Rising populations and changing diets are fueling demand for dairy and ready-food products. As incomes increase and nations become more and more urbanized, individuals tend to consume more protein-based products (including dairy) as opposed to basic carbohydrates (mostly grains).
In addition, the fear of food-borne illnesses is still strong among consumers, with many scrutinizing labels more carefully and wanting to know more in-depth information about the product. Keeping all of this in mind, we identified three key market trends and take a look at how selecting packaging technologies for dairy and food applications can turn the potential challenges into opportunities.
Protecting public health and safety
One of the most prevalent topics is food safety, crucial to end-consumers and producers alike. According to the FDA, about 48 million consumers (one in six) get sick; 128,000 are hospitalized; and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.
To prevent this from happening, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is refocusing the food safety system from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them. With this proactive approach, FSMA puts specific responsibilities directly on food producers, including introduction of preventive controls to address foreseeable hazards that can occur in the products they manufacture. For example, if a facility is handling food that may contain allergens, its product labels must list all allergens, and any cross-contact during processing must be controlled.
To comply with the aforementioned regulations and to address end-users concerns while maintaining a healthy bottom line, a growing number of dairy and food producers are selecting advanced hygienic technology in filling and packaging machinery — designed to prevent contamination, avoid product recalls, simplify cleaning and reduce product and material waste. Options include ultra-clean machines that offer extended shelf life without preservatives for many refrigerated products, as well as aseptic machines that offer a shelf life up to one year outside the cooling chain.
By using aseptic filling technologies, producers of sensitive products such as baby food can ensure the product stays fresh and safe without added preservatives and artificial ingredients. Because machine features and hygienic technologies can significantly vary by manufacturer, it’s reassuring that Bosch follows the ultra-clean and aseptic hygienic classification standards for filling machines, set by VDMA (https://www.vdma.org/en/).
Another key market trend directly linked to food safety is transparency, which encompasses such areas as clean labeling, certification by trusted third parties (such as 3-A SSI in the United States and EHDGC in the European Union), and efficient tracking of products to ensure customers are protected from counterfeit products.
In the United States, the FDA published its Food Labeling Guide in 2013; it provides guidelines for clean labeling. For example, it requires the use of at least a 1/16-inch (1.5-millimeter) font size for easier readability of text and notes not to position supporting imagery next to nutritional information to make it stand out more clearly.
In terms of track-and-trace solutions, the food industry has begun implementing best practices from pharmaceutical and automotive manufacturers. Currently, the European Union’s Trade Control and Expert System requires livestock and food products to be tagged with a lifetime identification number to track their movement through the food chain in the event of a disease outbreak. In the United States, the FDA finalized pilot projects to identify the best methods to improve product tracing projects and plans to provide recommendations for U.S. producers soon.
However, packaging manufacturers are already offering alternative solutions. Bosch presented a pilot track-and-trace project for the food industry at Interpack in 2017. The yogurt packaging machine is connected with the CPI software that transfers the information directly into the Bosch IoT Cloud. By simply printing a QR code onto the lid of the yogurt cup, manufacturers can assure end consumers that they have an authentic product.
Beyond product verification, manufacturers can harness online marketing possibilities via the code by adding further, product-specific information such as ingredients, allergens, recipes or special offers. Such solutions for commercial use are on the horizon.
Keeping convenience and health on the shelf
Last but not least, dairy food producers need to focus on the growing importance of health and wellness trends. Modern consumers are paying more attention to nutritional content and organic production, and want all-natural ingredients and fewer artificial additives. Producers need to capitalize on this trend by using packaging that emphasizes these values. Brands that use various pack styles to be more distinguishable on the shelf, as well as for special promotions, need equipment that can make format changes fast and easy.
Rising demand for single-serve portions and ready meals on the part of consumers leading a busy, but still healthy lifestyle can be challenging for food producers. To make sure the changing market demand is met, it is advisable to invest in packaging equipment that offers greater flexibility in terms of filling a range of products with different levels of viscosity on the same line.
In addition, food producers are increasing the number of multi-compartment products on the shelf — for example, hummus with filled lids, yogurt with toppings, cheesecake singles with fruit and nondairy and vegan alternatives.
Ready for the future
To overcome the challenges and to capitalize on opportunities, dairy and food producers need a knowledgeable partner that complies with current regulations and offers the best equipment available on the market.