Industry News

Top restaurant packaging trends for 2021

Nearly all 2021 industry trends are likely to be influenced by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and foodservice is one of the most affected sectors. How we eat restaurant meals has shifted dramatically during the past year, and consumers are looking for innovative solutions to these changes.

“For consumers, the most important quality they are looking for in 2021 is providing themselves, their friends and family with the same high-quality meals at home as they had before the pandemic,” said Mark Marinozzi, vice president of marketing at eco-friendly food packaging manufacturer World Centric.

This year, packaging is a top concern for the industry as restaurants are still experiencing an increased need for takeout and delivery services. While the CDC issued guidance that the risk of contracting the coronavirus from food products is “very low,” consumers and businesses are still seeking out packaging that prioritizes food safety. Another trend which has been consistently popular in the past few years is a continued focus on sustainable packaging. More than half of US consumers reported they are more likely to make a restaurant choice based on eco-friendly practices, according to the National Restaurant Association’s State of Restaurant Sustainability 2018 report.

“COVID-19 has forever changed the way we eat both in and outside of our homes and this will continue to impact the way manufacturers must shift production to best fit the needs of the consumer,“ said Paul Frantz, chief commercial officer of food packaging producer Novolex.

Keeping our food hygienic

“The pandemic transformed food safety from an important consideration into a dire necessity both for restaurant dining and takeout and delivery food,” said Frantz. “This trend will continue into 2021 especially as governments may continue imposing restrictions on dining in and outside of restaurants and food delivery remains a popular option.”

Consumers are desiring convenient food packaging that keeps both the food and the customer hygienic. Novolex offers the Load & Seal bag as one of the company’s solutions for restaurants to offer the safest and most secure takeout and delivery food; the tamper-evident packaging is available in three sizes and allows for custom printing to cater to each businesses’ marketing. The packaging producer has also launched its Cutlerease product, a self-serve dispenser that distributes utensils one at a time so customers are only touching their individual cutlery.

“We have built our resources in such a way that allows us to pivot quickly, utilizing existing machines and capabilities for a variety of applications,” added Frantz. “While COVID turned the world upside down, Novolex has been able to adapt quickly to meet changing demands and diversify our portfolio.”

Compostable options emerge

World Centric

While eco-conscious food and beverage packaging has been a priority for many businesses in past years, Marinozzi posits that compostable packaging is among the best alternatives to plastic single-use items in terms of sustainability and maintaining food quality. He said that consumers are even willing to pay more for single-use items that are made from environmentally friendly materials, as long as the packaging delivers on safety, security and convenience.

“The performance of this packaging has to be exceptional, whether in transporting the products safely and securely without leaking, or loss of food integrity and quality, as well as ease in serving and storing,” according to Marinozzi. 

He adds that composting is more beneficial than recycling because the materials use less energy to manufacture, are made from annually renewable plants such as bamboo or corn, are capable of breaking down into new soil in a commercial composting facility, produce less pollution in manufacturing than wood and petroleum-based products and preserve biodiversity. Also, many consumers may not know that if a recyclable product is contaminated with food residue, the packaging is no longer able to be recycled.

“In the transition to a post-pandemic world, those businesses that didn’t let up on their environmental ethos will reap the rewards of having more consumers that care,” said Marinozzi.

Post-pandemic restaurant landscape

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out to people around the world, we have a sliver of hope for what the foodservice industry will look like when coronavirus dining restrictions can be fully lifted. Many pandemic-related precautions may become the new normal in the future.

“The COVID-related trends noted above are not new, but have been in fact gaining momentum over the past decade as greater awareness of climate change, environmental stress and social responsibility gains traction in our society,” said Marinozzi. “The advent of the pandemic has simply accelerated their acceptance, and with that hopefully improved the circumstances that will allow for them to continue to replace harmful materials in packaging.“

“I do believe that COVID-19 related trends will become the new standard of health and safety in the food industry which will overall benefit the health of our communities,” agreed Frantz. “From food hygiene to building sustainable and circular economies, nothing will look the same when the world reemerges and engages in ‘normal business activities.’” 

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