Structure and sustainability – how takeout packaging can deliver for millennials’ appetite for change

30. 08. 22

In many ways, millennials are the current custodians of the Earth. It’s no surprise, then, that they are using their buying power to drive many of the trends we currently see in foodservice. It is also no surprise that sustainability is chief among these trends.

Repeated studies from experts like McKinsey, Deloitte, and Neilsen have found that millennials would be willing to spend more on a product that was sustainably produced and packed, while three-quarters of millennials would consider a company’s environmental and social governance (ESG) principles when deciding where to work, according to research by Cone Communications. And, with the even more eco-conscious Gen Z rapidly approaching parity in terms of buying power, the direction of travel is only moving one way.

By acting to meet the demands of millennial consumers now, foodservice brands can future-proof their business by meeting the even-more-stringent demands of Gen Z.

The key takeaways

Tech-savvy, time-poor, and with an appetite for innovative flavours and global cuisine, it is unsurprising that millennials make up the most crucial demographic for the modern foodservice industry. Technomic’s Generational report found that millennials lead takeout orders, with 40% of their foodservice purchases being takeaways and a further 19% being deliveries.

Innovation within takeout and delivery packaging, therefore, is key to satisfying hungry millennial consumers. Foodservice packaging must be designed to protect hot food from damage and degradation. Switching packaging to more sustainable materials is only one piece of the puzzle. To make sustainable packaging viable, it requires clever structural designs to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, too.

Contradictory consumption

While millennials demand more sustainability from the foodservice industry, figures show there is a glaring contradiction at the heart of their behaviour. Until Gen Z matured into a commercial force, millennials were by far the most sustainably-minded generation. They value ethics, principles and authenticity. However, they also waste the most food of any generation, with 25% of millennial consumers throwing leftovers into the bin according to a study commissioned by Currys.

Foodservice packaging has a crucial role to play in this. Food waste is one of the most pressing environmental concerns currently facing our planet, and therefore sustainable packaging must also be able to prevent it by ensuring that its contents are not damaged in transit. In the delivery space, damaged goods have a very immediate and direct link to carbon emissions as they often result in a replacement order which burns through more resources. Without tough, mechanically durable material, greaseproof barrier performance, and a heat-retaining design, the food waste created from failed deliveries will far outweigh the materials that would be consumed in improving the overall performance of the pack. Packaging is supposed to prevent waste – not create it.

Appropriate packaging also considers portion control as a means of tackling food waste. By correctly sizing packaging according to carefully controlled portions, you can avoid sending out an oversized portion of food that is destined to go uneaten. While it does come with significant cost-saving benefits, it also serves millennial desires to lower their carbon footprint by helping them to eat more sustainably.

An appetite for change

Creating packaging that satisfies the millennial tastes for both takeout and sustainability, while also promoting further improvements in sustainable behaviour, is the key challenge facing the foodservice industry.

Overcoming this challenge is no mean feat when taking into account items like pizzas, which can be turned into unappealing soggy messes by the steam that they emit in transit. This moisture also has a real impact on pack performance if it isn’t addressed, weakening fibres and increasing the likelihood of damage. Innovations like Amipak’s specially-fluted corrugated packaging is vital to preserving the integrity of takeout food within sustainable packaging. Using these pizza boxes as an example, the flutes provide channels to allow steam – and therefore moisture – to escape the pack while still keeping the contents hot.

Custom printing, meanwhile, means it is possible to turn each burger tray and pizza box into a simple recycling handbook. Fibre-based solutions, like the ones we use at Amipak, can often be recycled by cleaning out grease and oil residues. If the pack is too contaminated with oil, it can be torn up, with the clean sections recycled and the rest composted. If any demographic is likely to respond positively to this messaging, it is millennials.

In this sense, compostable, high-performance sustainable foodservice packaging can be a powerful instrument of change that does not just meet millennials where they are now; it can inspire them to go further. Millennials’ appetite for change might seem insatiable, but with a little innovation, it’s possible to leave them satisfied.

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