The way food is packaged and marketed is constantly changing, thanks in part to consumer trends, the goal of packaging sustainability and the never-ending fight to reduce food waste. This has resulted in a wide variety of enhancements that continue to evolve.

One such enhancement is functional packaging — or, packaging with added functions. Such functions
include reclose/reseal, flexible pouches, stick packs, plus the ability to use intelligent labels and security materials in certain applications.

Recently, reclose/reseal has taken a leap forward in the way it can be used. New heat-sealable reclosure systems — some with FDA approval for direct food contact and re-heatability — have been introduced to deliver both visual appeal and features such as enhanced functionality and convenience, plus the benefits of packaging economy and sustainability.

The new film materials directly address current consumer trends — the desire for convenience, fresh food, and sustainability — and waste reduction needs.

Consumer Lifestyle and Desires

Recent focus group research conducted by Avery Dennison and MarketVision Research revealed three key findings:

Functional packaging delivers practical benefits such as freshness, ease of use, sustainability, storability, convenience, flexibility and protection. And consumers indicated that they are willing to pay more for these benefits.

Packaging drives powerful emotional responses. These range from the frustration resulting from having to cut open a bag to the inability of reusing the container to restore unused food. Consumers gain confidence from seeing a seal that guaranteed the product had been unused and sense relief through packaging that is easy to use.

Brand owners and designers need to carefully consider package design and message to reduce confusion, provide desired information and fully explain features and benefits.

Given that today’s consumers are looking for easy-to-use products in their daily lives, it should come as no surprise that food meal kits — today’s version of the TV dinner, but made with fresher, often healthier ingredients — have become ubiquitous in both the supermarket and convenience stores. But not all of that product is necessarily used in one sitting, and consumers welcome packaging that makes it fast and simple to reseal the contents and keep it fresh until the next time.

It’s also telling that fresh produce consumption is growing. Fresh fruit consumption is estimated to increase 9% by 2020 and fresh vegetables to increase 8% by 2020 as consumers seek healthier foods for snacking. The opportunity to satisfy consumers is in the packaging, such as dependable reclosure for heat-sealed trays.

Sustainability with Functionality

Reclose/reseal labeling solutions have been used for trays with lidding that contain products such as deli meats, cheese, snacks and cereals in recent years, allowing the pressure-sensitive adhesive label and an easy-open/easy-close lift tab to keep the unused product fresh and accessible. This has reduced the amount of PET material needed as compared to the alternative clamshell containers, meaning less material that could potentially go into a landfill.

The transparent lidding label also can allow consumers to see the food inside the package, assuring content freshness.

There are other benefits for manufacturers/packagers in that a second tab may be added to indicate tampering, plus there is the ability to use the label/seal itself to deliver the brand message to the consumer. It actually provides a larger landscape of packages for graphics and branding. Cost is also a concern: Press-to-close is significantly less expensive than a zippered pouch or bag.

Reducing Food Waste

Food waste, not just in the United States, but globally, remains a concern. Here are some sobering facts:

The Office of the Chief Economist of the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that between 30% and 40% of the country’s food supply is wasted. This is based on a 2010 estimate from the USDA’s Economic Research Service of 31% food loss at the retail and consumer levels, equating to 133 billion pounds and a value of $161 billion.

It further estimates that this waste is the single largest component going to municipal landfills, where it generates methane, making the landfills the third largest source of this greenhouse gas in the country.

To put it more graphically, journalist Jonathan Bloom’s 2011 book American Wasteland estimated that Americans throw away enough food to fill Pasadena, California’s famous Rose Bowl football stadium on a daily basis.

The reclose/reseal functional package is a positive step in reducing food waste.

Differentiating a Product Through Heat-Sealable Film

A heat-sealable film liner, recently introduced by Avery Dennison, turns the release liner into a functional part of the final package. The heat-sealable reclosure system provides direct adhesion of the entire construction to rigid containers. This eliminates the need for flow wrapping and requires significantly less plastic packaging by eliminating both liner waste and clamshell lids. The result: a more environmentally friendly solution by significantly reducing material, particularly for produce such as tomatoes, berries or lettuce packaged in rigid plastic containers.

This technology can be applied to meal kits and even products such as spices and sauces. Some of the films may even be microwaved and resealable beyond the first use. Depending on the application, FDA approval for direct food contact is also available.

The heat-seal reclosure technology also provides converters a more affordable, sustainable way to provide brands with the convenient, easy peel-and-reseal functionality today’s consumers seek. The ability to eliminate the clamshell lid creates the opportunity for brands to enhance creativity in package design, helping to differentiate and add value to their products.

The reclosure solution for thermoformed trays is delivered via a construction of a facestock, such as polyester; a pressure-sensitive adhesive; and a sealant material. Converters may print on the facestock and then die-cut an opening
on the material’s reverse side and in a corner to provide the opening functionality. This structure is then sealed to a
thermoformed tray.

Questions to Ask

For those who want to know more about heat sealable film options, here are a few questions you may wish to consider as you move forward:

  • Is an FDA-approved heat-sealable solution required today (or in the future)? In other words, will the food contact the adhesive during the life of the container?
  • How many reseals are required? In many cases, it’s more than one. Match the right solution to your product from the outset.
  • How can I best partner with a converter/packaging designer to maximize the benefits of reclose/reseal?

Is sustainability and the ability to reduce the amount of plastics and packaging material part of your brand story? And if so, how can you best utilize reclose/reseal technology to tell that story?