Thirty years ago when Packaging Strategies was born, the foodservice packaging industry looked very different than it does today. Certainly the companies were different – the mergers and acquisitions that have greatly impacted the industry had not taken place – but it’s not just the companies that have changed. It’s the packaging itself and we what do with it.
Thirty years ago, your choices for foodservice packaging were virgin paper, plastic or aluminum. Today, your options are far greater with new materials like biopolymers (think PLA) and non-tree cellulose (think bagasse) making inroads in the market place. On the plastics side, we’ve seen other resins like polypropylene and PET creep into an industry long-dominated by polystyrene. This slow takeover may soon speed up as the recently-introduced insulated PP and PET foodservice offerings tempt customers. And whether its paper, plastic or aluminum, we see increased use of recycled content as material supply increases, and performance and regulatory barriers are overcome. The materials used in foodservice packaging will continue to evolve, and there’s no doubt that new materials – most likely with a “green” spin to them – will be developed from alternative sources yet to be tapped.
Foodservice packaging was invented over 100 years ago to help protect public health and safely deliver hot foods hot and cold foods cold. While the very reason for using single-use foodservice packaging has not – and will not – change, the packaging has evolved to meet the shifting needs of restaurateurs and customers alike. Need for car-friendly packaging? Check. Need for more messaging or branding opportunities? Check. Need for more colors, sizes and shapes? Check. Taking into account these needs are what drive product innovations. What’s on the horizon? Consider changing demographics like an aging population and how they use foodservice packaging. But ultimately, the packaging industry will look to the foodservice industry to determine how it can best support their away from home market growth.
Thirty years ago, very little, if any, foodservice packaging was recycled or composted. Today, slightly greater amounts of these products are recovered, but that will most certainly change in the next few years as the industry rallies around voluntary efforts to recover these valuable materials that all too often are destined for landfills. FPI’s Paper Recovery Alliance and Plastics Recovery Group have brought together supply chain partners to identify and overcome the barriers to foodservice packaging recovery. By working systematically with raw material suppliers, packaging converters, foodservice operators/retailers, collection service providers, reclaimers and municipal recovery facilities, recovered feedstock end users and municipalities, the industry will achieve higher recycling and composting rates in the near and long-term future.
With all the material, product and recovery changes on the horizon for the foodservice packaging industry, it’s an exciting time to be part of – and report on – the wide, wonderful world of packaging.
Lynn M. Dyer is president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI), the trade association that advocates for the interests of the foodservice packaging industry in North America. Members include packaging converters and their raw material and machinery suppliers, as well as foodservice operators, distributors and group purchasing organizations. Founded in 1933, FPI is the leading authority for the North American foodservice packaging industry. FPI encourages the responsible use of all foodservice packaging through promotion of its benefits and members’ products. Serving as the voice of the industry to educate and influence stakeholders, FPI provides a legal forum to address the challenges and opportunities facing the foodservice packaging industry. Learn more at www.fpi.org.