What Goes Around, Comes Around

2020 has been an unprecedented year. We’re living in a COVID world and the impact of the pandemic has been felt globally, touching nearly every aspect of life — including the 2020 Trends Report! More than a ‘trend setter,’ this year is more accurately a ‘trend accelerator.’

Every year we collect opinions from companies throughout the foodservice packaging supply chain, including raw material and machinery suppliers, packaging manufacturers, distributors and operators. We gather those insights and compile them, providing our own analysis based on submissions and our own general industry observations.

This year’s survey was similar to previous years — it gave us a chance to confirm what we think we see in the marketplace. But, this year had many other changes.

If we were to look at this year’s list of buzzwords, you can bet that it would include “safety” and “sanitary.” After all, seeking safe and sanitary solutions in the face of infectious disease are the exact reasons why foodservice packaging was created in the first place — to reduce touch point and keep our edible items safe. Our usual “it” words like “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” are still here but COVID has brought the sanitary and safety issues to the forefront and full circle.

As the pandemic swept into North America and the economy ground to a halt, drastic shifts occurred across all segments of the foodservice industry. As foodservice took a hit, so did the packaging that would normally be used in schools, hospitals, stadiums, theaters and other places where meals or snacks are served.

We saw states in various stages of operation and massive restrictions on restaurants, with many restaurants open only for take-out or delivery and others closing — either for good or until restrictions were lifted. This led to increases in the delivery, carry-out and drive-thru sectors as they were the only options for away-from-home style meals.

These increases helped accelerate the maturation of “contactless” experiences in foodservice (thank you, COVID?). Apps, QR codes and online ordering trends were thrown into high gear as patrons and employees both wanted to minimize touch points, eliminating unnecessary contact. Not surprisingly, “tamper-evident” or “tamper-resistant” packaging has also seen gains as people want products that create a barrier between individuals and food.

Unfortunately, gains made in the carry-out and delivery space haven’t been offset by restaurant closures and reduced foot traffic. A majority of the industry reported sales and production numbers that were either the same or decreased due to the implications of COVID. 

While much has changed, our pre-COVID way of life hasn’t been completely forgotten. The immediate need for safe and sanitary foodservice packaging is a priority but consumers still want packaging that’s “sustainable.” The increased demand for more “recycled-content,” “bio-based materials” and packaging that is “recyclable” and/or “compostable” have carved out an ever-increasing portion of the marketplace.

No one could have predicted this year and, for the foreseeable future, this is our new normal. The longest standing trend in foodservice packaging is now the most important trend. Emphasis on safe and sanitary packaging, which keeps people safe while they enjoy food and drink where they live, work and play — even if those are all within our own homes — will continue to be the leading factor for the industry.

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