SUMMARY 

Individual packaging grows in importance

Packaging is vital for food safety

 

Individual packaging grows in importance

Which societal trends are driving this evolution?

In recent years, more and more individually packaged goods are appearing on store shelves. This is especially true for perishable products. What triggered this trend? What is the usefulness of such single servings? ‘Consumers take less time on various daily tasks, are living more often alone, and are increasingly demanding. 

Single servings capitalize on these trends,’ says trend watcher Herman Konings.


More and more single person homes

Belgian society has changed tremendously over the past thirty years. Not the least of which is the composition of the family. Since the 1970s, more and more people are living on their own. The number of divorces in Belgium has more than quadrupled. In addition, the number of men and women that have chosen to remain single has increased substantially.

The food industry has responded with individually packaged food products. In addition, the products are proportioned to the needs of a single person. What use is a family pack of meat to a person living alone? A smaller package reduces the risk of spoilage.

However, do people who live alone always consume on their own? ‘This is certainly not the case all the time. In our line of business we define a person living alone as a person who consumes alone if he or she does not share a laundry basket,’ explains Konings.

Do single servings save time?

There is more to the increased popularity of single servings. ‘People also take less time with various daily tasks,’ states Konings. ‘This is expressed in their eating habits, among other things. They increasingly, for instance, eat breakfast or lunch on the way to work. This has become extremely easy thanks to individually packaged snacks and other food products.

’ The amount of spare time has decreased more for women than for men. Women are becoming increasingly active and are climbing higher up the corporate ladder. But this does not occur at the expense of their household activities; on the contrary. Konings: ‘Even though more and more women have a busy job, they still take charge of the biggest part of the domestic chores. Hence, single servings come in handy. They help save valuable time.’ The cookie box is a perfect example. Since families are smaller than in the past, the content of the cookie box is eaten far less quickly. Consequently, the risk increases that the last cookies are less palatable and that they end up in the garbage bin and new ones have to be purchased. By packaging them individually, the cookies will remain fresh longer. And the family has to rush to the store less frequently.’

 

Good to remember

  • Belgium has an increasing number of divorces and single men and women. Single servings focus on the needs of the individual consumer.
  • Belgian men and women take less time to cook than previously. Individually packaged goods allow them to save time.
  • Consumers are increasingly concerned about their health. Portion size is important in a healthy and balanced meal.

 

 

Individual portions for a healthy, balanced meal 

Consumers are more conscious of what they eat. They want to be sure that what they eat is healthy. The composition of the product plays an important role as well as the size of the portion. What does it take to offer someone a healthy and balanced meal and in what amount? Food producers answer these questions by adjusting their packaging and by informing them about this via the packaging.

Which packaging trends are still to be expected?

Due to their increasing commitments, consumers are more conscious of wasting products. Single servings give more control over the spoilage of packaged food. ‘Intelligent’ packages take things a step further. They inform the consumer of which products in the refrigerator are reaching their end date. Such types of packaging have the potential to cause a real revolution in the future,’ concludes Konings.

For additional information   

 

 

 

Packaging is vital for food safety  

Production and storage also play a part  

Packaging protects products against external hazards. Individual packaging takes it a step further by protecting individual products from contaminating each other. This does not, however, imply that all food safety issues have been tackled.

Protection against unhygienic conditions 

Packaging creates a physical barrier between food and the outside world. It protects the food against bacteria, spores, and viruses that travel by air. It also offers protection against contact with toxic substances such as the detergents used to clean the refrigerators at home and in the store.

Packaging, however, does not protect against potential hazards that lurk inside the food itself. In other words, food still risks being contaminated before it is packaged. For example, meat needs to be boned and cut to appropriate size. Lettuce, carrots, and eggs need to be processed in order to make a ready-to-eat salad. During those steps, harmful microorganisms can come into contact with the food. Raw chicken meat, for instance, is sensitive to campylobacter and sandwiches risk infection with Norwalk virus. The food processing industry follows very strict rules to guarantee hygiene during the production process. This helps prevent, reduce, or fully eliminate any risk of contamination.  

Storage life depends on process hygiene, time, temperature, and packaging 

Bacteria can multiply rapidly after a certain amount of time, even when the food is produced under the most hygienic circumstances. Food products are perishable. The storage life depends strongly upon storage conditions.

There are innovative types of packaging that prolong storage life. Vegetables and sandwich filling, for instance, are often packaged in a modified atmosphere where the composition of the air inside the packaging is adjusted to prolong the food’s storage life. However, packaging alone is not enough to guarantee a long storage life.

The storage time and temperature inside refrigerators are crucial factors as well. The product label is legally required to inform the consumer of the ultimate storage date, the optimal storage temperature, etc. There is also intelligent packaging that informs consumers when the product has not been stored optimally or when a product reaches its ultimate storage date (also read our February 2009 Prevent Pack for an extensive dossier on intelligent packaging).

 

Good  to remember 

  • The food processing industry follows very strict rules during the production of food products. In this way, it prevents products from being contaminated before being packaged.
  • Packaged food can be stored longer. However, the storage time and temperature also play a crucial role.
  • Regulations stipulate strict requirements for the labelling and packaging of food products, such as for the materials that come into direct contact with the food.

 

Strict regulations for packaging materials

Packaging protects, but it is also a potential source of risk. Plastics, paper, cardboard, and other packaging materials that come into contact with the food can react with it and affect its safety. That is why materials that are in contact with food products need to comply with strict regulations. The European Guideline EG 1935/2004, for instance, stipulates the allowable limits on the exchange of substances between the food and its packaging. This protects the consumer’s health and ensures safe composition and organoleptic characteristics of the packaged food. The company that manufactures the packaging needs to deliver a written statement of compliance that states that the delivered packaging complies with all legal requirements. 

 Individual versus family packs 

In recent years, more and more food products are being packaged individually. Individual packaging provides greater protection for the food against external hazards. Moreover, smaller portions reduce the risk that the consumer has to store an open pack for later use. Once the packaging has been opened, food risks perishing more quickly. However, some questions remain. Is individual packaging also better in terms of food safety? With smaller portions, the food is in contact with more surface area of the packaging. Is it thus at greater risk of potential contamination? Does this mean that the legal conditions for individual packaging need to be even more stringent? This is still not clear. 

For additional information

  • FASFC, the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain, checks the entire food chain from raw material to finished product: www.favv.be
  • FEVIA, the federation for the food industry, unites all food processing companies in Belgium: www.fevia.be
  • The federal public service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment lays down all the legal regulations for the food industry in Belgium: www.health.fgov.be
  • Interreg IVB project Greencook: www.green-cook.org