Exploring Innovations in Packaging Technology to Minimize Food Waste

Introduction

India is the second largest producer of food in the world and one of the major consumers of packaged foods and beverages. Increased consumer awareness and growth of the processed food and beverages industry are the major factors for a major shift from unpackaged vending to packaged forms of sale. Some other factors like exposure to new and improved packaging methods, relaxation in food and beverage import norms, increasing modern retail outlets and changing consumer preferences have all resulted in brand owners recognizing the need for advanced packaging solutions at economical cost. Packaging has served the Indian economy by lengthening and also preserving the shelf life of products ranging from milk and biscuits, processes and semi-processed foods, edible oil etc.

Indian Market Scenario

According to a report by MCG, The Indian consumer packaging market is estimated at around Rs 685 billion in 2015-16 and is forecast to reach Rs 1,170 billion by 2020-21, at an annual growth rate of 11.3%. The packaging industry in India is valued at Rs 1,270 billion (2015-16). Within the industry, with a 54 per cent market share, consumer packaging is ahead of its bulk packaging counterpart. According to a report by PwC, the packaging industry has exhibited muted growth over the last year, with a slowdown in industrial growth and drop in consumer demand. However, respondents are positive about growth in the next 12 months. They consider India’s low per capita packaging consumption vis-à-vis that of developed economies, increasing disposable incomes, growth in end use industries especially packaged food and a shift towards organized markets as the key growth factors. The report also says, The outlook for new capital investment is also positive as most companies plan to invest in new manufacturing facilities to cater to increased demand. Going forward, packaging companies plan to focus on driving revenue and profitability through an emphasis on exports, improved customer service and increased production efficiencies. Further, with the implementation of GST from 1 July 2017, the packaging industry will witness higher growth, as demand across key end user industries is likely to increase.? Research and Market report says,During the period 2016-2021, the Soft Drinks and Food industries will be the highest packaging market share gainers (by units) with share growth of 3.4% and 1.3% respectively. The growing organized retail sector has been a significant driver of the growth of the Food and Beverage industries, which in turn drives the growth of Indian packaging industry. In addition, innovations in the packaging industry, such as the development of lighter packaging with better barrier properties, add to the growth of packaging industry. In terms of packaging material, Glass and Rigid Plastics will be among the major share gainers, with share growth of 0.7% and 0.6% respectively during 2016-2021.

Packaging Technologies to minimize food wastage

Major change in consumer lifestyles, large retail groups and food service industries have started using highly competitive mix of marketing and trading strategies.

Number of methodologies of packaging technology for food has developed over the years. Active packaging, intelligent packaging and nanotechnology are some of the newly introduced concepts in the market. Packaging is the most important aspect of product design. There have been a lot of technological advancements in the industry but still innovation is the need of the hour.

Active Packaging

It is an innovative packaging technology that involves incorporation of certain additives into packaging film or within packaging containers by which package, product and environment interact to prolong shelf life or enhance safety or sensory properties as well maintain the quality of the food product.

Extensive work done worldwide have established feasibility of producing active packaging films based on polyethylene structures to delay ripening of bananas & other fruits & vegetables. This simple technology alone can minimize post harvest losses & wastage & contribute to increase in exports of high quality spotless banana & other fruits.

In recent years, the brand owners of sweetmeats have explored the use of oxygen scavengers by introducing sachets or packets containing these additives to eliminate oxygen, which is responsible for oxidation of oil, ghee & similar sweets. This example illustrates the spirit of entrepreneurship & leadership by the Indian food industry. This technology provides an opportunity for minimizing wastage of sweets & also enhance export capabilities to cater to the evergrowing demand of expats for “Home-like” sweets in foreign countries. Ladoos & Mohanthal are some examples where business opportunites can be exciting.

Intelligent Packaging

This type of packaging is capable of carrying out intelligent functions (Sensing, detecting, tracing, recording and communicating) to facilitate decision making to extend shelf life, improve quality, enhance safety, provide information and warn about possible problems.

Although the use of sensors on the outer face of the pack is deemed intelligent to indicate spoilage & provide better indicator of shelf life of the product, the technology is far too expensive to be adopted for commodity products like milk, fruit juice & other categories of beverages.

Nevertheless, it does provide an opportunity to the Indian packaging industry to undertake some basic R&D to identify the food product where this technology can be adopted & minimize wastage of such food products.

Eco-Friendly Packaging

The ideal packaging material should not possess any environmental issues and should have recycling potential. Eco-friendly packaging can play a key role in food waste avoidance to protect human health, environment and in preserving natural resources. Eco-friendly packaging materials have some extremely essential qualities like reduce, recycle, renew, reuse and repurpose.

An interesting trend seen in recent months is use of bamboo based packaging formats.

To tackle Thailand's mounting trash problem, one company is turning to the country's plant life. Universal Biopack makes packaging that it sells to restaurants and manufacturers. But rather than plastic, it uses a mixture of bamboo and cassava, crops that are widely found across the country.

In the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where takeout drink containers and noodle packets line the sidewalks, the company supplies restaurants, organic farmers and other businesses in the food and drink industry. But, Universal Biopack are finding it tricky to reach out to potential clients like the takeout food vendors as they want to keep costs down in a competitive business with thin margins, and asking them to spend more on packaging for environmental reasons is a tough sell.

But that hasn’t stopping other companies from entering the sustainable packaging market in Thailand. Like Universal Biopack, they’re betting on growing environmental awareness eventually leading to an increase in demand. To become more competitive, Suthep’s company is investing. It’s aiming to ramp up production by building a partially automated assembly line at its factory near Bangkok and doubling its staffing from 50 people to 100. The goal is to increase monthly capacity from 300,000 units to one million.

A lot of the demand comes from overseas. One of its customers uses the natural packaging for coconut water it exports. Universal Biopack says it’s also getting interest in its products from other countries, particularly in Scandinavia.
After growing rapidly in recent decades, Thailand has become one of Asia's biggest economies. But like many other countries in the region, it's been slow to try to combat the millions of tons of trash produced each year.

However, extensive R&D is still required to establish suitability of such packaging structures for direct food contact applications.

Exploring Alternatives to Multilayer Flexible Packaging for food

Over the last two decades, scores of multilayer structures based on a combination of polymers, paper & foil have been deployed for shelf life extension of food products ranging from milk, edible oil, etc.
This category of packaging format has contributed enormously to elimination of adulteration, wastage of food products & provided convenience & excitement across all age groups.

However, with the increased consumption of packaged foods, and the shift from rigid packaging formats to flexible for light- weighting & cost reduction, has brought alongwith it a new challenge to the industry.
Management of post consumer flexible laminates & multilayer structure s is now posing a bigger challenge & has now led us to think of new solutions for providing barrier protection, shelf life extension & minimizing food wastage.

Adani Wilmar to Replace its Fortune Edible Oil Packaging with Recyclable Material to Limit Environmental Waste

Building on its commitment to environmental sustainability, Adani Wilmar Limited, the largest seller of edible oil in the country, announced that it will undertake a gradual overhaul of its edible oil packaging to make it entirely recyclable from Q1 FY-2018

Currently, Adani Wilmar sources nearly 300 MT of plastic films for packaging per month and one kilogram of film produces approximate 130 pouches. As part of the plan, the fastest growing Indian food FMCG company will now source plastic films comprising a novel formulation of polyethylene (PE) resins to create a new, sustainable, all PE laminate solution from its dedicated supplier Vishakha Polyfab Private Limited (VPPL).

"Adani Wilmar is taking another step forward to establish strong adherence to environmental sustainability. The new edible oil packaging will be rolled out for 1 litre pouches for the first time ever in the industry, for our Fortune brand of edible oils initially and will successively cover our other sub-brands. We are talking of nearly 47 crore pouch/litres of oil per annum being packed sustainably. While no direct benefit is attributed to consumers, the empty pouches can now be resold to scrap dealers and recycled entirely instead of disposing and creating pressure on the environment. The cost of production rises minimally for us to incorporate the chemical that allows the packaging to be recycled.

The novel formulation of polyethylene (PE) resin has already been certified by the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET), an agency under the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Government of India. The certificate of endorsement states that the co-extruded multilayer film can be recycled. The new recyclable pouch has also passed the company's internal laboratory tests covering a DRAT Impact test, a drop test and an ink adhesion test.

Therefore, an attempt has been made to find an immediate solution for replacement of multilayer flexible structures & laminates.

Also this is an area where edible films & coatings which can fulfill the fundamental functions & demands of packaging can be looked at.

Going Forward

Going forward, demands on food packaging materials & technologies are going to become more & more challenging.

On the one hand; is the issue of food safety & wastage & on the other hand, to evolve a solution which is truly sustainable.

It is clear that these are opportunities for fundamental research in packaging in the coming decade.

Note: The paper is compiled on the basis of available & published information from various internet resources.

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