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Queues of busy workers streaming out of cafes and coffee shops during the time-honoured lunch time hour break are becoming a thing of the past.  With a third of employees stating they now eat at their desk, and the demise of the traditional sandwich with customers opting for alternatives including wraps and super salads which are readily available from a surge of pop up food-to-go outlets, cafes and coffee shops are under increasing pressure to cater to their health conscious, time poor customers.  

From a hearty sandwich to a roll with soup, bread was the lunchtime staple. However growing reports suggest that consumers are tired of the constant monotony of a regular bread sandwich and are continually looking for the next alternative. Official figures show sales of wraps and pittas have risen 12.8 per cent in the past year as the demand for alternatives to traditional sliced bread has been driven by some of the biggest food trends of 2015, from grab and go breakfast wraps to street food dishes such as burritos and Asian-style flatbreads.

Through the popularity of ‘bread alternatives’ the sandwich market remains buoyant and increased in value by 2% in 2015, with 3.2 billion sandwiches sold according to the British Sandwich Association (BSA). However with four in ten people opting for fashionable burritos, pittas and wraps with their favourite fillings, cafes, delis and sandwich bars need to be at the top of their game according to Neil Goldman, Managing Director for Colpac, one of the UK’s longest established designer and manufacturer of food packaging solutions: “With the increasing variety of alternatives the sandwich market is growing, so it is important for food service operators to keep on top of current trends to remain competitive.”

Health is also a big driver for consumers moving away from sliced bread to lighter options such as wraps and thins.  A further 15% however have ditched the bakery section altogether.  Largely due to the ripples left from the 90’s Atkins diet phenomenon, these customers are in favour of salads, sushi and other snacks which they consider to be healthier and less fattening.  Couple this with the grab-and-go lifestyle of busy consumers new food establishments are popping up all the time to cater to increasingly adventurous palates.

In the past few years more and more are opting to pick up food on the go, rather than packing lunch in the morning and the ‘food to go market’ has hit £20.2bn – a quarter of all eating out spend in 2015.* So how do cafes and coffee shops offering take away lunch time options package up such a vast variety? Ultimately multi-functional packaging is the way forward, clean and simple with the ability to label accordingly. An operator may be packing a Panini one minute and a filled wrap the next so the ability to use an all in one film to board pack is beneficial as it can be shaped around the product to fit and either be heat sealed or clasped together with the use of an integrated paperboard clip.

Speed is essential when packing freshly made food. However as over a third of customers gauge the freshness of a product from its appearance, being able to see the product is a cue to freshness, so packaging needs to offer excellent visibility of food items.  An all in one film to board pack offers this as not only does it protect the product but the clear film displays their purchase clearly.

On the other hand packing loose items such as salads or sushi is a slightly different matter and requires a completely alternate style of packaging, however the same principles – efficient, fresh and ease of use – still apply. A paperboard base and plastic lid is the ideal combination, enabling food service operators the ability to pack food quickly, while the clear lids gives customers the fresh visibility they crave. The paperboard base should be durable and resilient to absorption from dressings and sauces.

However it isn’t just the changing eating fads of consumers that food service operators need to contend with. It’s the growing influence of recycling savvy customers too.

Environmental sustainability and business don’t always go hand in hand, especially when it comes to food product packaging. Some of the most common household packages – including crisp bags – often aren’t recyclable. But for café and coffee shop owners, hoping to capture the food-to-go market, they need to woo sustainability-minded customers too and this can be a real problem. Even though it makes up a small part of a product’s environmental impact, packaging is the first thing that consumers see, and it can heavily influence their buying decisions.

“There are many strands to sustainable packaging,” comments Neil. “From recyclable packaging which can be processed and manufactured into new products, to fully compostable within 90 days.” Food service operators need to fully understand the sustainable nature of the packaging they choose and take care during the selection process to ensure that they don’t come from sources which don’t damage the environment.  Ultimately, however, packaging plays a vital role in preserving foods and reducing waste.

Cafes and coffee houses looking for specific packaging to suit the food-to-go arm of their business should look for suppliers who can offer them everything under one roof.  Ultimately the tastes of customers are continuously evolving and no food provider wants to be left with a quantity of packaging which is unusable, so look for a supplier who can offer shorter batch runs, or multipurpose packaging.  One who can meet individual demands and tailor solutions accordingly would be advantageous as would the ability to apply bespoke labelling.  “Labels can be supplied on a roll, so that food operators can apply as much or as little information as required including ingredient alerts, and can be applied swiftly to individual items,” comments Neil.

 The truth is consumer tastes will always evolve and competitively priced appetising food will always have a place in the market, but the ability to move with the times and have the right packagingpackaging within easy reach for each new food fad will place food services operators ahead of the game.

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