Why Focus on Innovative and Sustainable Food Packaging

Following the Wuhan outbreak in December 2019, the food and beverage packaging industry has experienced a twofold impact on product demand and changes in consumer behaviour over the past couple of years. Packaged foods have become more popular than loose foods among consumers. Also, instead of using the same channels as before the pandemic, consumers now prefer to buy their food and drink through other ones. After the notable shift from offline to online shopping and the creation of new online shopping experiences with multiple touchpoints for customers, there is a rise in the demand for innovative sustainable food packaging solutions.

India has witnessed growth in sustainable packaging in food and beverage due to increased packaged food consumption and awareness and demand for quality products post-COVID-19 era. Besides rising consumption of beverages in emerging economies, surging demand for convenience food, and rapidly changing consumers’ lifestyle are projected to propel the expansion of the food and beverage packaging market in the country. 

The India food and beverage packaging market is expected to grow from $33.73 billion in 2023 to $46.25 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 6.52 per cent during 2023-2028, according to the Mordor Intelligence report. The report noted that packaged foods are gaining high traction owing to busy work schedules, the rising number of working women, and the shift toward on-the-go consumption, which is, in turn, expected to ascend the utilisation of innovative and sustainable packaging across the food sector. This is likely to fuel the market’s growth in the coming years. 

Major players operating in Indian food and beverage packaging market include WestRock India Private Limited, Parksons Packaging Ltd, P.R. Packagings Ltd, Autofits Packaging Private Limited​, Deccan Cans & Printers Pvt. Ltd, AGI glaspac, PGP Glass Private Limited, Amcor plc, Ball Corporation, and Crown. To further enhance their market share, these companies are adopting various strategies, including mergers and acquisitions, partnerships, joint ventures, license agreements, and new product launches, according to Blueweave Consulting report.

Ensuring Consumer Safety 

Given the vast potential of the food processing and packaging industry, the Government of India has taken several steps towards facilitating ease of doing business and investments in this sector. Notable initiatives such as the Plastic Waste Management Rules and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework play a crucial role in promoting environmentally friendly packaging, fostering recycling and waste management, and holding manufacturers responsible for their packaging waste. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has notified the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging) Regulations, 2018, prescribing general and specific requirements for food packaging to ensure materials used for packaging are in adherence to various national and international standards. 

Some regulatory measures  by the FSSAI to reduce food and beverage industry’s plastic footprint include:  

  • Allowing use of other food grade packaging material like paper, glass, metal alloys for packing water 
  • Issuing guidelines for use of bamboo as food contact material 

With growing awareness, the requirement for eco-friendly and sustainable packaging is steadily rising. The country is focusing more on sustainable solutions, which is increasingly becoming a business imperative. Nanofabrication technologies are emerging as ground-breaking to create active materials for use in the design of packages, coatings, and packaging technologies that help maintain and improve sensory and nutritional characteristics and safety of foodstuffs and increase their shelf life. 

Overcoming Challenges 

The food processing industry has seen impressive innovation in terms of packaging. The eco-friendly food packaging market is categorised based on material selection, application, type, and technique. Materials include paper and paperboard, bioplastics, metal, and glass, among others. Applications range from bakery and confectionery to meat, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dairy, beverages, and convenience foods. Techniques employed encompass active packaging, moulded packaging, and multipurpose packaging. At each level, a shift towards green packaging is seen through “the use of materials that are biodegradable, recyclable, or compostable, and designs that are efficient, reusable, or refillable.” The emerging trends in biodegradable packaging include: Corn Plastic, Bamboo, Wood and Plant Fibres and Mushroom. 

In addition, the industry is developing frontier technologies based on Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain to present revolutionary solutions to age-old challenges like supply chain transparency, real-time tracking and inventory management, ensuring transparency and security in food sourcing and distribution.

To tap into this sector, businesses are leveraging research and development, enhancing technologies, and innovating efficient disposal methods. ITC Limited has introduced FiloBev, a food-grade board that is 100 per cent recyclable. Nestle aims to make all its plastic packaging recyclable and achieve a recycling rate of over 95 per cent by 2025. 

The Government of India has identified and prohibited single-use plastic items, which have low utility and high littering potential, with effect from July 1, 2022. The Extended Producers Responsibility guidelines mandate sustainable plastic packaging to reduce plastic footprint and put forth a framework to strengthen the circular economy of plastic packaging waste, promote the development of new alternatives to plastics and provide next steps for moving towards sustainable plastic packaging by businesses. With the support of government policies and compliance regulations, India is an ideal destination for investments in the sustainable food packaging sector. 

Innovation & Sustainability

Explaining the present packaging trends Dr Renuka Mainde, Corporate Nutritionist, Academic Counsellor and Convener of NetProFan Nagpur Chapter said that the current packaging is usually over or poorly designed and not well modified to the food needs. Packaging does not competently and sufficiently contribute to maintain food quality although much higher benefits in terms of reduction of food losses could be achieved using well dimensioned packaging material.

She further observed that innovative sustainable packaging goals to address food waste and loss reduction by preserving food quality, as well as food safety issues by preventing food-borne diseases and food chemical contamination should be the way ahead. Moreover, it must address the long-term crucial issue of environmentally persistent plastic waste. In order to ensure food and nutrition security across the globe, packaging of food in a sustainable way is considered to be an effective means to reduce food wastage and preserve the quality of food. 

She continued to note that a vibrant food packaging industry should focus on practical and easy-to-use aspects as well as cordiality and aesthetics for consumer attractiveness. Some of the marketed innovations are claiming to be sustainable either by their resources (bio-based) or their end of life (biodegradable) but without a full and fair assessment of their overall environmental benefit. Scientists are working globally for developing natural-based nano-composites for active and intelligent sustainable materials. 

Sharing his views Bharat Sawnani, Founder & Director, Elevantus Food Consultants said, “The future of packaging is a commitment to innovation and sustainability. It’s about packaging that does not just hold products but also holds a responsibility towards our planet. This shift includes minimalist designs, biodegradable materials, smart packaging, 3D Printing, on demand packaging, Nanotechnology, virtual and augmented reality packaging to reduce waste and our ecological footprint. We will continue to embrace reusability, recycling, and a circular economy. Packaging is evolving from a mere wrapper to a statement of environmental stewardship and shared responsibility. The journey forward is marked by collaboration, creativity, and a relentless pursuit of packaging that serves people and our planet, hand in hand.”

India has taken significant strides to address environmental concerns, particularly by supporting sustainable packaging solutions, including the use of biodegradable materials, the establishment of a robust recycling infrastructure, and the promotion of reusable containers. India aims to reduce its projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030 and decrease the carbon intensity of its economy by 45 per cent by 2030. The country also aspires to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. By fostering collaboration between the government, businesses, and consumers, a substantial reduction in food waste and loss can be achieved, with innovative sustainable food packaging solutions.

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