by Preston Neupert and Terrill Keiner


Although packaged food, or packaging in general, feels like it has been around forever the invention of it is still relatively recent in the scheme of things.

Three key elements in yesterday’s packaging stand out, which drove the invention and expansion of the food packaging industry:

  • Invention of the can in 1810 by Nicolas Appert in France.
  • Need to find new consumer base for packaging industry after World War II
  • Invention of grocery store chains

Throughout the 19th century there was a rapid progression of food packaging methods, which were developed in order to accommodate the large population of military personnel seeking transportable food with a longer shelf life. It is believed the inception of modern food packaging began around 1810 with the invention of canning by Nicolas Appert. He responded to a competition from the French Directory to invent a mechanism for storing goods in transit (Nicolas Appert, Britannica). This competition was the inspiration Nicolas needed to embark on his journey to create the first canned food package. Luckily for us, he was successful!

At its inception, the can was used purely for its functionality in providing an easier means of food transportation, safety, and longer shelf life. These qualities allowed a more economical means of feeding the military as well as creating factory jobs for a struggling economy. The food packaging industry profited tremendously from the demand of its goods which was generated by World War I and II. The sharp increase in profits allowed the packaging industry to invest in research and design departments in order to create more innovative food packaging methods, which allowed it to expand and grow the market.

After World War II companies thriving from the processed food industry needed to create a new market for its goods as the military no longer proved to be a sustainable consumer population (Something From The Oven Book Review). The new target population was the American housewife, who had more discerning taste and the option to create meals from scratch – unlike the military troops who had no other option than to eat packaged food at the military base. Marketing and advertising campaigns were put into effect in order to convince this new population that packaged food was the best (and easiest!) way to serve the family at mealtime. There was a sharp increase in sales of refrigerators and freezers after World War II (Schlosser). Perhaps this is attributed to the growing popularity of frozen food. In conjunction with this, large grocery stores were being built and developed, which provided natural product placement opportunities for companies. This new marketing opportunity on the shelves of grocery stores spurred a new era for packaging and the way manufacturers and companies thought of it.

Once frozen food technologies were established in full, two consumer populations developed: average American housewives and fast food companies. Fast food companies such as McDonald’s realized “the reduced cost of using a frozen product made french fries one of the most profitable items on the menu” (Schlosser).  The food packaging industry’s expanded markets and consumer-based marketing set the tone for the future of the industry.


One could not walk into a kitchen today without encountering some form of packaging. Packaging is how we care for, sell, transport and store food and products. Not only do we rely on packaging to keep our food fresh, safe and clean we also rely on packaging for the daily cleaning supplies used in a kitchen, such as soap, Clorox wipes, dishwasher detergent, etc.

Packaging has become such a huge industry and it truly affects how people shop, their decisions on what (or how much) they buy, how they use the product, how things are stored in pantries or shelves and how packaging is reused. Today, packaging encompasses so much more than just a providing a function and companies need to keep this notion in the forefront of their thought process when marketing any given product, not only for consumption, but also for their profitability.

The following three key elements are most prevalent in today’s packaging world in terms of how companies think about packaging, but also what the goals of packaging strive for.

  1. Preservation and packaging techniques – manufacturers are striving to exploit all resources to guarantee that foods and beverages achieve and retain their highest level of taste, freshness, safety and health to satisfy consumer demand
  2. Profitability – manufacturers and companies must address and discover ways to be most profitable with one’s packaging. This is of utmost importance to the industry. Companies must capitalize on ways packaging can be used to build a one-on-one customer relationship to show consumers the value packaging brings. The risk is to avoid investing in “great” ideas that do not address a need; packaging needs to be both functional, but also create an idea of need and interest (Mohan)
  3. Consumers – Today consumers are the main driver of the industry. Without consumers of product, whether it is food or supplies, there would be no demand. There is a delicate balance between satisfying the consumers, but also maintaining a profitable and effective product that makes sense in terms of cost, safety and protection.

Packaging is yet to be a 100% globalized commodity, as it is tailored to the company, economy and/or region or country; however, one universal goal of packaging is food safety. This is the key aspect that drives the packaging market today and continues to drive developments in innovative preservation techniques within the packaging. The United States could learn from other more innovative countries, in terms of food preservation and simplified packaging with a lesser environmental impact; however, from the United States perspective packaging is still a huge marketing source, so finding a balance that satisfies all aspects is a work in progress.

Many advancements have been made in packaging since the invention of the can in 1810 such as:

  • Innovative packaging products in conventional packaging, like canning and bottling that utilizes smart and advanced packaging, which now rely on controlled atmosphere when “bottling”
  • Intelligent packaging that utilizes quality sensors & safety control
  • Interactive packaging techniques

These new packaging techniques directly influence a kitchen. Maybe it is not as obvious at first glance, but with new packaging, whether it is more efficient, smaller or allows products to last longer, meaning you have more time to “collect” more products, packaging has the ability to affect the layout of the space, the width or height of drawers, spice racks, cabinets and refrigerators.


Assuming today’s three key elements for successful packaging continue to develop and achieve what they are striving for the next generation of packaging should expand to focus more on tomorrow’s goals:

  1. Globalization
  2. Reusable/Green Aspects
  3. Continued advancements in safety
  4. Use of technology and interactive packaging
  5. User friendly packaging for aging population

The food and beverage industry will continue to drive the packaging industry, as they depend on the appropriate preservation and packaging techniques in order to thrive on all levels. Food and beverage companies will always be driven by sales and how packaging can further market and sell their product and the packaging industry will continue to reinvent the wheel and continue to push their products to find the newest, most innovative, sustainable and friendly products. There will continue to be a mutual beneficial relationship between the food/beverage industry and the packaging industry because if one does well it only helps and benefits the other. This symbiotic relationship will not change in the future.

Packaging of tomorrow will continue to develop more creative and sustainable ways to preserve foods and beverages, but will also become more universally global. Packaging would also benefit by capitalizing on and acknowledging/taking into account the huge aging population of the baby boomer generation. People are now living longer and continuing to consume and use packaging. The industry and companies would benefit by marketing to and addressing the complications associated with growing older. For example, they could make more age-appropriate packaging that addresses difficulties with opening packages due to arthritis, joint pain, loss of strength/coordination, etc.

The main driving force of food safety and preservation will continue to drive packaging to re-think and push designs; however, “a shift in consumer food preferences, multicultural food habits, globalization factors, the multinational work culture, increased spending capacity, trade regulations and processes and other factors” (Packaging helps grow global preservation markets, pg. 1) will change the way packaging is thought of. It will force processors and manufactures to further increase development of packaging and as the world becomes more and more environmentally friendly and conscience, it will only put more pressure on the packaging manufacturers to invent more green, eco-friendly, biodegradable, low impact, reusable packaging.

Along with the globalization of packaging, the competition will get steeper and the United States will hopefully learn from other countries advancements and follow suit.

A push in the direction of more ecofriendly and efficient packaging may also effect kitchens, their layouts and what they are primarily used for. Before the invention of freeze packaging and “instant” meals, the microwave had little use; however, consider a kitchen without some sort of microwave component in it today. The future may hold a new type of packaging that may revolutionize how we eat and store food, and what appliances are needed in order to accommodate it.

In addition there may be opportunities in terms of advancements in technology, such as interactive packaging that can alert its “owner” when a product is low or a red light comes on when the expiration date is nearing. This would help prevent waste (i.e. easier to keep track of what you have), but also overbuying.

The future also seems to be cyclical. In today’s world, there is a push towards going back to the idea of “farm to table” and truly “fresh” produce. In tomorrow’s world, this could continue to develop, which would affect the packaging required to safely transport and house the goods. With every new “invention” in packaging, it will require a re-thinking of what is important and how it can be capitalized to benefit the both supplier and the consumer.

SUGGESTED READING                                                  

  • Something From The Oven by Laura Shapiro
  • Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

WORKS CITED                                                                   

Butschil, Jim. Packaging Helps Grow Global Preservation Markets. April 22, 2013.   preservation-markets

Mohan, Anne Marie. Commodity Ingredient Packs Now Provide Home-Cooking Inspiration. April. 19,           2013.     provide-home-cooking-inspiration

Mohan, Anne Marie. Snack-cake carton graphics are contemporized. April 19, 2013.          contemporized

Mohan, Anne Marie. What’s the key to profitable packaging innovation? April 17, 2013.        packaging-innovation

Nicolas Appert (French Chef). Encyclopedia Britannica Online. April 30 2013.  

Packaging helps grow global preservation markets. April 22, 2013.             preservation-markets

Perception Research Services International. Packaging Design, Consumer Research, and Business     Strategy: The March Toward Accountability. 2013.   insights/article/packaging-design-consumer-research-and-business-strategy-the-march-toward          accountability/

Schlosser, Eric. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: Why the Fries Taste Good (Excerpt), April 21, 2012.  

Something From The Oven Book Review, June 24, 2010. Blog.

Walker, Alissa. The Problem is Not Packaging Design, It’s Systems Design. Dec. 15, 2009.