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grab and go

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Research indicates many restaurants and cafes around Australia are adding takeaway to their menus as a way to maximise their staff and kitchen capabilities and hopefully, profits. But more than a few have found that good, value-for-money food is not the only requirement for success.

One Queensland cafe owner—who asked not to be named because of the challenges she experienced after launching the takeaway side to her business—says for the first few months, it was a ‘nightmare’.

“At first, it was great,” she says. “Our regulars loved the option and we drew a lot of new customers. But then the complaints started—not about the food but about how we packaged the meals. They said the wrappings fell apart, or the food became soggy or greasy, or was too difficult to rewarm and so on.

“It was really difficult for a time. We tested out different containers and materials but it took a while to get it just right. Now, we’re making up for lost time and I can see that our takeaway side looks like taking over from the eat-in side. But for a time there I was ready to give up the business altogether. It’s hard to believe that packaging can make such a difference.”

Many other food outlets have also learned the hard way that takeaway food packaging can make or break a product. If they want satisfied customers, before they select the packaging, the operators have to ask some serious questions, including:

• Will the container transport the food/beverages safely, hygienically and conveniently? This covers such issues as possible evidence of tampering before sale, ability to reseal the container, etc.

• Will the container ensure the integrity of the product without loss of freshness and quality? While customers are looking for fast convenience, they also want evidence of freshness. Sales of products in modified atmosphere packaging have increased significantly while other products wrapped in packaging to extend shelf life are also becoming popular.

• Will the packaging enhance the image of the business and its particular brands? More and more restaurants/cafes as well as the big takeaway chains are realising that packaging sells products and that bags and containers, customised with the business logo and name can be a valuable marketing tool. Others, particularly on the retails side, are lifting their game with better labelling to provide nutritional information, promotional material, instructional details, and so on.

Key industry body, Packaging Council of Australia (PCA) says there is another important factor to consider in choosing packaging—sustainability. CEO Gavin Williams says embracing the environment and its preservation has emerged as one of the major issues for the packaging industry and that recycling, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill, ongoing research into more environmentally-friendly materials and other ‘green’ factors are currently on the agenda.

The PCA is at the fore of efforts to increase the awareness of sustainability throughout the industry through its National and State Awards programs. It also promotes the benefits of the National Packaging Covenant, the agreement between the government and the industry to minimise the environmental impacts of packaging while at the same time advocating that this has to be done with the core functions of packaging in mind. Williams says: “In the final analysis, packaging will be judged by whether it performs its essential task—to preserve, contain and protect the contents it surrounds and to provide information to the consumer. How successfully it performs these tasks is the benchmark against which packaging should be judged.”

A major packaging supplier to the food service industry is the Adelaide-based Detpak which specialises in paper and board packaging solutions of every description for the hospitality industry.

Detpak spokesperson, Angela Porcaro, says there has recently been an increasing demand for environmentally friendly options when it comes to packaging.

“Customers are more savvy and demanding about having sustainable packaging, even to knowing the origins of the materials we source. Thankfully, all paper used by our company comes from plantation forests. The Government is currently looking at phasing out all plastic bags from supermarkets and other outlets and we’re already seeing the impact with the increasing number of enquiries on our Detpak paper bags.”

Porcaro says the trend in Australia is towards a ‘grab and go’ culture with more time-starved customers demanding food that can be eaten on the run. Dining ‘al desko’ and ‘dashboard’ dining are growing phenomena and this has resulted in the demand for car-friendly packaging, resealable containers and/or packaging that doubles as the dining plate/bowl.

“Our company is now developing a range of packaging options with enhanced levels of convenience, making them easier to carry, hold and use. Among our latest innovations is Cleverbox, an all-in-one hot drink and food insulated paper carrier. The unit inside the bag has an inbuilt second layer that allows hot food to rest safely on top of the hot drinks and comes in a double or single cup design. It also provides a great opportunity for food service operators to promote their brand with custom printing the bag.

“Another popular innovation is our new Stix to Go, a coffee stirrer stick that locks into the drinking port of a lid preventing spillage. Like the Cleverbox it can be custom printed and has already proven a popular branding vehicle for our customers.”

Porcaro says packaging that can simplify the cooking process is also in great demand. This is packaging that can be heated in the microwave and served from the same container, making the dining occasion more simple and convenient.

Detpak says paper and board products are the way of the future as plastic and foam become increasingly a thing of the past. Cost will always be a prime consideration but many quick service and other restaurateurs are now looking for points of difference or innovative packaging solutions to gain an edge on competitors. Presentation is of prime importance and they demand a high quality to match their food. The company’s Pail-Packs—usually with customised branding—are a popular choice for these outlets as they enable a gourmet meal to be packaged and then, due to its wide, flat structure, easily marketed and then eaten from the box.

Franchise chain Sumo Salads uses the Detpak Food-Pail as well as Uni Cups for soup, napkins and flat bags. All are attractively branded with a consistent design applied to each item to provide a strong and striking story to their customers. Owners James Miller and Luke Bayliss say they are always looking towards more environmental packaging. “The consumers are more environmentally aware and want to consume products that reflect or share their personal beliefs. We are always looking too for multi-functioning packaging that combine function and form and that can assist us to serve takeaway food in better condition while it upgrades our image. We believe packaging should not only reflect a representation of the brand but also of the consumer. The packaging in other words must be something that your core demographics are happy to display.” Miller and Bayliss say packaging must reflect the brand persona as well as fulfilling its core purpose—maintaining the quality of the product from both a safety and a taste perceptive. And it must be stackable, lightweight and easily transportable.

Rusk in Melbourne is one restaurant that has been looking into the power of packaging as a brand building exercise. As well as dine-in Rusk has for several years also offered a take-away service to its customers as well. While finding the right containers was simple, restaurateur and chef, Lance Rosen, says they decided to have the plastic bags that the rectangular plastic containers were taken away in custom designed to ensure they were a perfect fit and also featured strong branding.

“We have small bags that are the exact size of the containers and carry three stacked on top of each other and a larger one that fits six containers, two side by side and then with the others stacked on top. The bags had to have a flat bottom so they would sit well in a car and they had to be sturdy with strong handles. They do the job very well and people tend to keep them and reuse them—they are great advertising as people are walking down the road.”

Consumer expectation means environmental packaging demand is driving packaging companies to come up with eco- friendly packaging for even the simplest packaging requirements like sandwiches and wraps. “There has been a massive shift in thinking over the past few years withe customers genuinely concerned about what products are made off, if they are recyclable and biodegradable,” says Presentation Packaging marketing director Samantha Lewers. “And this has led the market to seek new solutions.”

Lewers said Presentation Packaging had made a signifcant investment in sourcing enviro-friendly packaging for some of the more popular packaging requirements. The company markets sandwich wedges made from recyclable, easily compostable and biodegradable with a clear window that’s made from PLA film developed from corn so it is also environmentally friendly . It’s also launched recyclable wrap/tortilla sleeves that, as well as being good for the environment, also make the product easier for the customer to handle.

Not all manufacturers and suppliers believe the future of packaging lies solely in paper and board products. Signum is a major supplier of environmentally sustainable plastic packaging solutions for the hospitality industry, with a customer base ranging from large takeaway chains to smaller businesses.

To answer consumer concerns about plastic products, the company has used the latest technology to manufacture a wide range of plastic food and beverage packaging products made from a suite of recycled and bioplastic materials, including RE-PET, Plantic, Natureworks PLA (polylactic acid) and other polymers, producing sustainable resins that are 100 per cent biodegradable. Managing director Simon Peck says the company invests in the latest sorting, grinding and purification technology to equip its multi-million recycling facility to convert waste PET (polyethylene Terephthalate) into the food-grade approved resin known as RE-PET.

“We regard recycling as the start of our manufacturing process—not the end. We have built our capability around extruding and thermoforming from recycled sustainable resins and now supply many of Australia’s leading food service and hospitality companies. For instance, when you call in a McDonalds for your sundae, smoothie or frappe, you will be drinking from a crystal-clear RE-PET container with at least 35 per cent PCR (Post Consumer Recycling) content.”

Peck says his company has set the target to achieve 70 per cent recycled material across their range of sustainable products by next year and reports that it has already attained a 35 per cent minimum average recycled content across its range of thermoformed RE-PET packaging. Already, Signum’s achievements towards innovation and sustainability have won the company numerous awards including a PCA Award for Sustainability last year, and McDonalds Innovation Award in 2006.

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