If you want to understand how changing consumer food tastes affect food packaging, just consider coffee.

Not so long ago, consumers bought coffee in round metal cans. Today, those cans have been replaced with flexible bags, molded plastic containers, single-serve pods and more — all of which compete for space on grocery store shelves.

And that’s just one of many competing trends that explain the complex challenges food manufacturers, grocers and meal kit services face in designing a product mix that anticipates and satisfies the variety consumers seek.

For packaging system designers, that translates into a need for greater packaging flexibility. If consumers prefer variety when they shop, food processors need flexible equipment that can change over seamlessly and quickly between products. Because flexibility and speed generally don’t mix, this means taking a fresh look at the high-speed packaging equipment that brings production costs down. Packaging line design is becoming a challenging field with potential for creativity.

For grocers that sell ready-to-eat foods, this trend may mean adding or enlarging off-site commissary kitchens where they prepare deli items that can be shipped daily to stores or direct to customers. Meal kit providers face similar challenges.

To be competitive, these facilities need to find ways to automate some, if not all, of the assembly and packaging processes without sacrificing the made-from-scratch appeal. The winners will be those that find ways to automate production and packaging of fresh sandwiches, salads and pizza in the morning for sale in stores the same day, or that can quickly fill insulated shipping boxes with the fresh ingredients needed to cook everything from chicken stir-fry to shepherd’s pie.

Back at the grocery store, consumer demand for variety is affecting packaging in other ways. Chains that formerly asked for individual jars, cans or bags to be packaged 12 or 16 to a case, for example, may now cut that number in half or less. Or they might ask for two bags each of three different flavors of potato chips in a single box, so they can maximize variety with limited storage space.

The bottom line is this: Retailers want more fresh choices for consumers. And they want packaging that makes it possible.


Automation and robotics can provide a competitive advantage for packaging processes. Learn about integrating these solutions in your current processes to reap safe, fast and reliable rewards.

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