As time-strapped consumers become increasingly health-conscious, convenience foods have evolved to provide easy, on-the-go nutrition across categories.
But it’s not enough for manufacturers to simply offer quick and healthy meal solutions. To truly stand out on the shelf, product packaging needs to deliver the same value-adds that shoppers expect from snacks and meal solutions.
As a result, food and beverage manufacturers have raced to develop packaging that meets consumer demand for functionality, transparency and premium quality. These product attributes help position convenience fare, which has expanded from mostly shelf-stable, highly-processed products to include fresh, refrigerated items like pre-cut vegetables, as an engaging and nutritious eating experience. And while investing in innovative packaging designs can be costly, it can also be a key influence on what makes consumers pick one brand over another.
Functional, hassle-free personalization
Just as translucent wrapping can communicate a product’s freshness or healthfulness, complex packaging designed with interactive functionality can hint at a premium and high-performing product.
For convenience food, it’s an added bonus if that functionality lends itself to customizable eating and drinking experiences. This demand was what drove the development of Karma Wellness Water’s bottle technology. Called KarmaCap, the bottle’s plastic top is filled with a mix of powdered superfruits, antioxidants and nutraceuticals, which is separated from the water. Consumers can “punch” the cap throughout the day to release the flavored, nutrient-rich powder into their drink, maintaining “maximum potency and peak freshness.”
“We see [the Karma Cap technology] as a way to differentiate from competitors of every kind...The cap technology better preserves either the vitamins or the probiotics to the degree that the consumer gets 100% of the stated claim on the label.”
CEO, Karma Wellness Water
Karma Wellness Water CEO C.J. Rapp told Food Dive that this system better preserves vitamins and probiotics, which deteriorate over time when suspended in water, and allows consumers to get the nutrition they want when they want it. The Karma line includes five nutrient mixes tailored toward different categories of holistic health, such as “mind,” which the company claims promotes sharper thinking, and “spirit,” which serves as a mood booster.
“We see [the Karma Cap technology] as a way to differentiate from competitors of every kind. It delivers a unique and exciting consumer experience ... that actually serves a purpose," he said. "The cap technology better preserves either the vitamins or the probiotics to the degree that the consumer gets 100% of the stated claim on the label.”
Rapp said that Karma Wellness Water is also currently developing a product concept that will allow customers to personalize the mix inside their bottle cap, which the company hopes to make available in the next 18 months.
Functional innovation has also come to the yogurt category in the past few years. Manufacturers have developed split plastic cups that separate yogurt from mix-ins like fruit, honey or chocolate pieces, allowing both sides to maintain their flavors and textures. The Chobani Flip’s plastic packaging is flexible enough for consumers to add all of the toppings side of the cup into the yogurt at once. The ingredients can also be spooned into the yogurt to taste. This packaging innovation has helped move yogurt from being seen as a morning-only food, transforming it into a healthy snack or dessert, depending on the topping in the “flip” side.
Squeezing nutrition into busy lifestyles
Convenience food packaging doesn’t need to be sophisticated. On the contrary, one of the trends sweeping the CPG food space is inspired by products designed for toddlers.
“Squeezie” pouches, as the category is often referred, are made from flexible plastic surrounding an aluminum core, and are designed to have resealable, wide-mouth openings that consumers can easily suck the product through. Once marketed as an easy way for infants and young children to serve themselves pureed fruits and vegetables, manufacturers have begun experimenting with larger portion sizes and more complex ingredients to target busy adults.
GoGo SqueeZ, a children's food manufacturer that entered the U.S. market in 2008, predicted in a 2015 interview with Food Navigator that the squeeze pouch market could be worth $1 billion in the next couple years.
And statistics show that it could happen. According to Mintel, 32% of consumers associate flexible packaging with innovation, especially if these products feature caps or press-to-close zipper seals that allow for on-the-go servings that maintain peak freshness. More than a third of consumers (36%) are interested in packaging that allows food to be eaten on the go.
In addition to its design for efficient eating, companies who sell products sold in pouches say this packaging style can also preserve more of the nutrients in purees than glass jars, which are heated to higher temperatures to pasteurize.
“We had customers and athletes emailing us about the package for not only the entire family, but also adults in general. A large number of cyclists reached out, and so it seemed like something we should try."
CEO, Happy Family Brands
Shazi Visram, founder and CEO of Happy Family Brands, launched a line called SHINE Organics that caters to grownups’ busy schedules. The company had previously focused on organic pouched products for babies, toddlers and older children.
“We had customers and athletes emailing us about the package for not only the entire family, but also adults in general,” Visram said told Food Dive in an email. “A large number of cyclists reached out and so it seemed like something we should try. Personally, I eat our SHINE Organics products before workouts and over the course of a busy day when I can't sit down for my usual salad or fresh juice.”
SHINE Organics products weren’t developed as a workout aid, but athletes have been early adopters of the pouches because the product is so easy to transport and eat on the go. The product’s packaging is similar to eat-while-racing energy gels, which are popular with endurance athletes.
In order to lure adult consumers to a category that can be viewed as babyish, Happy Family integrated seven grams of plant protein into its SHINE formula. The company is also experimenting with flavor palettes that include functional superfoods like green tea, chia, turmeric, kale and ginger to create a product that’s “distinctly more grown-up,” Visram wrote.
Despite the push by Happy Family and brands like Mamma Chia, EnergyFruits and Nomva, the market for adult squeeze pouches is still fairly small. It's hovering around $20 million last year and expanding at about 10% to 15% annually. A growing number of manufacturers are experimenting with this flexible packaging. However, sales in the segment have been disappointing. Baby food brand Plum Organics tried a line for adults called Plum Vida, which it discontinued.
Transparency is king
In years past, food and beverage manufacturers have relied on bright, eye-catching colors and designs to lure shoppers to their products, and for good reason — color is the consumer’s first indicator of product flavor. According to a study by Emerald Insights, 90% of shoppers decide whether or not to buy a product solely based on color and perceived taste.
Attractive, opaque packaging has also been used as a way to hide products’ less desirable attributes, like crushed chips or powdery residue. But as consumer demand for transparency has skyrocketed — and brands have cleaned up their labels — manufacturers have begun to swap vibrant hues for clear panels on their packaging, allowing the color, texture and shape of their products to speak for themselves.
In Mintel’s “Transparent Food Packaging” report, the firm found that nearly 40% of U.S. consumers would choose a product over a competitor if the packaging let them view the food or beverage content inside. This has led to an uptick in cut-out windows on food packaging — according to the market research firm, this design made up 12% of new carton-based packaging in the first half of 2016, up from 8% in 2013.
This trend can be seen in products like trail mix and granola, but it’s begun to extend beyond dry goods as well. Consumers have also come to expect transparency in heat-and-eat categories — according to a study conducted by C+R Research and Milliken and Co., 8 out of 10 people microwaveable packaging that’s translucent, and 70% of consumers said they would pay 5 cents more for it.
Still, shifting to transparent packaging isn't without challenges. The thin material of clear, flexible packaging is more susceptible to oxygen and water vapor transmission, which can undermine product freshness and quality, an obstacle manufacturers are working to overcome.