To today’s consumers, transparency equals trust. Not just in how foods are sourced and produced, but also in how they are packaged for grab and go.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor
It has long been known that consumers eat first with their eyes, so see-through packaging is the best way to tempt consumers to grab a tasty-looking sandwich, salad or snack from a convenience store cooler.
In a Food Packaging Trends report released this year by Mintel Group Ltd, 38% of consumers said they would be motivated to choose one food product over another if the packaging allowed them to view the contents.
For the grab-and-go sandwiches at his two Kansas Zarco USA stores, owner Scott Zaremba switched from “exotic packaging” with printing and a see-through window to plain cellophane wrapping last year. Not only did the change save Zaremba a considerable amount of money, but sales of the pre-made sandwiches quadrupled.
“Cellophane packaging makes the sandwiches look more like mom made them and communicates to customers that they are hand-made in house,” he said. “It looks more personal and less industrial.”
To complete the packaging, Zaremba now prints out his own labels as needed rather than having them preprinted as he did in the past.
The labels include the sandwich ingredients as well as “made on” and “sell by” dates.
“It’s much more cost effective, especially if something, like an ingredient, changes,” Zaremba said. “I don’t have to go and get a whole new batch of labels printed.”
Zaremba is even changing from waxed paper to cellophane for his made-to-order Sandbar Subs, which are available at his East 23rd Street c-store and two free-standing locations. The new packaging is secured with a Sandbar Sub logo label.
Hot foods such as made-to-order omelets, biscuits and gravy and hot dogs still require Styrofoam, Zaremba said. The c-store stocks only two sizes to keep his packaging inventory under control.
At Englefield Oil Co.’s Duchess convenience stores, fresh-to-go sandwiches used to be wrapped in cellophane off of a roll. About 18 months ago, the stores began using clear plastic envelope bags instead, a move that has made packaging the sandwiches easier and quicker. The bags boast a seal with the Duchess logo.
“We tried clear plastic clamshell packaging, but it was much, much more expensive and they were so large, we couldn’t fit as many as we wanted to into our four-foot to six-foot-long cold cases,” said Judy Dudte, director of food service for Duchess, which operates 119 stores in Ohio and West Virginia. “Besides, the clamshell packaging wasn’t airtight and we would lose shelf life.”
The company views the new packaging as an upgrade for its customers because it makes it quicker, easier and more convenient for them to pick up their favorite sandwiches, Dudte said.
Carl Hitt, Jr., director of retail operations at Wi-Not Stop and its 11 locations in Virginia, prefers the clear plastic clamshell packaging for his company’s store-made triangle sandwiches and subs. For its subs, the c-store uses dome-shaped packages.
“People like to see what they’re getting and if they don’t see the whole product, they have a tendency to squeeze the packaging to get a better look,” Hitt said.
Unlike Dudte, Hitt reasons that sandwiches packaged in the clamshells have a better shelf life than those in plastic or cellophane bags. For its daily hot lunch and dinner entrees and sides, which may be anything from fried chicken to spaghetti and meatballs and are served from behind the deli counter, Wi-Not Stop uses a three-compartment, Styrofoam container—with a lid—and also adorned with the company’s logo label.
With snacking on the rise among on-the-go Americans, 36% of consumers are interested in packaging that allows food to be eaten on the go, according to Mintel. To merchandise cut-up fresh fruits and vegetables, Duchess uses a clear, 12-ounce cold cup with a logo. A small container of dip also fits into the cup. Wi-Not Stop also uses a car cup holder-friendly container for its fresh produce snacks and yogurt parfaits.
Knowing that its customers are interested in eco-friendly packaging wherever possible, Wi-Not Shop has been using totally compostable cups to serve its Rainforest Fair Trade coffee for the past few years.
“The price for the compostable cup is a little higher than for a regular cup, but we feel that it was a good move,” Hitt said. “Our customers like the fact that both the coffee and the cup are better for the environment.”
In the Mintel packaging study, a majority of consumers said that they would like to see more eco-friendly packaging solutions. Eighty percent said they believe that curbing packaging waste is just as critical as cutting food waste.
To make sure the packaging fits the specific needs of the foodservice item inside, retailers should bring the packaging providers into the development process as early as possible, said Lynn Dyer, president of the Food Packaging Institute (FPI). Meetings should include not just the food research and development personnel, but also the marketing and store operations people in the company to make sure the packaging works on all levels, Dyer said.
A good place to start is by filling out a packaging request form on FPI’s Website (www.fpi.org). From this form, the organization matches retailers with the packaging providers who can best meet their specific needs. FPI represents about 85% of the nation’s packaging manufacturers and membership is free for convenience store retailers.
Before signing a contract with the provider, retailers should test the packaging in the real world scenario in their stores, Dyer said. And they should make sure they know what state-of-the art options exist. For example, she pointed out that new coatings for paper products are making them more recyclable and compostable.
In addition to showcasing product, branded packaging can be a walking billboard for c-store retailers.
“Small companies that have limited budgets can use something as simple as generic stock packaging with a sticker label to personalize it,” Dyer said. “Larger companies can do customized graphics and sizes and even novelty shapes.”
She pointed to a pizza chain that last year offered a five-foot-long pie. The company had to have a special box designed to hold the behemoth pizza, but it sold well because people liked the novelty. Recently, Pizza Hut introduced a box with a playable Flick Football Field on top complete with goal posts, football triangles and a score card.
Dyer recommended operators should try to find packaging that can be used for multiple food items. She recalled a quick-service restaurant that had different printing on each of the four corners of its wrappers. Depending on what food item was inside, that particular part of the wrapper was folded to the outside so consumers could easily see the intended labeling for that offering.