|Appropriate Food Packaging (Tool)|
|1 Food and packaging|
Food has been processed and packaged since the earliest days of man's history on earth. Meat and fish were salted, smoked and dried. Herbs were dried and stored for use as medicines. Alcoholic beverages were made from fruits and cereals. In the early days of traditional food processing the main aim was preservation to maintain a supply of wholesome, nutritious food during the year and in particular to preserve it for hungry periods, for example when hunting was poor. Food was seldom sold but traded and bartered.
While food processing still has the main objective of providing a safe nutritious diet in order to maintain health other aspects, particularly the generation of wealth for the producer and seller, have become increasingly important.
With the change from traditional to industrial food processing there has also been a change in the types of product processed. Traditional processors worked with foods that grew locally and the methods they developed were in harmony with the climate in which they lived. Only simple packaging using leaves, animal skins and pottery was possible and necessary to protect the food for its planned storage life. Nowadays non-traditional crops are grown all over the world. For example, the potato which originated in Peru, rice which came from Asia, and numerous fruits and vegetables are now grown away from their area of origin This together with consumer demand influenced by radio, advertising and television has lead to a demand for non-traditional foods that are not appropriate to the local environment. They need special processing and packaging to protect them for their required storage life.
While most people in the world still rely on traditional foods
for their basic diet those in industrialized centres tend more and more to
purchase processed and packaged foodstuffs for convenience. The increasing
number of women who now work away from home adds additional
pressure for such changes. Even people with a heavily traditional diet are demanding external products either as occasional treats, such as gassy drinks or basic commodities such as white sugar and flour.
To meet these demands the industrial food processing sector has emerged. Food and crop processing is generally considered to be the largest industry in most countries. Studies in several developing countries for example have shown that up to 25% of the urban population can be involved in making or selling ready-to-eat meals. While in developed countries food processing is almost totally carried out in large, automated factories small-scale food processing still remains a vitally important economic activity in the developing world. The small-scale food processing sector:
- is a major source of employment,
- adds value to crops by processing,
- is a major source of food in the diet,
- in some cases, by export, earns valuable foreign exchange,
- provides opportunities for import substitution,
- benefits a large number of poor people, such as farmers, packaging suppliers and vendors.
The small-scale food processing sector is however under increasing threat and competition from large manufacturers who, through economies of scale and better presentation and marketing, can put them out of business. The powerful large-scale food sector is also often able to influence government and international policies and laws and so prevent the small manufacturer from entering production or selling in a particular market.
Much of the customer appeal of foods produced in large factories in reality lies less with the food itself than with the appearance, presentation and advertising used to sell it. Good packaging lies at the very heart of presentation and thus customer appeal. It is an area of vital importance for small and medium food manufacturers if they are going to continue to compete and expand.
Good packaging serves two purposes are essentially technical and presentational.
Technical changes in packaging aim to extend the shelf-life of the product by better protecting the food from all the hazards it will meet in storage, distribution and use. Changing from one type of plastic bag to another for example may mean that less moisture from the atmosphere is absorbed into the food so extending the shelf-life. Making the bag re-closable in addition would mean that the customer could keep the food in good condition for forger in the home. If shelf-life is extended then it may be possible to market the product over a bigger area so increasing sales
Presentational aspects of packaging do not actually do anything to make the food keep longer or in better condition. Such packaging increases sales by creating a brand image that the buyer instantly recognises. It also aims to appeal to the customer in terms of shape, size, colour, convenience, etc.
The ultimate aim of good packaging is increased sales against any competition and thus improved income for the producer. This cannot be achieved without a cost. It is not only the direct cost of the packaging material that needs to be considered but other changes such as different processing systems, purchase of fillers, staff training, etc.
The small and medium-scale food manufacturer considering improvements to their existing packaging system face difficult decisions that will need careful thought and investigation. One of the central problems is the impossibility of really knowing if the proposed changes will indeed result in increased sales that will have to be made to meet the costs involved. In addition, for most small producers, the choice is really not theirs but dictated by what kinds of packaging are locally available. In most cases it will not be possible to select the best type of package but only select the best of available alternatives.
Some of the positive and negative factors that need to be thought about are included in Table 1-1.
By how much will the shelf-life be extended?
Will food losses be reduced?
Can this result in a wider distribution, if so at what cost?
If returnable containers are used by how much will transport rise?
Will the new packaging give entry to a new area of the market?
How much more competitive will be product be?
How much will the new packaging raise the product's selling
Will new equipment be needed, at what cost?
Will staff need special training and higher pay?
Will special quality control measures have to be set up?
Will external experts need to be used?
Table 1-1: Positive and negative factors of packaging
As well as considering various types of industrial food packaging and their application, this book also briefly examines related areas such as re-cycling and economic aspects of the use of different materials.
With the increasing use of plastic packaging the whole subject of damage to the environment is becoming of increasing concern One main problem is that plastic packaging is invariably cheaper than alternatives such as glass. If glass is given a monetary value of 10, then tins cost 6 to 8 units while plastic costs 3 to 8. The shift to plastic, at the present time, therefore appears unstoppable. However re-cycling and re-use of packaging can not only generate jobs and wealth but save energy and help to protect the environment A study carried out in Thailand, for example states that it would be possible to set up a $40 million a year industry based on recycling paper, cardboard and plastics.
In its final section this book considers some economic aspects of packaging changes. Not only must the direct cost of the pack be thought about but other associated costs such as equipment and training. Economic choices can be difficult and complicated. A glass container for example, is more expensive than a tin can. It can, however, be re-used, which may in the long run make it cheaper. The manufacturer would need to think about how many times the same bottle could be re-used, the costs of collection and costs involved in washing and preparing the returned bottles.
It is hoped that this book will assist the small and medium food manufacturer to consider not only which packaging is best for their product but other related aspects. The whole package including its materials, label and shipping container should be considered as part of the overall business plan and not, as often happens, as an afterthought. The book is mainly written for entrepreneurs who wish to increase their sales and competitiveness by improving their business. Some of the technologies described may appear too large and costly for the very small cottage industry sector. In many cases, however, it is companies from this sector which, with advice and good management, have grown into well known brand names.
It is also hoped that this publication will be of interest to food research institutions, non-government organizations, development workers and extension workers who are involved in projects to improve the small-scale food processing industry sector.
It is believed that this book is somewhat unique in the bibliography of packaging, concentrating as it does on the small-scale application of packaging against a background of basic food technology.