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Customising takeout food packaging: What to consider

While takeout food packaging is a small part of the overall customer experience, it can impact the perception of the food and your brand. The packaging in which you choose to serve takeaway food will be the first visual cue delivery customers get when they receive your product. 

Beyond this, takeout packaging will also determine how the food holds up during transit and how it will be presented when opened. High-quality packaging materials are essential to guarantee that food products are enjoyed at their best by customers. 

To learn more about what to consider when choosing takeout food packaging, I spoke with Cas Maxwell, a restauranteur out of Columbus, Ohio. 

The importance of smart takeout packaging choices

When choosing the best takeaway packaging for your business, there are several factors to consider:

Protecting your food

One of the most important factors to consider is how the packaging will protect the food. The container should protect food from outside contamination during the delivery process. Beyond this, it should ensure the meal is perfectly presented upon arrival. 

Temperature control

The next factor is temperature control. When exposed to heat for long periods, the rate at which food can grow bacteria increases. This may potentially harm a consumer, which is why many restaurants choose to invest in insulated food packaging.

Insulated food packaging allows meals to be transported to the customer while maintaining integrity and taste. Primarily, it protects food from extreme temperature changes. For certain meals, such as sushi, ice packs can be placed around insulated packaging to ensure the food is kept cold. 

Understanding how your packaging holds or releases temperature is vital when choosing which materials to use in takeaway packaging. 

Food appearance

Visual cues while eating are a large part of the overall enjoyment of the dining experience. Therefore, having packaging that shows off the food while promoting your business profile is integral to a successful business.

Ensuring your packaging shows the best side of both your product and your business goes a long way in repeat customers and overall exposure to the food you serve.

Another consideration is the packaging marketing you choose. Custom food packaging must offer more than just functionality. It should feature unique designs that leave a lasting impression on customers. This design should also align with your existing branding, creating a consistent brand identity that communicates the value of your product.

“Custom takeaway packaging can add great detail to your brand and provide it with a more refined look,” says Cas. “However, for a business that is just starting out or has a lower customer volume, custom packaging may not be practical.”

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What materials are often used? 

It is important to understand the most common materials used for takeout packaging, along with the pros and cons of each one:

Styrofoam

Packaging made from Styrofoam is a popular choice in the restaurant industry because it tends to insulate better, keep food fresh for longer, and costs less than many alternatives. Additionally, Styrofoam containers are lightweight and easy to stack in large quantities – ideal for the fast-paced takeaway industry. 

However, these containers are often plain white in colour, making them dull in appearance. More importantly, Styrofoam is a petrochemical, which means it comes from petroleum and is an unsustainable choice. Beyond this, the chemicals found in the material can release toxins such as benzene and styrene, which can lead to various health issues.  

Plastics

Plastic-made takeout containers can offer a durable and positive experience if chosen correctly. These containers tend to hold temperatures better – specifically, cold temperatures. 

More so, they are lightweight, are available in different sizes, and can be more cost-effective than other materials. They can also be airtight and moisture resistant, offering a better end product to your guests. 

That being said, petroleum-based plastics contribute to environmental waste. They can also have long-term health effects if they are made with Bisphenol A (BPA). This is a chemical compound primarily used in the manufacturing of plastics.

A suitable alternative to traditional plastics is polyethylene terephthalate (PET). PET is a clear, strong and lightweight plastic that is 100% recyclable. 

Aluminium foil 

Aluminium foil containers are highly effective at insulating heat and keeping food at the correct temperature. It is important to note these takeout containers can be more expensive than other materials, but they are durable, flexible, and hygienic.

Aluminium foil’s key sustainability strength is its endless recyclability. As it is one of the few packaging materials that does not degrade through the recycling loop, aluminium foil can be used and recycled an infinite number of times. It is estimated 75% of all the aluminium ever made is still in use somewhere in the world in one form or another. 

Paper or cardboard

Takeaway packaging made from paper or cardboard is an eco-friendly option as it should break down quicker than traditional materials. They are great for dry meals, such as burgers. However, paper may absorb moisture from hot or wet foods and become unstable and compromised over time. 

Paper also offers less of a barrier to oxygen, light, and microbes. For paper to have better barrier properties, layers of plastic laminates must be added to the packaging.

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Why should you prioritise sustainable takeout packaging?

Studies show that over 50% of customers are concerned about the environmental impact of food packaging and plastic waste. Over two-thirds are willing to pay more for sustainable materials. 

Therefore, prioritising recyclable, reusable, and biodegradable packaging minimises environmental impact and promotes a positive message. More so, taking on sustainable initiatives can help build customer trust and loyalty, as research shows 92% of consumers are more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues

According to the Journal of Cleaner Production, sustainable food packaging can be particularly influential in shaping consumer perceptions of food items, with consumers rating sustainably packaged foods more favourably in terms of taste and quality. 

Cas says the most important factor to consider when customising takeout packaging is that it should work for you. “In the end, it’s good food that will make the customer’s experience worthwhile.”

Be sure to take the time to choose the right fit for your business so that your customers can continue to enjoy a reliable takeout experience that delivers time and time again.