Shifts caused by the pandemic in the availability, purchase, and use of packaging materials for foods and beverages for food services and retail linger. What materials remain popular and why?

Lisa McTigue Pierce, Packaging Digest executive editor:

About this time last year, the world was hearing about a new SARS virus. Since then, nearly every aspect of our lives has been disrupted by COVID-19.

How we got to where we are now

Written by Michael Carpenter

In March 2020, organisations were already starting to review internal pandemic plans as the COVID-19 virus began to dominate media channels. Quickly, they realized the pandemic would have a profound effect on their operations and food packaging.

Businesses and organisations such as universities, schools, restaurants, pubs, casinos, and other dining establishments were grasping with ways to feed their customers and stay in business. Many began offering take-out and delivery as states completely shut down inside dining. Organisations also had consultants and contractors from abroad on visas with immediate travel restrictions preventing return to their home countries.

A pivot towards remote working allowed businesses to continue to operate, while creating a safe environment for those unable to immediately go home. Regardless, it negatively impacted their profitability caused not only by major drop in revenue but with the added burden of large unplanned and unbudgeted purchases in packaging and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Up until mid-May 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US advised that all non-porous containers put users at risk. Glass, tabletops, thin-wall containers, drink cups, straws all could be potential carriers of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Numerous scientific studies are ongoing to determine the half day life of the virus on packaging materials, according to Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

Other studies have documented an infected person might have to cough or sneeze on the packaging. Then, while the virus was still active, someone else would have to touch that packaging before transmitting the virus to their own eyes, nose, or mouth.

However, since then, “Everything we have come to know about this virus indicates airborne person-to-person is the mode of transmission,” says Emanuel Goldman, a professor of microbiology at Rutgers University, told Time magazine.

Currently, there is no reported case or evidence that handling food packaging has resulted in contracting COVID-19.

What’s the effect on packaging moving forward?

The packaging market for food thermal packaging containers will see a large increase in market share from 3% or 4% to 7% or 8%. Ready-To-Eat (RTE), Ready-To-Heat (RTH), and other grab-and-go packaging concepts are likely to increase this market into double digits from 2021 to 2025. Specific raw material types such as EPS foam will continue to provide low-cost options for many applications, as long as states and municipalities do not have bans on this raw material.

The packaging market for PET — as well as other environmentally conscious products that are fiber-based, biodegradable, or recyclable — will grow as the markets move back to their new mean based on new macro trends on raw materials and category trends.

Most organisations will have allocated additional funds for PPE and packaging purchases to this year’s budget as the pandemic continues and vaccine distribution plans are put in place. Those double-digit increases are an expense that senior-level executives will try to offset through aggressive competitive bidding processes. What’s interesting for 2021 budgets is that most sustainability programs not been reduced. In fact, some are being expedited as the pandemic allows brands, retailers, and manufacturers to shift their product mix.

Credit: Packaging Digest- click here to see full original article.