Back in the “good old days” people would take a bag or basket to their local store or farm and collect what it was that they needed. These days of course a major concern in terms of food is quite simply how much packaging is used.
If you took your weekly grocery shopping and removed all the packaging I think you’d be surprised just how much their is. Worse still of course is that someone has to pay for all that packaging – and that someone is you.
Finally, all that packaging must be disposed of and this leads to a lot of extra garbage being thrown into landfill. And of course even recycling isn’t perfect It still uses energy. Far better if we didn’t need to dispose of packaging anyway.
So one question I have had several times recently is really why we have all this packaging? What purpose does it really serve and is it really necessary? Well there are six common reasons for packaging to be used for food so let’s take a look at them in detail and I’ll leave it up to you whether you feel these are really necessary or more of a luxury.
We’re used to our food looking nice. As many people say, we shop with our eyes. If you compare a sparkling clean supermarket with everything laid out neatly and nicely with the way older stores used to display food it is clear that food is now better presented than ever. And better presentation means not only more confidence in the food we buy but also means we’re likely to buy more of it. “That looks nice” is a commonly-heard comment in a supermarket before someone adds something to their trolley.
With thousands of people visiting each supermarket each day the fact is that there is a lot of dirt around. When you also consider that the food on the shelves may have come off a farm, then been washed, sent to a warehouse, driven across the country in a lorry along polluted roads, put into the supermarket warehouse and finally taken out onto the shelf that food item has potentially come into contact with a lot of dirt.
It isn’t like a farm shop where something gets washed and then put straight onto the shelf. And people are simply unlikely to buy an apple if it’s covered in dust and dirt. They expect shiny, clean apples.
Branding is stronger than ever before. Coke, Cadbury, Kelloggs and so on charge a premium for their product because people know and like it. And the packaging is how they sell the product.
If it weren’f for the color schemes, the logos and the catch phrases, not only would food products probably look far less valuable (meaning we wouldn’t be willing to pay as much) but we’d probably be far less likely to buy the premium brands.
Basically food companies package their food is clear packaging and then advertise that packaging on TV, in the newspapers and on billboards. It’s how you know you’re getting that exact product you saw rather than a different version of it.
We mentioned earlier on the journey that much food goes through. Due to the ever-growing food miles our groceries travel there is a ever-growing chance of it getting damaged. Whether that means leaking, bruising or whatever much packaging is designed to keep your food in the best possible condition despite it’s long journey.
Of course there are other considerations too. Food may sit on the shelves of the shop for weeks or even months and so vacuum sealing things, putting them in boxes and so on will help to keep them fresh and edible for longer meaning more profits for the supermarket because they need to throw far less away.
Some items like salad leaves are sold in bags which have had nitrogen gas pumped into them which keeps them fresh and crispy far longer than if they were left in normal air.
Lastly there is the issue of practicality. Supermarkets are a “pile it high, sell it cheap” business where staffing must be kept to a minimum. If you didn’t put breakfast cereal into boxes or sodas into cans and bottles, how would customers easily buy it? The supermarkets couldn’t afford staff members to be measuring things out into your own containers or their whole business model would break down.
So there you have it; the reasons for packaging in food. I admit that food packaging is generally bad but hopefully now you can see some of the reasons why it is used. The real golden egg here is figuring out ways in which we can make those reasons go away so that we can reduce our packaging consumption while still enjoying delicious, nutritious food.