EXPERT COLUMN: Food Packaging Fears Driving Healthy Innovation


By Janet Sawires, client director, Brand Union

It wasn’t enough to just discover the ugly truth about harmful ingredients in food. Now, shoppers also are being exposed to information about the unsafe ingredients in the packaging as well. Consumers are suddenly becoming more aware of how packaging can affect their health just as much as the product inside it—adding additional fuel to the already growing distrust of the food industry as a whole.

Along with questioning the labeling and marketing on the packaging as it applies to the integrity of the product, there is now also a need to question what type of harmful chemical or chemicals the packaging contains.

In a paper published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, environmental scientists claim that many of the synthetic chemicals involved in packaging and storing the food we eat can leak into it, potentially harming our long-term health. Food contact materials are usually made of plastic or contain a synthetic material, including coating and laminate in beverage cartons or the closures of glass jars. Known toxicants such as formaldehyde, bisphenol A (BPA) and other hormone-disrupting chemicals are commonly found in plastics and canned foods.

Savvy consumers are becoming more educated about the effects of BPA on the development of their unborn and small children. Many companies, including Campbell Soup, H.J. Heinz, Coca-Cola and General Mills have responded to queries about BPA in packaging. The increasing fears about BPA have presented an opportunity for companies to reimagine innovative solutions as a whole, to deliver much more to the consumer. Other brands, such as Swanson, have gone so far as to repackage their broths and soups in Tetra Pak aseptic containers, which are lined with polyethylene, not BPA. 

Packaging Innovation

Recently, some other innovative packaging design solutions related to sustainability have included resealable, microwavable packages and stand-up pouches for ready-to-eat foods. The evolution of the Campbell soup can demonstrate the breadth of packaging innovation, from their microwavable “Soup on the Go” cups to “Campbell’s Go” pouches to “Campbell’s Fresh-Brewed Soup,” which utilizes the popular single-serve, single-touch Keurig Coffee machine to facilitate an easy just-add-water lunch option.

Pouches have become a more viable packaging option as their technology improves, which has increased shelf life and led to a fresher product inside. StarKist is a great example of a brand that has successfully mastered the pouch approach, providing tuna in convenient, long-lasting packages that fulfil consumers’ needs for on-the-go seafood.

Overall, the growing fears around packaging are leading to positive developments. Companies with their finger on the pulse of what is driving consumer behaviors have adapted and reinvented — highlighting that a package is BPA-free, reusable and/or recyclable is a positive message that further adds to brand credibility. Drawn to brands that speak to their values, consumers are likely to appreciate safe, smart packaging as much as the products inside.

Communicating the benefits of less harmful packaging is also likely to allow brands to demand a price premium – outweighing the risks of buying canned or plastic-packaged food products, where they may be consuming something quite different from what they bargained for. As people become both more educated and more cautious about what they are putting into their shopping carts and their mouths, brands can seize this opportunity to instill trust in their consumers. Offering them healthy food in safe packaging will keep loyal shoppers coming back for seconds. 

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