Packaging For The “Radical Chic” Culture

Jumbo, Breda – the Netherlands

Jumbo, Breda – the Netherlands

Beginning of this month Pack2Go Europe and the (US) Foodservice Packaging Institute held a joint meeting in London. I had the pleasure to be invited as a speaker. In my brief I focussed on the group of food service outlets, which, in my opinion, will revolutionise the food service packaging over the next few years. Here is an extract of my brief.

The impulse of the “radical chic” culture
As a consequence of several food scandals and under the impulse of the “radical chic” culture, a culture, which is looking for authentic, hand-crafted products, the food service industry is confronted with a revolution.
Food trucks (not to be confused with street food), convenience stores, corner stores, delis, food stores (sometimes called food markets) and neighbourhood and ethnic supermarkets with a fresh food counter, are dominating this movement, focuses strongly on a hand-crafted gastronomy.

Food Truck in New York

Food Truck in New York

And this isn’t a fad, not even a trend. It’s a gastronomic revolution in its own right, as they offer a food made of high-quality, local, seasonal and ethnic ingredients, using original natural recipes.

In these newly emerging markets, packaging just plays second fiddle. In this environment the packaging isn’t the motor to close the purchasing deal.
It’s completely different from the supermarket environment, where the packaging is the first item the consumer experiences of a product. There, his decision to buy is greatly energised by the packaging.
In the environment, we are talking about today, the consumer’s decision what to buy has nothing to do with the packaging. He doesn’t buy a packaged product.
He is looking at naked, unpackaged food items and tries to make a selection for a great tasting, fresh and healthy lunch or dinner. Packaging isn’t on his mind at all.

Harvest Market in Calais, France

Harvest Market in Calais, France

The carefully manufactured packaging isn’t part of the selling process. It´s pushed to the backstage and only starts participating in the emotional experience AFTER the purchasing process.

This means that in contrast to a packaging shining on the supermarket shelves, the food service packaging for the mentioned group of outlets doesn’t need to be exhibitionistic or glamorous. It has to be functional. That’s almost the only requirement.

Packaging in the new era
Imagine the consumer standing in front of a counter with freshly prepared food items and making a choice. She will point to various items she wants. But don`t forget, and I have wrote about this many, many times, the contemporary consumer isn’t buying a product, she is buying a solution for a specific occasion. If she had a hard day in the office, she will probably buy something sober. If she had a successful day, she might choose more exclusive and richer food items. If she feels cold she buys a stew, if it’s sunny, she goes for a fresh salad.
She is creating something special for the end of her day. Again packaging isn’t on her mind.

Jumbo, Breda – Netherlands The concept aims to connect the customer with the enjoyment of food by giving him the confidence to vary the everyday dishes.

Jumbo, Breda – Netherlands
The concept aims to connect the customer with the enjoyment of food by giving him the confidence to vary the everyday dishes.

For the “barista” behind the counter, it’s different.
Note: I know that barista is exclusively related to coffee. I use the word here for somebody working behind the food counter, as I don’t have a better word for it.
He has to foresee how many items the consumer chooses and how to get that into a packaging as economically and as attractively as possible. Be reminded that we are not talking about junk food outlets, where portions are standardised and consequently the packaging.
We talk about outlets with a personalised food service approach, where after the selection, packaging comes from the backstage to the front.

The Packaging Requirements
When the consumer opens her lunch or dinner packaging and sees that the by her carefully selected high-quality food items are transformed into an undefinable mass of debris, she never will return to that place again.

This, of course, doesn't fit in the “radical chic” culture.

This, of course, doesn’t fit in the “radical chic” culture.

And unfortunately she will always blame the packaging for it.
But when she opens the packaging and sees her delicious choice carefully stored, she will not only enjoy her meal, but probably return to that particular shop, thanks to the way her dinner was packaged.

But there is more. Although we have concluded that the packaging has a backseat in these food outlets, at the end the consumer has a confrontation with the packaging. It’s crucial for the reputation of the food shop that the packaging format meets the preferences of the consumer. If not, she might see it as a reason not to return.

Recent consumer surveys show that four out of five consider packaging as important when making purchasing decisions and 85% consider packaging material part of the experience. This points irrevocably in the direction of sustainable packaging and indeed the reports conclude that the consumer considers fibre-based packaging materials to be by far the most sustainable packaging material.

And neither this. Polystyrene and similar are out of the question.

And neither this. Polystyrene and similar are out of the question.

Does that mean the end of the plastic packaging in food service? Of course not! But the focus has to be on bio-based or recyclable material in the first place and we have to strive to more designs in the hybrid category, resulting in a combination or even fusion in one way or another of paperboard and plastics.

Let me make a remark before I continue.
The problem with trying to predict the future food service packaging is that you aren’t able to show any examples. That, of course, is a general problem, when speaking about the future. In an attempt to illustrate the direction in which packaging designs will move, I use existing designs, which, in whole or part, represent the basics of future designs of food service packaging.
Keep in mind that I’m not a designer. I’m an engineer and only look at the technical aspects and the functionality.
So, back to the story.

Design Ideas for the One-dish lunch
For creative design of an all-round one-dish take-away packaging, we best visit some Asian countries, where the take-away food culture is much more sophisticated. The Philippines and Indonesia are beautiful examples.

The Guactruck in Manila serves Mexican inspired Filipino rice dishes. Using only one piece of paperboard.

The Guactruck in Manila serves Mexican inspired Filipino rice dishes.
Using only one piece of paperboard.

The Guactruck in Manila serves Mexican inspired Filipino rice dishes. Using only one piece of paperboard, and no glue or plastic, the simple origami inspired design resembles a bud blossoming into a flower. The creativity and aesthetics of the design highlight the environmental aspect, the biodegradability and recyclability.

150234-The Origami Food Box, designed by Michealle Lee for Guactruck in Manila, Philippines W540 100dpi

The Origami Food Box, designed by Michealle Lee for Guactruck in Manila, Philippines

On top of that the owners believe that they are responsible for everything that comes out of their truck, may it be waste, food or packaging. A self-imposed Extended Product Responsibility, you could say, as they encourage their customers to return the packaging for recycling.
This ethical mentality perfectly fits in the “radical chic” culture. It´s the way to seduce the consumer.

This origami-inspired design can be executed in many forms and formats. Just look at the variations to the same basic design. Have a look at the slide-show.

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Of course there are dishes you can’t serve in a paperboard origami and we have to look at a hybrid or plastic receptacle. As we speak about a plastic receptacle we often see a cheap, unappetising solution. It’s absolutely imperative that the food service outlets offer more elegance.

Here is an example, which was recently launched for a French casserole. Gendreau in France imitates an old fashioned iron cooking pot, the pots have been designed with a red exterior and a black interior amazingly. Amazingly it didn’t make the mistake as so many plastic packaging manufacturers make.

Thermoformed PP tray in the style of a casserole dish for Gendreau, a French ready-to-eat meal manufacturer. Packaging manufactured by RPC.

Thermoformed PP tray in the style of a casserole dish for Gendreau, a French ready-to-eat meal manufacturer. Packaging manufactured by RPC.

Let me explain this. A transparent packaging is only of interest in the retail section to allow the consumer to see the product. For the food service, where the consumer makes his choice from a counter of fresh, unpackaged food items, the transparency of the packaging works contra-productive. In the first place a transparent food service packaging radiates cheapness and low-quality, and not the elegance the consumer wants to experience and show off when she eats at his desk. A casserole, curry, rich soup etc., isn`t quite nice to look at when carried around in a transparent bowl.
Secondly the consumer doesn`t want to show the world what she bought. The contemporary consumer is already wary of the attacks on her privacy from all sides, and she just doesn’t want to exhibit unwillingly every detail of her life to the world.

We have discussed now the simple part of the future food service packaging and have to move to the more complicated part: the packaging for complete free-choice multi-item high-end meals. In the next article I will give some examples.

3 responses to “Packaging For The “Radical Chic” Culture

  1. Anton, another excellent article on packaging but also much more- genuine insight into the development of OOH Foodservice. As an expert on Leisuire HoReCa channel in UK, I spoke often about the growth of street food. The cuisine trends, engagement platforms, heritage, authenticity, crafted proposition, experience and global influences. I must admit though, when it comes to packaging in this sector, I never gave it any thought. Like it doesn’t even exist. Anton, I couldn’t agree more, if my food is completely messed up when I open my fav Mexican, I won’t come back. However, the packaging is expected to remain in the bachround of othe street food revolution.

    • Kamila, thanks for your positive review. You might like the follow-up even more. Like to hear your comment on that one. I publish it within a few days after an in-between article I like to post first.

  2. Thank you for your inspired insights Anton. As always, packaging is essential. But its role is redefined, almost from scratch, when one moves from the traditional store venue to the ready-to-eat merchant. You’ve done an excellent job of breaking this down and presenting it.

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