Food & Beverage Packaging Basics

The four roles of Food and Beverage Packaging

An example of the billboard effect of packaging on a supermarket shelf.. Packaging Design: Successful Product Branding From Concept to Shelf

Food and Beverage Packaging is more than a pretty box that sits on a retail supermarket shelf. It is an integral part to successful new product launch. Did you know these food and beverage trends:

  • The number of domestic food and beverage recalls have tripled since 1999?
  • An estimated 70 percent of all purchasing decisions are made at the retail shelf?

Food and Beverage packaging can be confusing for food entrepreneurs, so here are some packaging tips from Package Machinery Company Inc.

for starting a food business or an existing food business looking to increase the success of their new product launches. We hope this spurs some packaging ideas you can use in your food brand.

What is the Role of Packaging

The consumer's experience with your product is greatly influenced by its packaging:

  • Was it easy or difficult to open
  • Was the product kept fresh by the materials it was packaged in?
  • Was the product in one piece as intended or broken into tiny pieces?
  • Was the product contaminated?

There are four primary functions of packaging that need to be addressed in new product launch:

  • Product Protection - protection/transportation/handling/distribution/primary and secondary packaging
  • Product safety - Food recalls/hazards/traceability
  • Product Freshness - appearance/taste/freshness/quality
  • Brand identity (What is brand development) - Marketing/Convenience/shelf appeal/branding/brand integrity

    Let us look at each primary packaging function in detail. Let's start with Product Protection.

    The feature of Product Protection is to keep food safe in transportation, handling and distribution.

    The packaging industry is always seeking innovative packaging solutions to insure your product needs to get from your facility to the consumer in the same condition as when it left your facility - fresh and intact. In order to protect your product throughout the supply chain, this requires close consideration of your primary packaging - or materials used to package the individual, salable unit - and secondary packaging - materials, typically corrugated box or pallet wrap, used to bundle several individual products for shipment and / or displays.

    Common packaging solutions include materials such as glass, rigid and flexible plastic, aluminum, and cardboard, sometimes in combination. These are each preferred for specific food applications, but there is overlap.

    For example:

    • Bag-in-box packaging applications are used for both food (cereal) and beverages (wine)
    • Aluminum is suited for cans of soda and to give food containers a premium look and feel.

    Packaging ensures product safety to eliminate or reduce food recalls and hazards as well as help with traceability.

    From juices to peanut butter, food and beverage recalls that made the headlines in recent years have brought food safety to the forefront of the consumer's mind. A product recall can potentially destroy a brand's credibility, reduce product sales, and possibly result in a lawsuit.

    Food product contamination can occur at any point in the supply chain.

    As your food or beverage company begins to grow, it is critical to maintain control over your supply chain. There are several packaging processes and technologies designed to help increase food safety measurements. While using food grade materials is a must, there are still hazards that can occur at the packaging stage. For example, inks and coatings used on packaging can migrate into food and beverage products.

    For consumer protection, there are labeling laws and FDA regulations that require certain information to be included on food and beverage packaging such as: an ingredient list, possible effects of consumption or use, the batch ID and date of manufacture so the product can be traced or discarded at expiration.

    Product freshness increases with the right packaging, helping appearance,  taste, shelf life and quality.

    Regardless of how good your food or beverage product's recipe is, if it doesn't taste fresh, chances are you've lost a potentially loyal consumer. With packaged goods, the time from when your product is made until the time it is consumed can vary from days to years. The date used on a package is usually a 'sell by date'. However, because the consumer often keep a product at home for a period of time before consuming it, it's important the packaging helps maintain freshness beyond the sell by date.


    There are tested and new packaging technology advancements allowing for food manufacturers to extend a product's shelf life and better control product freshness including:

    o Materials - flexible packaging such as flow wrapped candy bars will have a much longer shelf life than foil and paper packaged ones. There is a trade off in consumer expectation for flow wrapped candy, so both cost and appearance need consideration.

    o Film barriers - In flexible packaging, there are different barrier properties for air, moisture, and flavor. Coatings can be added to films to change and extend the product's shelf life and enhance freshness. Some foods and beverages require a barrier. Some, such as meat products, require breathability in their wrap.

    o Resealable packaging - typically in the form of a zipper, lid or label closure, resealable packaging helps maintain product freshness by locking out air and adds convenience for the consumer.

    Resealability is a great option for products meant to be consumed over multiple times.

    Brand identity(What is brand development) - Marketing / Convenience / Shelf appeal / branding / brand integrity


    Every year, thousands of food and beverage products launch. If 70 percent of purchasing decisions are made at the retail shelf, you want to focus on packaging ideas that make your product stand out from new and existing products in order to attract the attention of the consumer. Today more than ever, packaging has become an essential part of the marketing mix and allows you to communicate product information directly with the consumer.

    Fundamentally, a good package design will attract the consumer's attention and it will protect the product from processing through consumption. Using the right size, shape, colors and materials in your packaging will enhance the consumer's experience with your product which, ultimately, will help build brand awareness.

    If you have the resources, consider hiring a packaging designer who can help create a unique brand identity as well as help determine materials suitable for your products. However, if your budget is limited, there are cost-effective options and you can always modify your packaging (or rebrand your product) as time goes on.

    In Conclusion / It's a Wrap

    Food entrepreneurs need to recognize that packaging is your direct interface with your consumer. It's an investment that can make or break your business. Research ahead will pay off in longevity of your package design and strong brand identification.

    Your investment in food and beverage packaging is the best way to get you product on the shelf and on to consumers plate!

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