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Safety, Sanitation Drive Foodservice Packaging

Foodservice Packaging Institute President Natha Dempsey unpacks the results of the association’s 12th Annual Report, which explores industry opinions around foodservice packaging during COVID-19.

Natha Dempsey, President, Foodservice Packaging Institute
Natha Dempsey, President, Foodservice Packaging Institute

Packaging World:

What was the most significant finding of FPI’s 12th Annual Report?

Natha Dempsey:

Like everything in 2020, COVID was the dominating theme. This has continued into 2021. We’ve seen an enhanced focus on keeping food and beverages safe and sanitary, still coupled with the modern-day necessities of convenience and mobility.

Do you think consumers trust single-use foodservice packaging more now, during COVID-19, than in the past (versus other packaging, such as reusable formats)?

I don’t think consumers “trust” packaging more, but they are more aware of the role it plays in keeping their food and beverages safe and sanitary. This is the exact reason foodservice packaging was invented in the first place—to help stop the spread of communicable diseases.

See: Loop Expands into Quick Service Restaurants

What types of innovations have suppliers introduced to ensure packaging is tamper-evident and tamper-resistant?

We’ve seen more tamper-evident and tamper-resistant packaging entering the marketplace, for sure. Delivery was already a big topic of interest prior to COVID, but many of those manufacturers who already had tamper-evident and tamper-resistant packaging lines have expanded out the number of products they offer. For example, offering newer sizes (both smaller and larger) and shapes to suit the needs of their customers. With the continued increase in third-party delivery and ghost kitchens [a professional food preparation and cooking facility set up for the preparation of delivery-only meals], we expect to see more innovations around keeping items safe and secure.

Can you talk about the misinformation that has occurred around the amount of foodservice packaging that is being produced?

Absolutely. There has definitely been a lot of misinformation around foodservice packaging and the perceived increase of waste from it. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the foodservice industry has been one of the hardest hit. In addition to restaurants, foodservice packaging is used in segments like travel, hospitality, stadiums and arenas, catering and events, and business and school cafeterias. Looking at that list, many of those segments suffered closures or reduced patronage throughout 2020 and have yet to recover.

Fp 0421In the restaurant sector, many operators had to pivot from dine-in to to-go only. With resurgences in virus outbreaks, that pivot may have happened multiple times in the past 10 months. With operators trying to stay afloat, they have relied heavily on foodservice packaging to provide customers with the products they desire. As they did with so many places, customers had to interact differently with the restaurants they enjoy. Much of what had been consumed outside of the home, like at a restaurant, in the office, or during school, is now being eaten in the consumer’s own kitchen. This has increased the amount of foodservice packaging that the consumer sees and has to dispose of within their own home. That is where the “influx” of packaging myth came from. It doesn’t mean that more packaging is being used, but that everything we consume is regularly being directed through one channel. It’s like the increased number of boxes delivered to homes because people aren’t getting those items delivered to offices or going out to shop at retail establishments. It doesn’t mean we’re purchasing more because shipping boxes are piling up in the garage, just differently.

See: Single-serve packaging: the villain?

Many restaurants have closed for good. The restaurants that switched from primarily dine-in to takeout did not offset the number of restaurants that were/have closed. Those who did offer takeout and delivery may not have seen the same levels of business, as consumers have chosen to stick close to home rather than frequent retail establishments of all kinds.

Do you think consumers’ concern with safety and hygiene over sustainability will continue “after” the pandemic, or do you think this is a trend that will continue?

As I mentioned earlier, foodservice packaging was created to stop the transmission of communicable diseases. This has always been a key aspect. Safety and sanitation are the inherent characteristics and benefits of foodservice packaging and not just a trend. We expect innovation will continue to evolve as we ride the rest of this pandemic wave, offering even more assurance to consumers about the safety of their food and beverages.

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