03/27/2014 12:19 EDT | Updated 05/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Food Packaging Trends That Tread More Lightly on the Planet

As environmentally conscious consumers increasingly demand more sustainable packaging, we are seeing significant innovation in food industry packaging. Package developers are driving down unnecessary waste, ensuring packaging is useful for extended purposes, improving transparency through certification commitments and in educating consumers on how to dispose of packaging after at end of use.

With that, we see five emerging trends that we expect to continue and grow in coming years:

Traceability: For a long time, consumer purchasing decisions have been based in part on what happens to packaging once discarded. But more recently, consumers are basing purchasing decisions on the traceability and sustainability of products and packaging through the entire supply chain. At the core, consumers want assurance that their packaging is from a legal, acceptable and sustainably managed source. As traceability is both an environmental and an ethical issue, brands are adapting their sourcing to provide consumers greater supply chain transparency of a product's life cycle from field to procurement to transport to end-of-life. We expect packaging suppliers to increasingly commit to traceability in response to customer demands.

Food waste reduction: The fight to reduce food waste, estimated at approximately 40 per cent of our food or $27-billion worth each year, will accelerate to mitigate raw material and disposal costs. Just over half (51 per cent) comes from households. Packaging can play a major role in this fight through advancements that help food stay fresh longer, such as re-sealable packaging with zippers, extended shelf life, or by simply making it easier for consumers to remove all food product from the package. And based on a recent report about the future of sustainable packaging, it is clear consumers agree, with the trends showing environmental awareness fueling the demand for sustainability and a reduction in the impact of packaging on the environment.

Labeling: With recyclable packaging, consumers want clearer labeling instructions on how to manage various packaging components at end of life to avoid landfill disposal. Many brands are responding by improving on-package labeling supported by internet and mobile app communications that provide consumers ready access to better information faster, while providing brands with invaluable channels to engage their consumers. Supporting brand efforts are various initiatives underway to reform recycling labeling. One example is the How2recycle label, a North American labeling initiative to reduce confusion and misinformation about recycling by creating universal on-package labeling.

Reusable packaging: Traditionally, reusable packaging was limited to manufacturer and retailer use of reusable pallets, racks, and bulk containers. While this contributed to a more efficient and sustainable supply chain, similar approaches didn't broadly extend to consumers. But more recently, reusable packaging for retail products is attracting increasing interest from consumers who appreciate the additional, tangible and "greener" value they derive once food is consumed.

Responsibly grown: Today, sustainable packaging must consider materials derived from renewable resources, be it recycled or plantation-grown fiber from quick growing trees, waste wheat chaff, or other materials. For example, paper and board packaging can be made from virgin fibre sustainably sourced from renewable plantations. Certain equatorial climates in particular are optimal for accelerated tree growth and shortened maturity cycles for tree harvesting. Demand for packaging from this type of fibre is increasing.

As views toward sustainability continue to evolve and expectations grow, the packaging industry will remain an area of significant consumer scrutiny. Food brands that not only manage to keep pace with those expectations, but innovate in the process, will help us all lighten our planetary footprint.

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