The New Normal of Food Packaging: Sustainability and COVID-19

How to Continue to Meet Sustainable Food Packaging Demands During, and After, the Coronavirus Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone and every industry, not none so much as the food industry. Prior to the pandemic, consumer demand was evident for all industries to move toward renewable packaging and reducing food waste. This trend is expected to be long-lasting, as consumers are still focused on sustainability during the coronavirus pandemic. According to data from market research firm IRI, and the University of New York’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business, the coronavirus pandemic has not affected shoppers’ desire for sustainable food packaging.


Because of state-mandated lockdowns and decreased consumer traffic, large amounts of food would go to waste. And the obvious safety challenges in relation to the pandemic, have urged consumers away from unpackaged products like produce toward CPGs that can be easily disinfected. A recent survey showed that more than 2/3 of US consumers worry about contracting COVID-19 from food packaging and that more than 40% of household disinfectants to clean the products they buy. This seems to go against their demands for sustainable food packaging. Packaged foods benefit overall as consumers stopped or reduced eating out due to hygiene and safety concerns, not to mention the financial burdens of the pandemic.

Consumers need shelf-stable products. They need direct-to-consumer options, which they typically find on a website and e-commerce sphere. Even before coronavirus took over, diners were pushing for more to-go options. This demand translates to the use of more packaging. Where is the balance between convenience and concerns about the environment? Due to safety concerns surrounding coronavirus, many consumers are still unwilling to go into retail grocery stores. Grocery and meal delivery kits are showing increased sales. This increase in CPG sales shows the need for systemic change regarding sustainable food packaging.

3 Things to Consider for the “new normal” of sustainable food packaging

1. Sustainable Food Packaging Design

I think your food brand has 2 options for designing sustainable food packaging. The first option would be easier, by eliminating unnecessary packaging and substituting with the increased use of recycled materials. Because the food packaging has already been recycled, you should consider the entire materials’ lifeline. Consumers will likely want to recycle the materials again, so provide directions on your sustainable food packaging for them. The other option would be to completely rework your food packaging design. Considering new shapes and forms that are optimized for recycling. Perhaps use fewer layers of material or change materials for greater sustainability.

2. Hygiene Concerns

Due to consumer concerns I mentioned above, material choices become maybe even more important. You want to choose a material that will be minimally viable for COVID-19 on the packaging surface. Another trend to consider is that consumers still demand convenience. Easy-open and on-the-go food options are still popular, but consumers put the packages in their mouths to consume them. One example would be squeezable applesauce or baby food. If they’re worried about coronavirus, this needs to be addressed to ensure continued brand trust. This demand and consumer caution may mean that your food brand needs to consider sustainable food packaging that is tamper-proof. Be cautious, because the challenge will arise of how to ensure protection against contamination while not creating more packaging waste by adding unnecessary materials.

3. E-Commerce Focused

The pandemic really shifted how all industries operate, as most packaging has designed for brick-and-mortar applications, not online shipments. But because of state-mandated lockdowns, more and more consumers are turning to e-commerce. Consumers are needing direct-to-consumer products. However, concerns from your business may include how to prevent product damage. Plus, you’ll want to ensure food safety, but where is the line of how much protective material can be used? Make sure you consider this in your optimization discussions.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about sustainable food packaging, please reach out to the NewPoint team. If you are interested in more food marketing topics, please visit our Food for Thought page or check out NewPoint’s Patrick Nycz’s book: Moving Your Brand Up the Food Chain.