Great packaging tells your customers about your product, your brand and what you stand for, and is a must for anyone producing physical goods for the consumer marketplace. You must get creative with your packaging design to portray the right message to the right people—and you need to attract your target market and get them excited to buy your product. When it comes to packaging food, there are many factors to take into consideration for a successful product.
Know Your Product
You know what food products you are selling, but do you know them well enough? You’ve got to know your product in-and-out, especially when it comes to how you package it.
- Do you know every ingredient and sub-ingredient of your food product?
- What kind of preservatives are absolutely needed, and to limit these, can a packaging material or packaging material additive do the job of preserving without the need for the preservative?
- Are there any allergens you need to warn people about? There are many more allergens we are aware of today compared to even one decade ago, so understanding what allergens are in your foods that could cause harm to the consumer is of utmost importance.
Allergens are an important consideration, not just in the food products, but elsewhere in your facility. Facilities that process nuts, dairy, or shellfish need to have certain best practices in place to keep cross-contamination at bay.
Food safety has been a growing concern of the general population as well as with regulators. With the signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, there has never been a greater emphasis on minimizing or eliminating chances for food contamination.
The Food Allergen Labeling Act requires you to be compliant, especially if you process any of these 8 major allergen groups:
- Fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)
Any sort of mislabeling can be disastrous to your brand so pay close attention! It’s important to be aware of what foods are processed within any third parties that may handle the foods you produce. Include review of their compliance with regulations and check for certifications with large auditors like SQF to maintain compliance. Properly cleaning and maintaining your machinery is just as important as packaging your product safely. There are rules and regulations laid out by both the FDA and the USDA to help with this.
You should know what you are required to list on your packaging including nutritional information, dates, and ingredients and the minimum sizes and types of font required for these important pieces of information. The FDA recently began updating the nutrition labeling guidelines for the first time in 20 years. Though mandatory compliance with the new labeling guidelines isn’t going to come into effect until January 2020, it’s important to be aware and clear on what you will be required to have on your packaging and labeling before you bring new foods to market. Don’t forget to save this date to bring your current food products up to compliance by then. If you aren't confident in your labeling compliance, finding a food labeling consultant is never a bad idea.
Product packaging in the food industry is unique because it must allow the contents inside to stay fresh and safe for consumption even after long hours in transit between manufacturer and distribution center, and then to the retailer, and in the consumers hand with some extra time to consume! Because of this, certain products require specific types of packaging materials that protect them against the elements and handling. Frozen foods, dry grocery items and perishables all require different types of packaging materials that will maintain product freshness. Don’t forget to select a material that can withstand any potential contaminants that the item may be exposed to throughout its lifecycle.
Different barrier materials in flexible film packaging can impact the overall look of your packaging and different barriers work better with specific types of film but will not work together nicely with other films. Different additives will also provide specific properties to benefit the look and freshness of your product. Fresh foods like meats and produce for example will often require an anti-fog additive to prevent fogging and humidity from diminishing visibility through the packaging to see the food contained.
Unless you know exactly what you need and the options available to you, work with a packaging professional to help you select the best materials for your specific food items. They will have a solid idea of which combinations work best for each type of food and can help maintain your product's’ shelf life longer.
Packaging definitely doesn’t come cheap. But, you can minimize the impact of packaging costs if you work with a quality supplier who is willing to know your needs and your business to provide you with the best options available. You can’t consider your packaging suppliers without first considering budget, and once you know your budget, you should get a supplier involved early in the process. In fact, packaging usually costs about 10% of the overall cost of your product, so it makes sense to reduce the potential costs by working with a seasoned professional.
Understand the costs of the total production FIRST, and then source materials and labor. If the packaging you desire does not fit within your budget don’t give up easily. Food packaging trends and prices change often, so in a year or two your design could very well be within reach. Keep an eye on material costs as well because they fluctuate, sometimes drastically, throughout the year.
Packaging trends can play a big role on your design. For example, eco-friendly packaging is a growing theme across the board in all industries, especially food and beverage.
Know what your competition is up to, too. If possible, be the start of a trend instead of catching on at the tail-end, like back in ’97 when I finally got my first pager just as my friends and family all switched over to cell phones..
Staying on top of trends will provide insights as to what elements of design are standard for certain products, and what can be improved on. While it is certainly important to be innovative in your packaging design, deviating too much from the norm can confuse consumers and drive them to the competition. During the packaging design process, try to strike an even balance between creativity and familiarity.
Check out packaging trends around the industry to gain inspiration. Use your packaging to speak to your target market at every step in the design process. Don’t neglect being selective in the certifications you choose to display on your product to the packaging material you use and its impact on the environment.
A packaging design should reflect the product itself as well as that of the brand it is manufactured under. While not deviating too much from universally-recognized norms in packaging, you still need your packaging to help differentiate your brand from the competition. The way a product is presented can be the determining factor between your brand being purchased over another and it’s design provides the opportunity influence a consumer to purchase.
The colors of certain elements of the packaging design and its ease-of-use, like resealability can make or break a purchase. Do some proper research on your target markets and identify what they want or what they struggle with, and capitalize on how your product meets their needs.
Keeping these factors in mind and being creative in your design can draw in your target market and have a positive impact on your bottom line.