“Packaging is a force in commerce to assert [brands’] shelf presence,” he told the Meat Technology conference, staged at the Anuga FoodTec trade show in Cologne, Germany. “But meat packaging is well behind the vanguard of change led by other packaged brands.”
Meat packaging seldom makes a contribution to the value of the brand other than to “protect and to contain it”, he said.
While packaging designed for fresh meat may be gas-flushed, it lacks functionality. “Pre-pack meat is typically like display meat – except on a tray and covered in film. It looks like it would be displayed in a deli,” said Streeter.
Although progress towards better meat branding was slow, some countries were more advanced than others. “Germany is ahead of the game in the surface application of graphics [on meat products] – leading Europe and the rest of the world,” said Streeter.
By contrast, the innovative use of surface graphics in other food products, such as Davidstow cheese, promoted brand values, far more effectively, he added. “The cheese packaging has allowed the product to move from a factory personae to a farm personae by expressing its values in packaging.”
In doing so, the packaging also commanded strong shelf presence in a way that many meat packages failed to do.
He also highlighted cheese packaging as an example of design which improved consumer convenience. There’s no reason why the re-sealable packaging used for many cheese products could not be more widely applied to meat products, he said.
Asked why meat packaging failed to match the innovative design of other food packs, Streeter told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We have a culture of freshness [that undermines packaging] in the UK.”
That culture also led supermarkets to adopt deli-style presentation for their meat products that tended to further undermine meat packaging.
A third reason was the lack of a branding culture in the meat industry, said Streeter.
One exception was the branding for Charlie Bingham’s ready meals such as lasagna. “The packaging of Bingham’s lasagna has a clear relationship to the meal it contains.”
The packaging continued to deliver brand messages even when it emerged from the oven. “When the meal tray becomes singed it somehow adds to the authenticity of the meal,” he said.
Looking ahead, Streeter highlighted three meat packaging trends that would dominate design: greater use of surface graphics, microwave friendly materials and waste reduction.
“Meat-based ready meat meals can only grow in popularity and surface graphics can add value through establishing [product] personality and branding,” he said.
The trend towards microwaveable materials would gain momentum as packaging was designed not just to contain meals during cooking but also during eating. This would involve the increased use of susceptors – packaging materials that can absorb electromagnetic energy and convert it to heat.
Finally, meat packaging would be designed to cut waste and to make the best use of scarce resources. As the world population was expected to rise from about 6bn today to 9bn in 50 years, packaging design and technology must change to meet “the destructive challenges that the world faces”, said Streeter.
The meat technology conference was staged by FoodManufacture.co.uk’s sister website FoodProductionDaily.com.
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