risk disrupting the planning of all kinds of activities  – being able to read the market to have an idea of future trends is essential in order not to be unprepared and risk losing business opportunities.

Hereinafter, you can find a summary of the main trends that one can see in the packaging industry and that will affect the whole supply chain.

E-commerce explodes

E-commerce is a trend that dictates new inputs to the packaging business. «Our experience with the pandemic made us aware of the fact that crisis situations may generate new opportunities», said Giuseppe Reggiani, Clevertech, a company operating in the secondary packaging and end of the line. «For the first time we had to remotely test machinery, to meet the urgent demand of our customers in the clean sector, covering the personal hygiene and cleaning.»

«At the same time, e-commerce exploded – adds Reggiani – which demands suitable containers and packaging to deliver products to consumers’ homes; hence we conceived some prototypes to check their peculiarity».

This experience influenced Clevertech greatly as it entailed a new approach on several fronts: sales, production and service, and led to the creation of a dedicated business unit.

Sustainability and materials

Cama Group deals with secondary packaging that, beside its basic function to contain products and convey them to GMS and the consumer, also transfers a lot of information. Certainly one of them is a sustainability message reflected in the materials used and in the ethical messages that food & beverage brands intend to transfer to consumers.

«Some big multinational companies aim at reaching sustainability by 2025 while this trend may influence machine manufacturers as long as 2030», says Cristian Sala, Cama. «The trend goes towards the increasing use of paper and cardboard to replace plastic materials also for secondary packaging».

Aluminium also for preserved food

In primary packaging, one of the oldest packaging is still the food can. Made of tinplate, and most recently of aluminium, cans are appreciated for a long stock life of canned food and for the recyclable material.

Just aluminium, introduced in the post-World War II period to the beverage industry, is soaring in the food industry, in particular in the so-called ready meal sector, mainly for smaller formats.

«Today, aluminium is probably the most used package in the beverage industry, however it is taking hold also in the preserved food industry», said Giovanni Motta, Zacmi, a company working in the primary packaging sector. «We recently manufactured 18 lines operating at approximately 1,000-1,100 boxes per minute, and they include aluminium cans for food cans and pet food».

Aluminium boasts the best price/performance rate in recycling; in fact, 70% of aluminium on the market is constantly recycled.

Another marker confirming this trend is the search for innovative shapes and design for cans.

Energy efficiency for sustainability

In secondary packaging, where Baumer operates and manufactures machines for shrink-wrapping and Wrap Around with cardboard, sustainability is sought not just as regards materials but also energy consumption.

«If in primary packaging, in particular in the mineral water sector, a lot has been done to reduce materials – let’s consider PET bottles that from 40 g. went down to 18 g. – and use recycled raw materials, in secondary packaging, besides studying thinner and thinner shrink-wrapping films, machines have been optimised», explains Massimo Pavani, Baumer. «In the last few years, Baumer reduced energy consumption of machines using shrink-wrapping films dramatically; these machines are among the most energy-consuming after blow moulding machines, used to make bottles».

Next to shrink-wrapping films cardboard is increasingly making its way, confirming a trend in secondary packaging, where investments in technology are increasing. Recently, pressed cardboard has been introduced on packaging machines, as a material that meets environment protection criteria even better.

Tertiary Packaging, between safety and sustainability

For forty years, Tosa Group has been manufacturing packaging systems for end of the line, focusing on food & beverage that represents 50% of its business. We are in the tertiary packaging where sustainability is important, however the major target is safety; in fact, a load not correctly and safely secured puts the goods at risk heavily affecting the entire supply chain and integrated logistics as well.

«We operate according to European safety regulations and loads that defines the stress a palletized packaged load must stand during transport on a lorry», explains Fabio Tosa, Tosa Group. To package pallets we use 100% recyclable extendible polyethylene films.

«The main market trends on films used by your customers follow two perspectives aimed at minimising the use of virgin plastics: one is in favour of a higher thickness however with 30-40% recycled material, the other moves towards the use of thinner technical films with a lower impact. Within this scenery, our added value consists in being able to use films of all kinds on our machines».

The market is also moving in a more sustainable direction, towards the elimination of plastic packaging, hence Tosa decided to explore the paper wrapping universe, the only possible alternative for the time being.

«A number of packaging solutions with kraft paper have been presented over the past year; they are innovative, however with some limits in application as you can only wrap loads with a regular shape», explains Tosa. «So we decided to invest in an R&D project that initially brought us to make a prototype of highly deformable paper; later on we developed a machine that uses paper instead of extendible films».

Four elements that undermine all-round sustainability

Ombretta Sarassi, general manager at Opem, a historical reality in the Parma region, specialised in process systems for primary packaging that has always been supporting a philosophy of sustainability, carried out a rather provocative analysis of some dynamics governing the relationship between customers and suppliers.

«If we consider sustainability at 360 degrees and not just connected with a product, four non sustainable points in the food & beverage packaging industry emerge», says Sarassi.

The first one concerns agreements with big food & beverage producers; they are rather complex and take months to be defined and executed.

The second one concerns delocalisation of some production deemed unprofitable, that today caused the loss of know how.

The third one concerns technology, now at 5.0, that consumes too much energy of smaller and medium enterprises to keep pace.

The fourth one involve GMS that demand a longer and longer shelf-life to prolong the shelf-life of food and beverage, thus entailing a continuous testing and research on materials, that becomes unsustainable».

Over time Opem specialised in the coffee sector, where today research on sustainability moves towards compostable capsules.

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