Meal Kit Packaging: The right choices protect food and appeal to consumers
Like ecommerce, the popularity of meal kits surged during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers took to online shopping for ready-to-prepare meals delivered to their doorstep. This concept isn’t new. Omaha Steaks has been offering home delivery of its popular frozen steaks for decades. Today’s meal kit trend, introduced a little over a decade ago by Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, embraces the concept of full meals, complete with pre-portioned ingredients ready to cook and serve with easy-to-follow instructions. The convenience of home delivery without the hassle of meal planning and grocery shopping has appealed to millions of households – and the industry continues to grow.
As the trend continues to expand, it becomes even more important to ensure the food included in meal kits arrive on a consumer’s doorstep fresh and undamaged. That makes insulated packaging a vital piece of the pack and ship equation. Without it, companies will likely be met with a long queue of complaints and unhappy customers.
Proper Meal Kit Packaging is Key
There are various meal kit options for consumers, from heat-and-eat pre-cooked items to cook-and-eat, where fresh, raw ingredients along with spices, sauces, and a recipe are included in the kit. Consumers can choose from online subscription services to kits picked up or delivered from local restaurants and retailers.
No matter the meal kit option, packaging is a constant – and depending on the type of kit, companies must choose their materials wisely to ensure both form and function. Corrugated boxes provide outside protection for the kit itself and a vehicle to ship it through the parcel network. If fragile ingredients are in included, like eggs, paper void fill and bubble bags or cushioning will help secure them in the box and protect them from shock and vibration during transit. But, without proper insulated packaging, all of the aforementioned ingredients could be compromised, causing businesses to lose money and customer loyalty.
Considerations for the Right Packaging
There are several considerations when choosing the right insulated meal kit packaging to keep the contents fresh and safe.
Contents: There’s a significant difference in packaging fresh versus frozen items as a result of the perishability of the ingredients. Each must be packaged and held at a certain temperature to maintain the integrity of the food as it is transported from facility to trailer transit, to the last leg of the journey on a parcel delivery truck. Frozen meals often require more robust insulation and significantly more refrigerant. It is critical to determine the temperatures required to keep the products safe, and this will influence the amount of insulation and refrigerant needed.
Transit Times: Another important consideration is transit time, including consumer availability to unbox the contents and put items in the refrigerator or freezer. A meal kit can spend hours or days out of refrigeration as it travels from the facility where it was assembled and packaged to its final destination in a consumer’s kitchen. Calculating transit time, including unexpected transit issues or delays, and using a courier’s historic data on transit times to your customers will assist in determining the type of insulated packaging required.
Also, consider that many consumers may not be home at the time of delivery, and the contents will need to be kept at proper temperature as the meal kit sits on a doorstep until the consumer can unbox it and appropriately store the ingredients. Knowing the amount of time it will take to transport the meal kit from the moment it is packaged to when it will be safely delivered to the consumer helps determine the packaging needed to maintain food quality and safety.
Temperature Changes: Another key factor is the outside temperature. Unless food is being delivered in a temperature-controlled truck, a meal kit delivery in Maine in December has different requirements than food packaged and delivered in Texas in July. Bacteria in perishable food can double in number in as little as 20 minutes. The outdoor temperature sets the pace for the shipment and contributes to the amount of insulation, refrigerant, and packaging required to maintain proper temperature in the weather conditions and transit times.
Recyclability: A growing number of customers want the companies they buy from to go green. Reducing the amount of packaging or increasing the recyclability (both curbside and store drop off), or reusability of materials are now paramount. Many consumers are now incorporating that sustainable criteria into their core decision making when choosing a brand – and they are even willing to potentially pay more for that product. Seventy four percent of consumers would pay more for products with sustainable packaging.
Pregis Can Help with the Right Meal Kit Solution
Pregis’ insulated packaging solution, ThermaCycle™ Flex, was strategically designed to serve a wide range of cold chain applications – including meal kit deliveries. Its metallized bubble structure offers a combination of insulation and cushioning properties to ensure food deliveries arrive fresh and in one piece. The product’s one-piece construction also contributes to increased throughput during the packing process thanks to minimal assembly.
On top of that, Pregis is dedicated to supporting a circular, sustainable economy. ThermaCycle Flex’s all-polyethylene structure means its recyclable, so consumers can conveniently dispose of Pregis’ insulated material at participating NexTrex store drop-off locations.
Product aside, Pregis’ ISTA-certified engineers work closely with customers to determine a holistic solution for their exact needs. The Pregis IQ design and testing center provides the resources necessary to simulate varying ISTA transport conditions and food content requirements to determine the appropriate course of action.
For more information on Pregis’ insulated packaging solution, and other products, click here.