“Oh look, produce. Tell me everything.”
Even three years ago, hearing this from a consumer may have sounded strange. It still does.
However, the far-reaching effects of the Coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic have transformed modern customers, inciting an almost desperate need to know the most information about nearly everything they eat.
In response, producers have tried to keep pace, innovating produce packaging, tracking would-be produce packaging trends, and siphoning out the essential elements consumers are searching for in order to see dividends. Bright color gradients and superficial customization no longer cut it, and flexible, plastic-free packaging can’t just be “nice to have.”
New technology is breeding new opportunities to connect with customers on a deeper level. Packaging can now entice on multiple fronts, telling stories and conveying brand values while ensuring the highest food quality, attractive design, and sustainable packaging to save the planet.
Why go to such lengths as a producer to create such a dynamic experience for something as timeless and essential as fruits, vegetables, and greens?
Delivering that experience creates a crucial first impression. It makes consumers more inclined to buy from you. Customers can also easily share that experience on social media, building better brand loyalty and helping you stand out.
So, as a producer looking to improve your produce packaging, where do you start?
We’ll explore six essential produce packaging trends for 2023 to help you optimize your customers’ experience and deliver a top-quality product to set you apart.
1.) PRODUCE PACKAGING TREND: TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION
Produce packaging innovation has seen exponential growth over the past decade due to new technological developments. With advancements in packaging substrates, expansion opportunities into new market segments, and changing ownership dynamics, the consumer journey and produce packaging production process have seen unprecedented improvement.
As you continue to integrate technological solutions, you can use them to reach higher marketing and efficiency plateaus and streamline your production. For produce packaging in 2023, more companies are turning leading-edge solutions such as:
SMART PACKAGING TECHNOLOGY
Companies realize the intrinsic value of leveraging technology-enabled solutions – QR codes, Near-Field Chip (NFC), and smart labels – to improve the product experience for the end user. You can tailor that engagement by providing the most information about your company and connect with the customer online through their devices.
Integrating smart packaging technology gives you the flexibility to offer the top forms of media and product marketing, including video, social media, and your brand story, seamlessly to build trust and customer loyalty.
The concept of production automation in produce packaging is not ground-breaking. However, in the wake of the Great Resignation – 2022’s ongoing labor crisis – and the subsequent lack of workers to fill production lines spots, automation is taking center stage as one of this year’s most important produce packaging trends.
You can integrate automation into every aspect of produce packaging, from primary product loading, handling, collating, and conveying to secondary packaging processes such as inspection, crating, weighing, and labeling (which can often be mundane and repetitive). Even palletizing is becoming fully automated in plants across every sector.
Adopting automation alleviates labor challenges, reduces labor spending by millions, and shows return on investment in less than TWO years. Plus, fully automated packaging is largely contactless and hands-free, an important consideration in the wake of new post-pandemic food safety standards.
PRODUCT TRACKING & CONTROL
In addition to production automation, technology can be essential in tracking and controlling the numerous factors that affect your produce. Temperature, pH, fermentation data – these elements help to guarantee flavor, freshness, and quality, and maintain compliance with national health requirements. By integrating advanced technology into your produce packaging, you can better maintain and monitor these factors, and stay in control from farm to table more effectively.
2.) PRODUCE PACKAGING TREND: FOOD SAFETY
Experts predict that the Produce Packaging Market will reach a valuation of $42.69 billion by 2027. This estimate is in large part due to the growth of whole and fresh-cut produce, as consumers continue to seek out healthier food options and ingredients.
This also means the customers’ quest for a healthier lifestyle and better food options almost guarantees a strong correlation between new produce packaging technologies and innovations in food safety.
The ultimate goal of producers in 2023 will be to preserve the shelf life of produce items and maintain the highest freshness, integrity, and hygiene standards. These efforts help avoid waste, keep customers happy, and improve overall production success through more meticulous processes and reputation preservation.
To meet these goals, producers must focus on their produce packaging elements that ensure no contamination. These can include airtight lids and films from tray sealing and secure vacuum-sealed thermoforming, as well as tamper-proof seals and other measures.
Companies are even going so far as to introduce and utilize temperature-controlled packaging to assure produce is delivered as described, without damage or spoiling. These efforts can safeguard your company’s success, trustworthiness, and brand identity and save you more by preventing reprocessing.
3.) PRODUCE PACKAGING TREND: SUSTAINABILITY
Sustainability is the packaging world’s newest darling and the buzzword you’ll hear in every conversation concerning future trends. And it deserves to be.
Consumers are waking up to global problems, such as large-scale pollution and climate change, and not asking but demanding more eco-friendly products and processes in all their purchasing experiences.
Produce packaging sits at the top of that list.
Factors like integrating recycled materials, cutting down on waste, and extending produce shelf life will only continue to gain traction into 2023, as consumers recognize that all packaging and production leave an eco-footprint. Producers will be tasked with promoting their overall sustainability yet simultaneously maintaining produce shelf life and freshness for the consumer experience.
For instance, customers often look at cucumbers wrapped in plastic as wasteful. However, encasing them in thermoformed recyclable plastic can extend the shelf life from 3-4 days to 15 days at a time. This process is better for food waste and more practical for the supply chain.
This example emphasizes the use of sustainable packaging materials rather than the elimination of produce packaging materials for the New Year. Customers are already showing their support by increasing their willingness to spending up to almost 70% with companies that utilize sustainable materials.
Popular Green Packaging for 2023
In response, producers and production are evolving as sustainable alternatives to traditional clamshell and other plastic packaging take center stage. Produce packaging has seen a dramatic rise in the use of corrugated cardboard for fruits, vegetables, and greens for both primary and secondary packaging.
Additionally, paperboard trays, such as G. Mondini’s PaperSeal, in vertical farming and other produce packaging innovations across tray sealing applications are quickly becoming the preferred packaging options as well.
The Importance of Sustainable Packaging in Production
Why such a dramatic push for eco-friendly packaging alternatives now?
Along with consumers, many packagers see harmful plastic packaging for natural produce as counterintuitive. As produce packaging trends for sustainable alternatives like bioplastics continues, CPG companies that opt for recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging will see better sales and adoption numbers overall than their competitors.
These trends aren’t simply organic occurrences recognized by the manufacturing sector. These changes are backed by factual data and expert predictions:
- Food and produce packaging (including flexible, rigid, and paper coating) was the largest market segment for bioplastics, accounting for approximately 1 million tons in 2021
- Global pulp and paper production will reach an unprecedented 490 million tons in 2023
- Shipping logistics tech giant Pitney Bowes predicts global parcel shipping volume will surpass 100 billion pieces in 2023
- The United States is set to surpass China as the largest producer of pulp and paper products over the next two years
Higher production of pulp and paper products, investments in circular economy development, and refining produce and food packaging will continue to be highlighted to battle adverse climate effects and provide eco-friendly packaging to meet higher customer demand.
4.) PRODUCE PACKAGING TREND: CUSTOMIZED PRODUCE PACKAGING
COVID-19, supply chain issues, and rising inflation have made cost the number one factor for shoppers purchasing fresh produce and groceries. As a result, shoppers are changing where and how they buy groceries and making substitutions and product changes to fit their new mindset.
According to a Nielson report from 2015, the average consumer spends only 13 seconds when purchasing a brand in-store. Club sale giant Costco claims you only have FIVE. As a producer trying to stand out on shelves, you need to convey the benefits, attributes, and information about your products to customers to ease that choice.
Customized produce packaging that features clear, easy-to-read information will help your customers make that decision faster and with more regularity. Simple, harmonious designs are shaping the produce packaging landscape for 2023, as they convey the internal contents of the packaging with optimal transparency.
Many producers are opting for personalized packaging that offers 360 degrees of product visibility. As a result, options such as PaperSeal trays for microgreens and customized, sustainable vertical form fill and seal (VFFS) packaging with small die-cut windows are becoming very popular.
Personalized produce packaging is bridging the gap between customer expectations and product reality. Consumers are looking for produce that is not only fresh and delicious but stylish and personalized to their unique tastes.
The key to this personalized produce packaging trendsetting comes down to main elements:
- Transparency for judging product quality
- Clear and legible product information
- Certification stamps (USDA Organic, Certified, Humane, Non-GMO Project Verified, etc.)
This customization can be applied to various packaging formats (bags, boxes, pouches) through individualized packaging films and automated labeling techniques available during both primary and secondary retail packaging.
5.) PRODUCE PACKAGING TREND: STORYTELLING
While eye-catching appearance and advanced technology are turning heads, consumers are moving past the product when making produce purchases and connecting with brands on a more emotional level. They’re turning inward to examine their values and looking for their trusted brands to do the same.
Shoppers want to know why they should choose your product and what your brand can offer to the world at large. While adapting your produce packaging to this trend is no easy task, when done right, it transforms consumers from interested impulse buyers to loyal lifelong customers, as your product and values align perfectly with theirs.
By making that connection and sharing your story and values on your packaging, you can improve customer loyalty, shelf space, and increase revenue.
What key moves can you make for adapting your produce packaging to better tell your brand story?
- Develop a dynamic brand story, complete with history and mission
- Integrate technology like QR codes for interactive online connection and entertainment
- Incorporate bold colors, original imagery and artwork (albeit with limited space and simple design)
Above all, when implementing all these storytelling elements, be sure your message is still easy to comprehend. Consumers have less time to invest while they shop, so a clear brand message and straightforward design are always crucial. Done correctly, your customers get a taste of the rich tales behind your brand and enjoy your artwork’s substance simultaneously.
6.) PRODUCE PACKAGING TREND: MINIMALISM
Many companies have begun to move away from the cluttered plastic packaging of the past when Incorporating design, brand story, and function into produce packaging. Instead, they are embracing sustainable simplicity that accompanies a more minimalistic approach, integrating clear labeling and recyclable materials in their produce package design.
Less is more, right? In all ways, yes.
For consumers, minimalism means spending less when stocking their refrigerators with only essential items. Consumers are more inclined to buy when produce takes up less shelf space and can be stacked and stored quickly and consistently.
Plus, minimalism gives them a breath of fresh air and allows them to absorb the highlighted values of your brand and products. The simplicity of minimalist packaging makes produce products look clean, elegant, and refreshing.
Minimalism in Produce Packaging Production
Minimalist packaging also makes sense for your production. Smaller and more efficient packaging costs less to produce and transport, reducing annual costs and higher revenue. In addition to the visual appeal, minimalism is also proven to cut down on pointless add-ons such as plastic sleeving and other non-essential packaging elements.
Transforming Produce Packaging Trends into Industry Truth
The pandemic has made consumers more aware of the produce they eat, its origins, and it’s the future of its packaging. These evolving produce packaging trends have springboarded from this awareness to where shoppers now demand smarter, more convenient, more sustainable packaging solutions.
Innovating is the only way for your brand and products to gain an essential advantage in an already crowded marketplace. This process means adopting guided experimentation in technology, design, and application to suit your values and changing customer needs.
Harpak-ULMA Packaging is adept at transforming burgeoning trends into trusted solutions and helping your production stay ahead.
Talk to our produce packaging experts. Let us be your packaging partner and help you adjust to industry trends to usher in new commercial success for your produce packaging.