Frozen food packaging becomes more sustainable as consumers want more individually wrapped items

Dive brief:

  • Almost half of consumers have started buying more frozen foods during the COVID-19 pandemic, According to a new report from The Freedonia Group. Seven in ten focus on maintaining a food supply at home.
  • During the pandemic, 39% of consumers looked for single-serve or individually wrapped products, which use larger amounts of packaging materials. Prepackaged foods, including frozen varieties, also had higher sales than fresh produce stored in bulk boxes due to health concerns.
  • The increase in frozen food purchases has reinforced consumer demand for more sustainable packaging materials. Many manufacturers and retailers have recently made efforts to replace old packaging with recyclable, reusable and compostable options.

Dive overview:

Purchases of frozen food have increased steadily since the first hit of COVID-19. The items that have seen the biggest tailwinds, according to the report, include pizza (37%), vegetables (37%), entrees (27%) and poultry (26%). Other items that have seen a boom include beef, breakfast items, side dishes, seafood, fruit and desserts.

Between November 2019 and November 2020 alone, sales of frozen food climbed 17.4%, according to the data of IRI and the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association. This trend has not slowed down, with frozen foods stimulate sales growth in central stores in 2021. Almost all frozen food categories recorded double-digit sales increases, according to a report from the American Frozen Food Institute and the Food Industry Association (FMI). The Freedonia Group found that U.S. frozen food shipments are expected to reach $ 108 billion by 2024, which is a 2.5% increase each year, according to the report. This figure is not only influenced by higher demand, but it also reflects food manufacturers adding a variety of new frozen foods – including healthy, organic and clean offerings – to their lines.

With growing consumer demand for frozen foods and individually wrapped items, the packaging industry is scrambling to keep up. New demand for frozen food packaging has spurred innovation, including improvements around microwave safe products, including steamed packaging. Advances in cold chain technology and smart packaging that issue alerts when temperature changes can help meet growing needs.

Sustainability is a major topic among consumers, who are increasingly concerned about the destination of their food packaging. The Freedonia Group report notes that a number of large frozen food manufacturers have joined the The global commitment of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation eliminate plastic waste – which involves eliminating problematic or unnecessary packaging, innovating towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 and upcycling. So far, food manufacturers, including Danone and Mondelez, manufacturers of plastic food packaging Amcor and Berry Global and grocery retailers Target and Walmart have signed on to this pledge.

Frozen food packaging companies are also working towards creating sustainable options. Associated Packaging Technologies is among the first to embark on the packaging of recyclable and recycled frozen foods developed crystallized frozen food trays of polyethylene terephthalate containing between 30% and 40% post-consumer recycled material. Glenroy’s packaging suppliers, Emmerson Packaging and ProAmpac are also making progress toward greater sustainability in frozen food packaging, according to the Freedonia Group report. The report also highlights Sonoco Products 100% sugarcane fiber bowl for chilled, frozen and prepared foods, and Perdue’s compostable foam wrap made from cornstarch that dissolves under running water for frozen meat products.

Food companies are also working on the development of new generation packaging. Nestlé has pledged 2 billion Swiss francs ($ 2.1 billion) for the development of sustainable packaging. General Mills’ The Nature Valley brand is make his debut fully recyclable plastic packaging this spring, Heinz Kraft is test recyclable paper bowls for its Macaroni & Cheese cups, and Diageo and PepsiCo design paper bottles in its debut in 2021. Coca-Cola is also transition of bottles made from 100% recycled plastic.

While consumers place greater importance on sustainable packaging, they are also willing to pay more for products that meet these preferences. A recent Short packaging survey found that seven in 10 shoppers check the packaging and will pay more attention to the packaging and labels in the future. If the packaging clearly states that it is reusable or recyclable, 58% said they would be likely or very likely to make the purchase. So while the pandemic and its aftermath may get consumers interested in more packaged products in the short term, including an element of sustainability could clearly pay off.

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