Away-from-home eating constitutes nearly half the $800+ billion value of foods consumed today. At its present 4 percent growth rate, foodservice will represent virtually all of the growth in the food industry in this decade.
Foodservice products take two basic packaging forms: portion control and bulk. Unit portions are tiny packets of sugar, artificial sweetener, ketchup, coffee lightener, etc.
In the restaurant's backroom or kitchen, portion control equates to cook-ready, heat-ready or serving-size-ready packages of food products. These include precisely sized beef patties or sandwich fillers, pre-wedged cake slices and pre-weighed pouches of frozen French fried potatoes.
Portion-control packages, coupled with specially engineered equipment, enable foodservice operators to prepare foods rapidly, uniformly and safely—with minimum investment of labor.
Foodservice accounts for about 40 percent of all food packaging. The largest number is plastic, including trays, bowls, cups, bottles and jars. Trailing are paperboard cartons, metal cans and aluminum foil laminations.
Moving up rapidly are flexible materials such as barrier and non-barrier coextrusions, oriented polypropylene film and polyethylene film.
Stand-up pouches serve notice
Stand-up flexible pouches are now common for dry baking, sauce and beverage mixes, displacing film-lined paperboard cartons. Seasonings in pouches are replacing metal cans.
Stand-up packaging for foodservice includes gusseted-side, square-bottom structures, with and without reseal. Materials include paper, plastic film-lined paper and plastic film laminations.
The extensive application of vacuum, reduced-oxygen and modified-atmosphere packaging for chilled foods does not eliminate the need for refrigeration. But it helps in backrooms that lack good temperature control.
Aseptic packaging has penetrated most foodservice packaging. Unit-portion coffee lighteners come mostly in aseptic, thermoformed plastic cups. Extended-shelf-life packaging also serves this product category.
Hot-filled barrier pouches—a substitute for No. 10 metal cans of tomato and similar high-acid foods—have gained a solid niche. But they have not overwhelmed the market.
Although quick-service outlets use these pouches extensively in their backrooms, No. 10 cans still dominate in "mom-and-pop" pizzerias and other small establishments.
Takeaway and home-office delivery packaging for prepared food products represents a huge growth opportunity.
Some processors/distributors, such as Ready Pac and Wawa, have developed a four-part, takeaway package for salad that fits foodservice requirements. The cut salad is packed in a thermoformed plastic tray with a compartmented barrier tray.
Each compartment contains one salad component such as meat, cheese or croutons. A peelable, heat-sealed flexible membrane covers the compartments.
Several packaging options have tried to displace the corrugated fiberboard box for pizza.
Among the most recent entries is PresSeal, a thermoformed round container engineered for pizzeria and consumer advantage. Fabricated from microflute-corrugated paperboard, the round tray prevents the pizza from sliding within the container.
Market testing has demonstrated that consumers and retail operators perceive the round containers to retain heat better than the traditional square cartons. And because the round container uses less material than a square carton, it may offer better economics.
Gralex manufactures the PresSeal round pizza boxes. Harvco Technologies acts as the sales agent. For more information, visit www.roundpizzabox.com
In January 2004, PakIntell LLC published a study, "Foodservice Packaging in the U.S." Visit www.pakintell.com for a synopsis and ordering information. BP
The author, Aaron L. Brody, Ph.D., is President/CEO of Packaging/Brody Inc., a consultancy in food, packaging technology and marketing. Contact Dr. Brody at 770.613.0991 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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