Food Packaging Trends Impacted by the Pandemic – What Distributors Need to Know

Dave Foreman

2020 has presented an untold number of unforeseen challenges to nearly every type of business. Food Distributors in particular have been hit hard, with surges in grocery demand while many of their restaurant clients have been unable to open. Many distributors have had to diversify their operations, branching out to more grocery-store oriented delivery, or adding new inventory that they did not previously offer.

One under-utilized area which may benefit distributors is packaging. With many of their restaurant clients now only able to offer to-go options sustainable, quality packaging is more important now than ever before. Food distributors who are looking to stay ahead of the curve are analyzing trends in packaging in order to best capitalize on this revenue opportunity.

According to Tom Bené, President & CEO of the National Restaurant Association, “Clearly there’s been some changes around packaging that have happened in the short term. It’s a great example of suppliers and distributors coming together and finding ways to help operators get through this by providing things that they maybe didn’t have in inventory in the past or weren’t thinking about as readily.”

One trend distributors can capitalize on is the increased demand for frozen food packaging and other related supplies. These may include shrink film, wax coated cardboard, or other raw materials restaurants or groceries may need to prepare their fresh food to be frozen and shipped, delivered, or picked up. Another trendy material distributors may want to invest in is ‘modified atmosphere packaging’, often used in tandem with frozen packaging, which is designed to keep foods at certain temperatures.

The desire for packaging to be more eco-friendly had been on a steady rise before the pandemic, and while the ‘do what we can’ atmosphere of 2020 may have temporarily slowed that demand it is expected to continue to increase as life returns to ‘normal’. Smart distributors will take this in to account when choosing what sort of packaging supplies to offer, particularly to any smaller, ‘farm-to-table’ restaurant clients, who often put a high priority on sustainability.

As Bené said, “We all know that there was a bit of pressure on the sustainability side of packaging, especially one-way packaging. I think the current environment has changed that for sure. To get a quality meal you may need a type of packaging that’s not going to be as easily sustainable today. I think that will continue to evolve as well.”

“We’ll find new ways of doing it. Creating an environment where you bring a meal home and you get to have almost that dine-in experience at home. The things I’ve seen so far are pretty impressive but I think there’s even more evolution to happen in that area.”

Prime FoodService Software offers distributors a key tool in these efforts in its order guide functionality. Reps are able to set up client-specific order guides containing not just items typically ordered, but also other items they think may be of use to that particular client, allowing for easy up-and-cross-sale potential. Adding specific packaging needs into the order guide can help seamlessly transition the client from their food order to a new packaging order they did not even know they need.

By staying on top of food packaging trends distributors can not only help offset difficulties for themselves during this unprecedented year, but also enable their clients to find new, innovative ways to deliver their product to end consumers. Prime FoodService software built in Acumatica gives distributors the tools to do exactly that.

View an On-Demand Demo