As food evolves to accommodate the demands of an increasingly on-the-go world, in many cases it's the packaging that drives the change according to experts gathered at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo. And those packages are getting smarter.
Time-honored food products whose designs have been modified in response to the portable trend include everything from single serving size cheeses, to hand-held flexible tubes, to miniature cookies in re-sealable cups.
"The trend of foods being made ideal for in-the-car snacking is a huge area of growth in the United States and it will continue to be successful," said Tom Biddie, director of packaging and development for Kraft Foods. In addition to the emphasis on bite-sized, hand-to-mouth eating, foods are also being packaged to suit the nation's ever-expanding nutritional awareness.
"People are demanding products to be portionalized to control dietary needs," said Biddie.
The nutritional component is also seen in such trends as meals-in-a-bottle and other packaged products designed to substitute or replace sit-down meals.
"The traditional family cycle of meals is being replaced by blurred eating sessions and snacking throughout the day," said Biddie.
While there are plenty of product packages tailored for children, product researcher Lynn Dornblaser of Mintel Group said a potentially big market that hasn't been tapped is the older consumer. She noted that of the 77 million baby boomers, the oldest are just 60.
"They're going to get very demanding as they get older and crabbier, so there's a lot of opportunity for older eyes, older hands and people who have difficulty opening and closing packages," she said.
The future of food packaging holds such innovations as self-heating and -cooling packaging for products like coffee and beer, said packaging expert Aaron Brody.
Consumers can also expect to see smart packaging that alerts consumers that a product is beginning to spoil, and others that interface with appliances, he said. Expect packaging to get more fun, he added.
"Food packaging will become a truly recreational venture. Just look at what the kids are eating now. . .they're shooting stuff out of tubes and having all kind of fun with packaging and that's only going to get more creative."