I’ll Take my Food to Go, in Convenient Sustainable Packaging!

By Harpak-ULMA
Posted In : Food Packaging, Packaging, Sustainability in Packaging, Sustainability, convenient, millennials

Millennials prefer eating out, ordering in, and snacking. They also want their food in convenient sustainable packaging.

Millennials are shifting the food market from home cooking to convenient snacking, prepared meals, carry-out, and delivery. Moreover, millennials want to eat food from establishments and brands that keep sustainability in mind. This combination of convenience-oriented eating and sustainability demands puts packaging in the spotlight.

Consumer Habits

According to a survey, 88% of 18-34 year old millennial consumers take advantage of carryout, while only 14% of all participating consumers don’t order carry out at least once a month. For those who do order carry out, 33% are placing orders more often than once a month, including 49% more often for millennials. Additionally, 82% surveyed order delivery at least once a month.[1]

Another report by the USDA states that millennials eat over 13% less of their meals at home than the traditionalists generation. Instead, they are eating out at bars and restaurants around 30% more than older generations. With the increased mealtime outside the home and a preference to order prepared food, less time is being devoted by millennials for food preparation, presentation, and cleaning. To be exact, the USDA study concludes that millennials spend 55 minutes less time in those areas than Gen X’ers, who spend 143 minutes.[2]

The lack of time spent in the kitchen highlights the millennial generations preference for convenient options.

Another factor that takes millennials out of the kitchen is their affinity to snack. Per Forbes, 25% of millennials are likely to snack four or more times per day. Overall, 94% of Americans snack at least 1-2 times per day.[3] Convenient sustainable packaging is a must for snacking; most snacking happens on the run, or at least not at a table, where the packaging serves as the plate.

Convenient Sustainable Packaging Is Big Business

It’s no secret that constantly eating out, ordering in, and purchasing snacks is expensive. In fact, a report conducted by Accenture research pointed out that each year, millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, spend about $1,672 dining out. As a group, the U.S. has about 80 million millennials totaling a whopping $600 billion in spending power.[4]

Because of millennial consumers’ dining preferences and the change in consumer dining trends, several food service options have benefited. Perhaps the most noteworthy industry beneficiary is delivery services. Restaurants, not just typical delivery restaurants like pizza and Chinese, are partnering with third party delivery services to capitalize on consumer habits. Third party services like Uber Eats, GrubHub, and Post Mates, along with traditional delivery methods, make up the growing delivery industry.

It’s growing incredibly fast too. UBS, an investment bank, reported the industry is projected to grow by 20% annually reaching $365 billion worldwide by 2030.[5]

Another food service beneficiary of current millennial trends are food subscription boxes. Companies like Freshly, Hello Fresh, and MunchPak are capitalizing on millennials’ preference for convenience. Services like these offer pre-made meals, a variety of snacks, and even raw ingredients with recipes to cook. These food subscription boxes offer convenient and time saving snack and ready meal solutions. The overall subscription box economy grew 890% from 2014 to 2018. Specifically for food box websites, in April of 2018, 34% of subscription box website visits were food companies.[6]

Convenient Sustainable Packaging Captures the Millennial Market

To capture the lucrative millennial market, restaurants, delivery companies, and other stakeholders must use packaging that is not only effective, but sustainable. Consumers, especially millennials, want to purchase goods that make sustainability a top priority. So much so that a Nielson report found that 75% of millennials alter their food purchasing habits because of the environment.[7]

Packaging is an important place to start when assessing sustainability for a food service company. Delivery and take out packaging produce millions of tons of trash, either by consumers not recycling, or being unable to recycle the packaging. In a study done by the EPA, they found that food packaging makes up about 45% of all materials in U.S. landfills.[8] Not all of that is produced from take out, to-go containers, and similar type packaging, but that type of packaging certainly contributes.

So, what can be done? For convenience food stakeholders, assessing your current packaging practices is a good first step. Ask yourself questions like; am I using too much packaging? Am I using non-recyclable materials, such as Styrofoam? What more sustainable materials can I switch to?

Additionally, restaurants can let consumers bring their own to go containers, or even sell branded re-usable containers. Despite some restaurateurs’ sanitation concerns, there has been a push for consumers to bring their own clean containers, especially among all the publicized criticism with plastics. It will also save on container costs and reduce waste.

For snack consumer packaged goods (CPGs), convenience and packaging sustainability are crucial to capture the millennial market. A typical snack you would purchase from a convenience store, like chips or a candy bar, uses metalized polypropylene film. There are also rigid packaging materials in food packaging that are sometimes difficult to recycle. Consider switching out difficult to recycle materials, like metalized film, for cellulose film and more eco-friendly options.

A newer popular trend for CPGs, including snack brands, is using stand-up flexible pouches. They provide convenience because they stand up and feature resealable options. The downside to flexible pouches is that they are not always easy to recycle due to being made of multiple materials. However, they provide supply chain benefits because the flexibility makes it possible for more pouches to fit in a shipment, reducing greenhouse emissions.

Finally, your packaging machine manufacturer should be a partner in helping to design and deliver a more sustainable package for your product.

[1] Restaurant Business, “THE CONSUMER CARRYOUT CRAZE”

[2] USDA, “Food Purchase Decisions of Millennial Households Compared to Other Generations”



[5] Forbes, “Millennials Are Ordering More Food Delivery, But Are They Killing The Kitchen, Too?”

[6] Forbes, “The Subscription Box Business Continues To Grow And Change”


[8] EPA, “Reducing Wasted Food & Packaging: A Guide for Food Services and Restaurants”