( Photo by The Packer staff )

What is the biggest change in packaging coming in the next five years?

That was the question I recently posed to the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group, and the answers from group members had some common themes. 

Reduction of plastic use was one of those expectations.

Packaging that can extend the shelf life of produce and be compostable at the same time could be the most significant innovation over the next five years. But one industry leader said moving too fast without real innovation is perilous.

“To me, if we remove packaging but retailers have lots of shrink and consumers lots of waste at home, then we accomplish nothing,” said Robert Boudreau, vice president of sales and business development for North America and Europe for the Montreal, Canada-based Connexion Group.

Mick Heatherington, vice president of sales at Prophet North America, Thousand Oaks, Calif., said he hopes for greater development and use of sustainable and biodegradable packaging. 

“Plastic use must decrease and it would be great to see the produce industry be the leader on this,” Heatherington said. 

“It’s a bit of a catch-22; traceability is so much easier when the produce is packed and you can get an identifier on the pack. However it’s not feasible or desirable to consumer-pack all produce.”

Along the same line, Calvin Andersen, sales engineer at Wisconsin-based B&R Industrial Automation, said that transparency and traceability advances can be expected.

Collecting temperature data from packing to sale will be more common, and transparency will be added to allow customers to see where a product came from and who handled it, Andersen said.

That theme was echoed by Kanu Kalola, sales director at Texas-based Teksun Inc. Artificial intelligence and the “internet of things” with blockchain distributed ledger will provide 100% transparency and traceability from seed to fork, Kalola said. 

The rise of hemp farming could lead to more use of hemp plastic in packaging, since the material is biodegradable in 90 days, he believes.

A packaging and films consultant for the food industry said that the trend seems to be shifting from bio-based packaging (“compostable”) to “sustainable” with high levels of PCR (post-consumer recycled content). 

“Brands such as Trader Joe’s and Aldi are stepping up and switching from harder-to-recycle PP to more expensive RePET,” he said. 

“All plastics are recyclable but without the infrastructure, recycling PET water bottles is the best we can do for now.” 
In addition, the consultant said source reduction, such as switching from clamshells to a film seal over a tray, is gaining momentum.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s editor. E-mail him at [email protected]

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