Organic and wellness products are growing in popularity across the global food and beverage industry and the United States in particular. As consumers become increasingly health-conscious, they are opting for more natural foods that are free of artificial ingredients as well as protein composites like gluten, either for dietary reasons or to align with their changing beliefs as to what constitutes ‘healthy’ foods. In addition, consumers’ perception that organic products, in particular, are fundamentally better than their alternatives is increasingly apparent. This belief has manifested itself in the continued growth of the global organic food and beverage market, which is expected to be valued at $211.44 billion by 2020.
With exponential global growth, retailers in the United States are following suit. According to Consumer Reports, more than 90% of retailers nationwide have increased the number of organic foods they stock since 2012, which is indicative of the growing demand for these products and their associated benefits. Consequently, advances in packaging technology must continue to help brands deliver products that fulfill consumer desires for ‘healthier’ choices.
While the perception that organic products are healthier may hold true, it is important to examine what constitutes the organic properties of foods to understand why they require packaging that stands up to the food it protects.
Agricultural and animal products labeled organic must be grown or raised according to specifications enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These requirements, as outlined by the USDA, include the avoidance of added hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. Additionally, meat, poultry, eggs or dairy products dubbed organic must not contain antibiotics or growth hormones.
To comply with the USDA specifications, brands often need to charge a premium for organic foods and consumers have expressed a clear willingness to pay a higher price for them. According to research from Nielsen, the millennial generation in particular is willing to pay a premium for foods that they understand promote good health.
Other good-for-you categories that are seeing continued growth are the allergen- and gluten-free food markets, which are growing in popularity and seeing considerable market potential. Projected to be valued at $7.59 billion globally by 2020, this market is driven by not only consumers with particular gluten allergies, but also by individuals who perceive gluten-free foods to be more healthful and beneficial in general.
Health and wellness awareness is growing in importance for a variety of societal, demographic and technological reasons, but also because of the shift in consumers’ focus on the role diet plays in health. For example, although aging baby boomers are shrinking in size as a demographic, they are driven by a desire for products that will sustain their health. While consumers have moved on from other health-geared trends in the past, global sales of healthy food products are estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2017 according to Euromonitor – demonstrating that there is a considerable and growing demand in this category. Additional drivers include the increased accessibility of organic foods due to the growth of alternative/specialty retailers and consumer perception that these foods may be of better taste and quality.
It is also important to note that this movement is not limited to products sold for human consumption. The pet food industry is seeing a rise in popularity of organic products, driven in no small part by pet owners’ personal beliefs as to the healthiness of these foods. As consumers opt for healthier foods for themselves, they are also serving their pets – seen as extensions of their families – healthier, more premium options.
Protecting the product
As more and more consumers choose organic foods, brands must consider packaging as a critical component in their ability to deliver on the organic brand promise – especially because consumers are paying more for those options. It is quite simple: packaging must stand up to the same standards as the product it protects, offering the same brand equity. For example, packaging must effectively control moisture in order to overcome shelf life issues that can result from the removal or deterioration of gluten. Packaging must also protect the product in more traditional ways, excluding oxygen and microorganisms that compromise food quality and/or nutritional content and by providing tamper evidence and physical protection from crushing and transit damage.
Packaging formats such as metal are optimally suited to protect the integrity and nutritional value of food and beverage products. Foods typically degrade through extended exposure to air or sunlight, and metal is the only container material that completely prevents light and oxygen from infiltrating the package, helping extend shelf life and, in turn, reducing food waste. In addition to offering exceptional barrier properties, cans align with consumers’ desire to choose products that are better for the environment. Two of the most critical advantages of metal are its abundance and recyclability. Aluminum and iron ore – the building blocks of metal packaging – are the third and fourth most plentiful elements in the earth’s crust. Metal packaging is also 100% recyclable and can be infinitely recycled with no loss of physical properties. As evidence of infinite recyclability, more that 75% of aluminum ever produced is still in use today, making metal a permanent material. Permanent materials are therefore more sustainable than traditional recyclable or renewable materials. With these attributes, it is clear why more than 1,500 different kinds of foods are packaged in metal.
Certain packaging formats can also help promote a healthier lifestyle. A new 2016 study by the Illinois Institute of Technology indicated that convenient vegetable sources, like canned tomatoes, but also beans, purees and other products, can help people more easily include vegetables in their diets, offering significant advantages. For instance, canned tomatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals and because they are picked, cooked and canned at the peak of their ripeness, they maintain superior freshness and nutrition all year round. Similarly, canned beans offer an important source of protein and fiber.
Looking to the future
Looking forward, there are a number of advances in packaging that can help brands to support their products while leveraging the health and wellness industry. Future improvements in package coatings are one example, as new advances are set to improve packaging performance and consequently make different formats even more suitable for organic foods. Widely popular track and trace capabilities are also providing for more food transparency and for sourcing information. For example, consumers now have the ability to know where their food was grown, picked or harvested, while brands can track the product from its origins to the end user.
As consumer trends and desires evolve, brands must proactively provide products and the right packaging that meets their needs. Nowadays, it’s as important to leverage the booming organic and gluten free food market by adapting packaging formats to better suit the products which consumers are filling their shelves with.
About Crown Holdings, Inc.
Crown Holdings, Inc., through its subsidiaries, is a leading supplier of packaging products to consumer marketing companies around the world. World headquarters are located in Philadelphia, PA. For more information, visit crowncork.com.
 Grand View Research, “Organic Food & Beverages Market Analysis and Segment Forecasts to 2020” – March 2014 and Reportlinker.com, “Organic Food & Beverages: Global Market” – June 2014