As rapid urbanisation pushes metropolitan cities towards a cultural and lifestyle change, new habits are being adopted by the general public. Almost every aspect of life has been touched by urbanisation and people’s eating habits are no different. Also, with work-from-home becoming the norm and people seeking convenient food options, the ready-to-eat (RTE) and ready-to-cook (RTC) segments have witnessed increasing demand. So much so that the RTC market has seen the entry of numerous new players.
The changing socio-economic pattern of life and the increasing number of working couples, the concept of RTE food is becoming popular as it saves both time and effort.
One of the major selling points for RTE and RTC meal products is their presentation. Food companies are trying to make packaging attractive with the use of vibrant colours, celebrity endorsement and more to attract and capture urban as well as rural consumers. Also, manufacturers use creative packaging designs to emphasise freshness, taste and enhance the products’ shelf life.
Furthermore, the advancements in food technology and packaging technology have made it possible to extend the shelf-life of these products. Hence, before deciding which packaging material is to be used, food companies gauge the packaging requirements of the product i.e. what hazards will cause quicker product deterioration and the conditions to which the packaged product will be subjected throughout its shelf-life.
Another aspect to consider is the fact that consumers are demanding more sustainable options and are even willing to pay extra for such packaged products. The desired shelf-life for an RTE or RTC food dictates the type of processing and packaging to be used.
What are the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges in the RTE and RTC food packaging industry is the consumer’s lack of awareness of packaged food quality and sustainable packaging solutions.
Manageability in packaging is a lot more significant now in a world challenged by climate change and waste. Companies today are more mindful of how their packaging influences the environment and climate. Economical packaging that utilises fewer crude materials and delivers less waste is most preferred.
Also, India’s tropical climate having high humidity reduces the shelf life of packaged foods, therefore preserving food and its freshness is challenging as RTE foods require low temperatures.
Thus, innovative solutions of flexible packaging material and formats are preferred to meet the requirements of higher shelf life and to provide consumer convenience. The packaging materials are designed to pass through the pasteurisation and retorting process to keep the product safe to use for longer shelf life.
Another big challenge is the supply chains’ understanding and limited awareness of proper storage. There’s a lack of proper refrigeration in retail outlets and homes leading products to perish. Food safety regulations being enforced and flexible packaging can also be a preferred solution to address this challenge.
Recipe for success
As lifestyles get more hectic, there will be an ever-growing demand for convenient food around the globe, primarily fueling the RTE and RTC market growth. Moreover, growing disposable income encouraging consumers to spend on RTE foods is further expected to foster market growth.
Furthermore, advanced packaging technologies are essential to enhance the quality and product life of packaged food. Flexible packaging can be a preferred choice as it makes the product more attractive to consumers with its small and lightweight packaging, economical, eco friendly, and easy transportation.
Along with attractiveness and ease, health and safety should be the prime motive of this segment. Packaged food needs to be made with proper hygiene keeping in mind the quality standards and the nutritive value of foods.
Ashwinikumar Singh, Head of Innovation & Product Development, Flexible Packaging, Huhtamaki India