Dairy and Food Packaging

As part of our research towards packaging and food innovations, we have begun exploring several industries, starting with dairy and alternative dairy products.

Here are a couple of initial questions around dairy we would like to explore:

  • What roles does packaging play with dairy and throughout the full dairy supply chain?; and,
  • What special features does packaging need to have to contain dairy and alternative dairy products?

Please share any thoughts, examples, questions, ideas, or links you may have in the comments below!

When I think of milk or dairy product packaging, I think of large hard containers or cartons. Why not flexible? I’ve seen a few examples of the latter, specifically on primary school campuses where kids were served milk in a bag. What is the advantage of the hard container versus the flexible container? Is it purely a consumer behavior response to choose a carton, or are there other chemical properties/reactions going on that make flexible packaging less desirable? As someone who grew up in California/US metropolitan areas, I am particularly interested in hearing the experience and perspective of our global community members as well as the material/food science experts on why dairy is served the way it is.

Here’s our new discussion topic on Food Packaging and Dairy, @eakinyi @LHanson @Joanne @Utobou @Thanku @AustinClowes @iduaolunwa @kjbradford @marsxr @bngejane and @renskelynde. Curious on any input or resources you might have on this topic and Noel’s thoughts!

First, I’m glad you’re looking into the dairy (including plant-based dairy) industry. To respond to Noel, packaging has to be both efficient and effective. Where bags may work in some context, they may not in others that rely on stocking inventory on shelves in stacks. But I definitely agree that ideal packaging solutions may not look like our current packages, and that is a good thing! We will need to better balance the utility of design with efficiency/waste considerations going forward.

If you’re looking for specific resources to inform the prize, I would recommend speaking with the folks at Tetra Pak. While they offer several great packaging solutions themselves (see here for some of their sustainable cartons), they have also produced a suite of resources focused specifically on dairy supply chains. See their Dairy Processing Handbook here. I am in no way affiliated with Tetra Pak, but I feel that any research involving food packaging (especially around perishable liquids and semisolids like in the dairy industry) would be incomplete without talking to Tetra Pak.

@austinclowes , thanks so much for the resources! Tetra Pak is definitely a company on our radar, I’m tagging the rest of my team ( @Caroline @Eti and @BryanNamba ) to check out these resources in more detail and maybe pick your brain more.

Thanks for flagging this for me, @nmgraham! And @austinclowes thanks so much for sharing these
links! I agree that solutions may not look like what is currently in our stores today - but Tetra pack looks like they are integrating some really interesting features like the Connected Pack while still having a familiar look and style. Thanks again, Austin! Looking forward to looking at their dairy processing handbook as well.

@austinclowes Thank you for sharing the helpful resources and for your interesting comment. Could you share a few of your thoughts about the inefficiencies or challenges you see with current packaging design, aside from the material? Not necessarily with regards to dairy.

@Eti Sorry for the long delay, I hadn’t enabled notifications! One way to think about packaging design for efficiency is as follows. There are two primary areas in which innovative food packaging would need superior performance.

  1. Distribution efficiency. Packaging standardizes the shipment and distribution of a bunch of varied products.
  2. Food preservation. This seems obvious, but the point of packaging isn’t only to get food from point A to point B. It also extends the useful life of foods.

The design of any food packaging has to deliver in both areas. A lot of food packaging, especially in highly perishable products like fruit and veg, prioritizes the former at the expense of the latter. For example, shipping avocados on pallets makes distribution relatively straightforward and pretty efficient and it keeps avocados from rolling around the back of a truck too terribly much and getting very bruised. But there is room for packaging that extends the useful life of avocados in all stages of the food supply chain after distribution. In this particular example, Apeel Sciences noted this opportunity and has focused on rolling out its technology to highly perishable goods like avocados and cucumbers.

Long comment to say: Current packaging design often tries to solve both the “distribution efficiency” and “food preservation” problems in one fell swoop, and certain foods may warrant a more modular and flexible approach to food packaging. A “one size fits all” approach to food packaging may be easy, but doesn’t capture all the opportunities in which food packaging can excel.

Hope that helps, and sorry again for the delay!