I hope you read our March cover story on food packaging. If not click here to read it, or just enjoy the full interview with Chris Cornyn of Revolution Foods. A majority of this is featured in the March cover story but we had to do some editing for space- read the full interview here.
Packaging Strategies: Transparency is a buzzword talked about a lot in the food industry. Why do you think consumers want this and how does transparency translate into food packaging?
Chris Cornyn: Take a good look at a box of Hamburger Helper and you will see why transparency is important. What you see on the outside of the box couldn’t be further from the truth of what is on the inside of the box, or what the final product looks like when prepared.
Meal Kits as a category, for example, include a cardboard box containing a plastic pouch of dried orange cheese powder and some pasta. Food companies (and I don’t mean to pick on Hamburger Helper specifically) have traditionally done a masterful job of “selling the dream” of the final product on the table, but now consumers want more. They demand more. Food has become more of an experience, entertainment and statement of personal beliefs. Consumers today want food that they can see the ingredients, know the food story, and experience the food they are buying on a deeper level. Socially, culturally and emotionally.
Consumers are asking whether a food product and its packaging are good for their bodies, their community and the larger world. And they should. The food industry produces more packaging than any other industry in the world.
As a food company, we have an obligation to transparency on two levels.
A. First is a philosophy I call “See, Show, Know”. Consumers should See the food inside the package. Hence, we have made a conscious effort on our entire innovation pipeline to be able to see the food through transparent packaging. Secondly, whether an entrée or a side dish, we Show the food its fully formed state with photography. And lastly, we make sure the consumer Knows exactly what they are buying and where it comes from and why we created it.
B. It is important to explain where your actual packaging materials come from, but more important where they should go after it is used. We attempt whenever possible to make sure our food packaging can have a second life. Moreover, we are overhauling our legacy products that can be streamlined and taking a minimalist approach to packaging. Kind of a Simple-Farm-to-Table-Bauhaus approach.
In the end however, transparency is a balancing act.
Food packaging must do so much. It must contain, protect, preserve, transport, get attention, communicate, image build, facilitate, instruct, educate, remind and have a secondary life…then you overlay transparency upon that and it is a real challenge. So in the end, just live by the old cliché…“What you see is what you get”, because that is what consumers believe.
PS: Food packaging must be convenient for users of all ages. In what ways do you see food packaging becoming more convenient?
Cornyn: I see there being a big “selfie” movement in food packaging. It will include: Self-opening, Self-closing, Self-sealing, Self-cleaning, Self-dosing, Self-regulating, Self-heating, and Self-cooling food packaging.
This movement will make kids more independent in the kitchen and help older folks stay more independent in the kitchen longer. All of which allows better nourishment throughout life.
PS: What are the top 3 consumer trends in food packaging?
Cornyn: I don’t really believe in responding to trends, but there are 3 truths that consumers desire in food packaging.
1. Increase functionality. There are so many food categories that have packaging that is hard to use. When will the cheese industry reinvent the cheese drawer so the packaging works? I have 9 cheeses wrapped in plastic wrap in my fridge at various stages of moldiness. Can we reinvent the cheese drawer and packaging? Please!
2. Make the fridge and pantry prettier. Younger and busier consumers want to spend less time cooking, but still have a rich food experience. That means making the food experience real, convenient, but also aesthetically pleasing through packaging.
3. Reduce waste. No more bag within a bag within a box with shrink-wrap kind of packaging. Ahhhhh!
PS: What is Revolution Foods doing to address these consumer desires?
Cornyn: Most food companies spend a lot of time scouring trend reports or asking consumers for insights into what they want in food products.
Revolution Foods takes a little different approach to innovation.
We look for human truths in everyday food struggles. What does this mean? Example:
Truth: Kids Love Noodles.
That is not an insight…it is a truth. 3 out of the 4 top kid favorite foods are noodle based. You don’t need a trend report or a quantitative study to tell you that.
Armed with truths, we ask what’s wrong with the solutions out there. What is the struggle with noodle products and packaging today? Well…they come in a Styrofoam cup, with dehydrated chicken chips, full of sodium and a microwave is needed to eat. Or they come in a can. Or a box with powered cheese. All struggles emotional, nutritionally or functionally.
Consumers are not telling us that they desire a better solution, but we believe there is a struggle here with crappy solutions. From here, we create products to delight consumers.
PS: What do you see becoming the next big thing in food packaging?
Cornyn: A. We will be able to deliver fresher food to more places. Even in food deserts. And we will use less energy getting it there. I live in the Silicon Valley where innovation is rampant and people are working on amazing new technologies to make this a reality.
B. Food packages will be designed in a manner that respects the food and is not assaulting to the eye. Food should be cherished and respected. If dish soap packaging can be made sexy on the sink, so can a box of pancake mix or instant mashed potatoes in a pantry or kitchen counter.
C. Reinvention of packaging to be transported via smaller self-driving vehicles and or even small flying devices. As home delivery becomes more ubiquitous, more food will have to be packaged in smaller jigsaw puzzle modules to take up less space and fit together for transport. This will require packaging companies to provide packaging to many categories that all fit together in an efficient manner. Think Jenga for food packaging.
C. No packaging at all. Go shop at your local Farmers Market and observe real innovation…the canvas bag is the next big think in food packaging!