For restaurant operators looking to add or refine their catering program, one of the first places they should consider is their product packaging. Not only does packaging keep the food fresh and safe, it also maintains product aesthetics during transport.
Making sure the food looks visually appealing to the consumer is the first component to packaging. The external components of the packaging also offer the opportunity to get messages about the food and brand out to the audience. This includes the highlight of everything, from pricing and promotions to the use of environmentally friendly components.
“Packaging is incredibly vital to any foodservice outlet,” said Lynn Dyer, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute. “It allows the consumer to have that same in-store dining experience on the go. Operators’ carefully prepared food and beverages need to be protected and preserved, and packaging enables this.”
A ‘walking billboard’
Restaurant operators should keep in mind that packaging for catered and other off-premise food is the introduction of their product to the consumer and this is not lost on those in the foodservice industry.
“Packaging is vital because it is all about presentation,” said Judy Kadylak, vice president of Marketing at Bruegger’s Bagels . “The packaging is what consumers see on a commuter train, in a business meeting and out in public. It’s got to be eye-catching, well-designed and functional.”
Bruegger’s has taken advantage of the marketing aspect of packaging as the company has recently updated its catering package, unveiling a more visually appealing line, keeping the look and feel of a modern day artisan.
“We wanted to tell a story through our new packaging, one that infuses the Bruegger’s Bagels personality,” Kadylak said. “Tradition you can taste’ is the tag line and you can see that messaging on the cups, catering boxes, bags and cup sleeves. We also kept the new design of our bakery consistent with the packaging.”
As more companies recognize that packaging is an extension of their brands, they are adopting the approach taken by Bruegger’s.
“Given that so much leaves the store — roughly 75 percent of foodservice packaging leaves a typical quick-service restaurant through a drive-thru, carryout, delivery or catering — that cup, container, box or bag can become a walking billboard,” Dyer said.
Eco-friendly and heating/cooling features
The use of environmentally friendly packaging also is a growing responsibility food operators have to keep in mind as consumers look for more eco-friendly products. This is driving the trend as one of the top considerations those in the food industry must consider.
“Guests are very aware of what they purchase and where their money goes,” Kadylak said. “They make educated decisions about where they shop, what they eat and they want minimal impact on the planet and natural resources. It’s important for us to use those eco-friendly materials as much as possible because consumers are interested in, and concerned about this issue.”
In regard to the use of sustainable packaging, the most frequent questions coming into the FPI include:
- Does the consumer/client prefer any specific materials (paper, plastics, aluminum, etc.)?
- Is the intention for the customers to recycle or compost the packaging after it’s used?
Dyer said answering these questions with packaging suppliers will help identify the best packaging options for operators.
The trend toward sustainability, however, can’t compromise the food quality elements needed in packaging, an especially strong consideration for food being transported away from the kitchen. What good is a food catering program if the food itself arrives cold or soggy?
One recent example of efficient packaging came with the help of NASA, in the form of the Smart Box designed by Jonathan Kaplan (creator of Flip Camera). Kaplan was driven to find an answer to keeping grilled cheeses hot and fresh out of the kitchen when he turned to NASA consultants for help, according to the Huffington Post. The Smart Box result is a two-part system including a cardboard carry-out box with special holes for airflow, and an ‘aluminum mass’ full of heating plates and fans designed to carry the box.
And while not specific to catering, Burger King also developed proprietary thermal packaging technology to keep hot food hot and cold items cold during transport as it expands its delivery service throughout the country.
Whether it’s keeping the food exactly as it would be served if the consumer was dining-in, taking advantage of brand marketing opportunities, or being the most eco-friendly option for consumers, the foodservice and packaging industries must embrace the challenges in the ever-advancing consumer market.