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Power packaging

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Everyone loves a treat—whether it’s a special present, a snack, meal or even a simple cup of coffee. And the reality is that consumers find it more interesting if it comes beautifully presented. As a result, packaging has now become big business, particularly in the hospitality industry where food service operators are realising the wrappings for their takeaway food and beverages are much more than simple containers.

A number of restaurateurs and café owners are branching out into the ‘takeaway’ game as a logical means of extending their customer base and so maximising profits from their kitchen staff and equipment. But which containers to use?

No matter the food or beverage, the goodies have to be packaged in such a way that the buyer can transport them safely, hygienically and conveniently and without any loss or deterioration of quality. Australian food safety and hygiene requirements seem to get tougher by the day and local councils have often extra conditions, including environmental dos and don’ts. All this means that businesses have to consider their takeaway packaging almost as much as their takeaway menus if they want to avoid upsetting the authorities and their customers.

But once the basics have been covered, it’s time to look at another important aspect of packaging and that’s image. Astute restaurateurs have realised clever, eco-friendly, customised packaging can be one of their most valuable marketing tools, not only as a means of promoting their brand, but also as a subtle way of demonstrating to customers that theirs is a business which cares about the environment.

According to the Packaging Council of Australia (PCA), there is increasing concern with the future of our planet by consumers.

“When hospitality industry businesses are selecting packaging, I’d assume that their paramount consideration would be maintaining the integrity and safety of their product, although they also have to factor in such things as the functionality and resealability of the containers, whatever the form, says PCA executive, Alex Doran.

“But there is a relatively new consideration which also should be factored in to their final selection. There has been a paradigm shift in the way society in general—and that includes foodservices operators – have embraced the environment and its preservation. The issue of sustainability has come to the fore. The PCA actively and constructively engages in increasing awareness of sustainability in packaging. We also promote the benefits of the National Packaging Covenant—the agreement between the government and our industry to minimise the environmental impacts of packaging.”

Tim Rusten, group purchasing manager of food pack suppliers MPM Marketing , says there has definitely been a rise in demand for eco-friendly packaging.

“In fact, there has been a surge in demand for ‘to go’ food and beverage packaging of every description and I can only see this trend accelerating, particularly as businesses can have the packs printed with their own distinct brands, logos, colours and contact details,” he says.

“More hospitality outlets are trying to professionalise their businesses. Their customers now have higher expectations and like the assurance that they are buying a recognised brand from a quality outlet. Customised packing is really a great form of advertising and very cost-effective, according to the majority of our hospitality customers.”

One of the MPM’s best-selling products at present is a dimple multi-walled paper cup, perfect for coffee. The insulated container (with lid) comes in a range of colours, including a stylish black and a natural light-brown, two of today’s ‘in’ colours. White, which lends itself so well to customized logo printing, is also a favourite.

Most quality takeaway businesses agree strongly about the effectiveness of customised packaging. Claudio Ferraro, owner of the Melbourne-based Cibo Espresso Coffee chain which sells high-quality Italian-style coffee uses a stylish deep red ‘ripple’ cup sporting a white logo and lid.

“Packaging must reflect our premium marketing position. All our packaging (which includes ripple wrap cups, trays, different types of bags and deli wraps) is branded with the Cibo logo and this plays a vital role in increasing the brand exposure of our business—for us it is another important advertising medium.”

David Milne, director of Noodle Box, a successful Victorian chain, specialising in authentic Asian cuisine, also sports its striking red and black logo on pristine white food packs, which include foil-lined sealable bags and food pails. Milne says choosing the company’s packaging was an important decision.

“We wanted packaging that set us apart from other players and reflected our position in the market place,” he says. “Our printed food pails play a central role in our branding strategy and are also a very practical choice for a variety of dishes, including stir fries, soups and our rice dishes.”

Both Cibo and Noodle Box’s packaging are manufactured by Adelaide-based, Detpak,which specialises in paper and cardboard packaging solutions for the hospitality industry.

Among their latest designs is the ‘Det Pouch’, a unique bag which is made from greaseproof material making it perfect for a host of different products. Other new ideas are are Fresh-Wedge, (a heat-sealable sandwich wedge pack, designed especially for the industrial kitchen market and poly-lined to ensure longer freshness) and the Wrapper-Roll, a practical and innovative solution for the bread roll and baguette market. It replaces the need for wrapping napkins around rolls and baguettes, and the need to cut greaseproof paper sheets into strips.

Detpak’s category development manager, Paul Smith says that among the current key drivers in the hospitality industry are the sharp increase in demand for value-added packaging, cost pressure on foodservice operators and concern about environmental issues.

“Depending on the scale of their food and beverage operations, packaging can be an intrinsic part of the product offering and a means to communicate the quality nature of the brand. The packaging (food pails, cups, napkins and so on) can carry the brand message. Products too can be positioned as innovative simply by using some of the latest packaging types such as salads packed in window lunch boxes,” says Smith.

“But it’s important to get the basics right. First and foremost in this regard are supply and quality—are food operators buying from an established supplier who manufactures a consistent product using the same raw materials time after time rather than perhaps using a low-cost importer whose product may not be available in a few months time.

“Quality is also critical, as is the use of food-safe materials, including board/paper/ink, etc. Functionality must also be considered. Does the product offer optimum portion control? Can the product be easily stored? Does it come in convenient pack sizes? These are some of the questions that must be considered.”

Speaking about current trends in the hospitality industry, Smith says that for several years now, there has been a general move away from plastic and foam towards paper and board products as these have a lesser environmental impact. With rising oil prices affecting plastic manufacturers’ raw material prices, the cost differential is also much less today.

“On the go eating is now a large and growing business so most operators are becoming much more savvy about the need to differentiate, either through custom printing their own brands onto a product, or by being the first to use a new style of container,” Smith says.

Some of the popular winners from Detpak include the innovative Ripple Wrap hot cup—which offers an insulated product as well as a tactile experience for the end consumer, and food pails—versatile packaging solutions which are being used increasingly in salad bars and the like as well as the traditional Asian food market. Other new products attracting considerable interest are the latest ‘lunch boxes’, both with and without windows.

Smart restaurateurs who are moving into the take-away market are good examples of clever use of packging creativity as a marketing tool.

A good example is Shannon Bennett’s new Café Vue, a spin-off of the top Melbourne chef’s fine dining restaurant Vue de Monde. At Café Vue diners can enjoy some of the Bennett flair for food but in a casual and lower-priced setting. And they can take it away as well, all in stylish packaging designed to reflect the Vue brand.

Vue de Monde’s marketing manager Anna Curry said the cafe idea developed when a tenancy at the front of the building where the restaurant is housed became available and Bennett could see the posssibilities for expanding the Vue brand. “Where Vue de Monde is a unique and stand alone concept, other outlets such as Café Vue and Bistro Vue give us an opporunity to develop business templates that may be applicable to other environments and facilitate future growth,” Curry says.

”Having several points of entry ...gives us access to a much wider market and breaks down the barriers that people might feel about approaching Vue de Monde.”

Curry says the takeaway café has become immensely popular with a wide cross section of customers.

“It’s so easy for both our private and corporate customers, whether they are going on a picnic or on a plane or entertaining at home or in the boardroom. They know they can depend on the integrity of the food and we often supply 10 to 50 lunch boxes at a time.”

A key part of the operation was the development of Café Vue’s packaging particularly its stylish ‘lunchboxes”. Curry says a great deal of thought went into the custom-designed lunch boxes which are unique for the category. The bozes are divided into sections to keep the different courses separate, and are made of thick white board with a striking red sleeve over the top which carries the Vue De Monde logo.

“The design is very discreet and suits our image and market position and we find that people like to keep our boxes and use them at home. It’s really a very good and subtle form of advertising,” she says.

“We like to think we’re a bit different—trendsetters really—at Vue De Monde and Café Vue. Happily our customers seem to agree with us; they are certainly embracing our takeaway concept with open arms.”

The menu for the lunch boxes changes regularly but typically includes an appetiser, a sandwich, a salad, cheese and a dessert. The product is being positioned by Cafe Vue as being perfect for “lunch on the run, a day at the park or an impressive board room lunch”. The cafe can arrange large orders and also will organise delivery for such orders.

At press time the current lunchbox menu included a starter of Curried Celeriac Soup with Spring Bay Mussels, a Thai Chicken Salad, a Pork pie with Aloe Vera and Pea Jus, and for dessert a Beetroot Macaroon

New in the Australian market and tapping into the demand for eco-friendly packaging and take-away ocntainers is the new brand Bioware from packaging company Huhtamaki. Bioware is a range of cups, plates and cutlery and hinged-lid fresh food containers, and wooden cutlery.

BioWare natural resin cups are glass-clear and function and look like those made of oil-based plastics, all based on renewable raw materials and are compostable after use. The range has already been used at several major events and festivals in Sydney.

The benefits of using Bioware at a large event like a food festival is that it is possible to create one compost waste stream for both the food and its packaging.

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