The UAE’s food packaging industry is set to log in record growth over the next few years, due to the current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic and changing consumer trends, experts highlighted.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, experts noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a surge in online orders being placed, not just for ready-to-eat meals from restaurants and cafes, but also grocery deliveries of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry. Manufacturers noted that this trend has shifted the focus towards improving the current products portfolio in the industry and innovating on more eco-friendly packaging.
“Due to the coronavirus, we have observed a large increase in the usage of online food ordering which is either collected as a takeaway or brought by delivery driver,” said Abdul Jebbar PB, managing director of Hotpack Global. “The food packaging industry was presented with unprecedented growth opportunities, with demand rising for safe and sustainable food packaging options.”
Jebbar explained that the shift within food consumption has brought its own challenges, especially in relation to food hygiene, transportation, and storage. The high temperatures often experienced in the UAE mean that food packaging must be contamination free from the outset and properly sealed to maintain the freshness and moisture content. “The significant growth in e-commerce during the pandemic also triggered new developments in the industry, with priority towards safety and hygiene, and tamper-evident packaging, as well as increased sensitivity to offering a complaint-free consumer experience.”
He also revealed that the food packaging industry in the UAE was valued at Dh10 billion in 2020, and is set to grow to Dh14 billion in the next five years. The presence of more international food brands in the Mena markets has also contributed significantly to the growth of the sector.
Like Jebbar, Mohammad Mansouri, business development manager at Fresh Fruits Company, said that consumers are becoming more sophisticated in terms of how they shop. With a shift towards a healthier diet, they are more conscious of the quality of food ingredients, safety, and broader impact on the planet.
“Evidence suggests that people will likely double their consumption of fruit and vegetables by 2050,” he said. “However, with this increase in consumption, the consumers and the produce industry need to mitigate this consumption’s negative impact. We can achieve this by using the available resources more responsibly, reducing food waste throughout the supply chain, and reducing its production, packaging, storage and transportation.”
One of the fastest growing trends in the industry right now has been towards sustainable packaging. Globally, the Covid-19 outbreak has put the $900 billion a year industry on the front lines, with consumers and companies working towards zero waste compliance and sustainability, which is also a key development agenda in the UAE.
“Packaging is the first touchpoint of the consumer; the first thing they see when they come into contact with the product,” said Mansouri. “Packaging is used to extend shelf-life, reduce food waste, increase food safety, and make transport and consumption of fruit and vegetables more convenient. It also provides necessary information to the consumer such as origin, nutrition facts, and a guide to storage. For this, we mainly use plastic because of the inherent benefits, however, the environmental impacts of increased plastic use and the public awareness resulted in calls for more sustainable options.”
“No one would've thought that packaging would become one of the leading sustainability priorities in the produce business,” he added. “However, with the increase in consumption of fruit and vegetables, this has become a central issue.”
“The shift towards environment-friendly packaging solutions is a prominent change in the market dynamics,” Jebbar agreed. “Intelligent packaging innovations which includes the use of nanotechnology to ensure extended shelf life of products and enhanced food safety are trending like never before. The most important challenge here is to create recyclable products which can be reused time after time. At Hotpack, our key focus over the last four years has been to develop an alternative ‘bio’ range that can be recycled. Many of our plastic production factories and machines are able to accept up to 25 per cent recycled raw materials and our paper products utilises 100 per cent recycled material.”
He also noted that there is a need to educate both governments and consumers to increase their recycling of all food packaging materials so that good quality raw materials can be utilised by advanced factories. Still, he noted that there will always be some products where plastic is always the better option. A paper bag, for example, requires five times more electricity to make than a plastic bag. A plastic bag is often used three or four times, whereas a paper bag is usually single use.”
“Whilst we would ideally aim for a zero-land fill policy, whereby all food packaging products are recycled, we have strived hard to ensure that many of our new products are both biodegradable and compostable,” Jebbar said. “This means that should they unfortunately end in landfill, or sadly in the oceans, they will decompose safely without producing harmful micro and nano components. We already have a wide range of these products and we continue to devote resources to the research and development of this crucial technology.”
Similarly, Mansouri noted that plastic recycling, even though recyclable, is very low. “However, a lot of paper packaging is being recycled into new packaging, but this has a high carbon footprint in terms of production and reproducing from recycled material, compared to plastic. We have started a process to transition our packaging into recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging within the coming years. However, challenges remain because the costs of the new material are very high and more limited in the region compared to other parts of the world. Our hope is that packaging material manufacturers will put sustainability at the heart of their operation.”
“We encourage everyone throughout our food system to take an in-depth look at their impact and consider the different options available and do their best to address the impact on the environment, from the raw material to consumption,” he said.
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