An image of a restaurant staff worker packaging takeaway food into sustainable food packaging in an article on whether sustainable food packaging affects the taste of food

Does sustainable food packaging affect the taste of food? 

In today’s fast-food landscape, a meal’s packaging and its effect on the environment is as important as the taste of the food itself. A growing number of consumers have become more aware of the products they purchase, and the larger environmental impact they may have. As a result, more consumers are seeking out restaurants that align with their values surrounding sustainable food packaging and quality. 

Therefore, it is essential for restaurants and fast-food operators to ensure food packaging is sustainable and able to retain the quality of the meal inside. Sustainable packaging must meet three main criteria: it must be made using 100% recycled or raw materials, it must have a minimised carbon footprint due to its streamlined production process or supply chain, and it must be recyclable or reusable. 

That said, the introduction of sustainable food packaging has raised concerns over whether the materials used will have any effect on the taste of the food inside.

The importance of environmentally sustainable packaging

A 2022 study found 64% of consumers say the sustainability of their food packaging was a determining factor in their purchasing decision. Furthermore, over half of those consumers revealed sustainability was the deciding factor in purchasing one product over another. This is predominately due to the pressing topic of the effects of global warming and climate change

Traditional single-use food packaging is considered unsustainable for various reasons. The main factor is plastic can take decades to break down and often leaches toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment. More so, plastic waste often makes its way into oceans, affecting marine life and lowering water quality. Additionally, it can contaminate local freshwater sources and the surrounding soil, which in turn affects the growth of food crops. Factors such as these have contributed to the increased demand for safer packaging options.

While this may sound like an extra step restauranteurs need to take to please customers, it is a net positive move for the business and the industry it works in. Several studies indicate consumer perception of a brand increases when customers are able to see a brand’s desire to put the environment first. Within the food industry, this can lead to the reduced waste of valuable farmland and oceans from which where most ingredients are sourced. 

An image of three takeaway food containers made from PLA and recyclable plastics in an article on whether sustainable food packaging affects the taste of food

Does sustainable food packaging affect taste?

When discussing the taste of food within sustainable packaging, there must be a distinction between the actual chemical compounds of flavour being affected before consumer perception. Notably, studies show the fact food is packaged sustainably can lead to better overall consumer commentary on taste. A recent report reveals food packaged in a sustainable package is perceived as more satiating than the same food packaged in a non-sustainable package. More so, this effect is explained by the higher perceived quality triggered by the presence of a sustainable package. 

Regarding the chemical compound level of food, sustainable food packaging is designed to avoid chemical interactions, unlike traditional plastic packaging materials, which can have negative health effects. Over 600 different chemicals found in food contact materials have been found to be toxic to humans over time. Sustainable food packaging leaves the food inside as intended, without leaching any chemicals. 

Beyond taste, food packaging can leave consumers feeling full and satiated. A recent study shows packing healthy food into sustainable packaging led consumers to feel more satisfied with their food purchases. This is logical, as someone looking to eat with a positive impact on their body would also care about the effects packaging itself will have on them.

Fast food that is considered “unhealthy”, such as burgers and pizza, is extremely popular in a takeout setting and requires the appropriate packaging. The same study shows the perception of these items has an even more premium feel to consumers due to the care gone into the packaging. That said, it had little to no impact on the feeling of being full, as it did with healthy food products. 

When choosing sustainable food packaging, business owners must consider the environment and temperature needed for the food served. For instance, a soft, paper container is unlikely to hold hot food well, due to the steam and moisture. This may ruin the texture of the food, leaving the customer with an unsatisfactory meal.

An image of sustainable food packaging sealed for customer consumption with a clear recyclable plastic PLA lid to showcase the food in an article on whether sustainable food packaging affects the taste of food

How restaurants can prevent taste impact

The key to delivering a quality product to a consumer is to test the packaging yourself. Prepare a meal, package it as you would for the consumer, and then test how the food tastes. Go one step further and sample it with staff in order to receive honest feedback. 

For instance, consider whether the packaging represents the meal in the best way, and whether it showcases the food in the way you intend. The next step is to conduct market research. Several websites can inform you on the types of sustainable food packaging materials available, and how they can be used. For example, bamboo is durable, heat resistant, and biodegradable. If you need a heat-resistant form of packaging, this would be an excellent choice. 

Finally, understanding your own brand’s design on the packaging is key. You must consider how the logo will be printed on fast-food containers in order to stand out. Additionally, consider adding a quick way for consumers to share their experiences in order to get first-hand feedback. 

It is important to remember that the way in which your food is packaged can go a long way in determining how the consumer will perceive it, and possibly, its taste. Across several food and beverage industries, sustainable food packaging has become not only a first choice but also a demand from consumers. The emphasis on environmental health is at an all-time high and will only increase over the next decade. 

Understanding how your food is perceived in sustainable packaging is paramount to the success of your business. This often overlooked piece can make customers return or push them away. Knowing how your food tastes out of a sustainable package is key to succeeding in a more competitive yet environment-conscious market.