08 Jul, 2021

Food Packaging and its’ Potential

Product packaging is a significant part of the cost base for any food business, yet it is still one of the more challenging elements for Irish food businesses to get right.

Product packaging is a significant part of the cost base for any food business, yet it is still one of the more challenging elements for Irish food businesses to get right. Lorcan Bannon our Food and Drinks Business Specialist explores food packaging’s powerful potential.

For a long time, packaging for food was primarily a functional necessity. Product packaging was needed to preserve the quality of the food from the elements, to make transport from factory to fork more manageable, to extend the life of the food or to communicate relevant brand information about the food item to consumers.

In more recent times, the role of food packaging has come under separate and opposite forces for change.

For some, food packaging is an unnecessary evil. As we look to manage our ecological impact more strategically, packaging can be viewed under a lens of unnecessary waste – instead of transporting in bulk and using reusable containers at the point of purchase, individually wrapped food items are the norm. Any potential reversal of this trend as reflected by the emergence of zero waste grocery stores, has been severely impacted by COVID-19 and the need to wrap all open food items in plastic for health and safety reasons.

For others, food packaging when done correctly can use sustainably sourced materials that have reduced impacts on our environment and support a product positioning that can help differentiate a food business in a competitive marketplace.

Independent of your viewpoint, packaging will continue to play an important role for most Irish food businesses so let us look at some of the emerging packaging trends that can be used to support the growth of food businesses in Ireland.


The Circular Economy, as advocated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is not necessarily that new. What is changing though is the consumer led demand for food businesses to have greater transparency of where their packaging materials are sourced and how they are processed. A focus on sustainable packaging is both a challenge and an opportunity for Irish food businesses.  Irish food lifestyle brand, All Real is one example where sustainable packaging and consistent eco-ethics can be used to differentiate in a competitive marketplace.

Longer Life Packaging

With a focus on the reduction of food waste, using packaging techniques that can help improve the shelf life for food products is on the rise. Consumers are looking for ways to preserve food without the use of chemical preservatives. Brands have used techniques like High Pressure Processing (HPP) to help deliver on these expectations.

Transparency & Traceability

Increasingly technologies can be embedded into packaging, enabling food businesses to provide greater insight to their business or provide greater clarity on the origins of their food. Unique tracing codes or blockchain technologies can also be used to provide additional reassurance for consumers about the source of a product and combat food fraud.

Packaging and Online Sales

As online sales continue to grow, so too does the importance of packaging in the overall consumer brand experience. With increased competition on the digital shelf, brands will need to understand how SKU design can impact their online sales. It also presents a real opportunity to build connection with your consumer through tactile packaging and an opportunity to drive further engagement in the consumer’s home through brand messaging in the packaging.

Alternative Materials

To reduce the use of traditional plastics, new raw materials are providing high-performing cost-effective alternatives. One example is the use of mycelium-made packaging which is simply made with 2 ingredients: hemp hurds and mycelium. This material can be used for custom made packaging and is compostable.

Getting the packaging right for your food business is not easy. It takes time, budget, and energy. Mistakes will be made. However, if you are willing to understand the emerging food packaging trends, explore new materials or test new packaging processes you will be well on your way to unlocking the powerful potential of packaging for your food business.

Practical Packaging Advice:

1. Packaging and Procurement

Your procurement and finance teams need to work closely & have constant communication to maximise your packaging orders and limit the cash tied up in packaging stock.


2. Packaging Research

Identify a food product that you admire and purchase it directly online. See how the product is delivered, who is their courier partner, are they using branding techniques on their packaging to enhance the consumer experience?     Are there learning to take for your own business from this experience?


3. Packaging and Design

For new packaging designs, make sure to have the legality of your pack copy checked prior to print. Start with short run digital prints to minimise your print run risk where possible. Most food businesses can share stories were printed items have needed to be changed!


4. Packaging and Processes

If new packaging materials are introduced into a food business, the impact on existing production facilities will need to evaluate in advance. Overlooking this can lead to costly delays and extra capital investment.


5. Packaging and Policy

The EU is starting to take the issue of wasteful packaging more seriously as reflected in the Single Use Plastics Directive 2019 and the European Strategy for plastics in a Circular Economy where the aim is to have all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030. If your business is looking for the carrot to change your packaging behaviour, this may be the stick!

If you are a food business looking to learn more about packaging you can contact Lorcan Bannon directly at lorcanbannon@ifac.ie

*Originally published in the Tipperary Star