If it was fresh when it left; it should be fresh when it arrives.
Before the pandemic, the meal kit concept looked like it might be going bust, or at least growing far slower than anticipated. Thanks to COVID-19 restrictions and quarantining, consumers have discovered they don’t have to go to the grocery store to get a hearty meal, or at least assemble the ingredients to make one, so meal kits have grown exponentially in popularity. But a booming market brings competition, corporate buyouts, the need to narrowcast for specific demographics, and closer scrutiny on production and packaging practices. If you’re looking to build a reputation for well-packed meal kits full of crisp fruits and vegetables, properly preserved meats, and unspoiled dairy products, you’re going to need to hyperfocus on your packaging. And if you don’t, your competition will.
In The Beginning
Fresh meal kits begin with fresh ingredients. If the era of coronavirus has taught suppliers and producers any sort of lesson, it must be that disruptions can come swiftly and unexpectedly. A dairy farm providing you fresh cream for your wildly successful mashed potato side dish can suddenly shut down because some workers had to be quarantined. What then? You need to have complete control over your supply chain.
- Find Backup Suppliers: And have backups to your backups. If your customers expect sweet potatoes in their meal, then a note saying, “sorry, the farm we buy from ran out” isn’t going to generate repeat business. Environmental issues can cause supply problems, so suppliers from all around the country and even the world need to be ready for your call should the need arise.
- Follow the Market: You might have to figure out your menus up to a year in advance, and while some trends can change abruptly, you need to be prepared to follow where the sales are leading you. Also, note packaging trends like snack packaging. Customers have come to expect portioned packs with specific calorie counts. If you need to start ordering smaller pouches and boxes or change the amount and frequency you purchase certain foods, that kind of planning needs to happen right now.
- Manage Your Inventory: Know what you have on hand and what you need to order. Keeping track of your food with warehouse inventory software and management systems means less food wasted, over or under purchased, and food recalls can be tracked and handled.
Pack Well, Pack Strong
When a TV is shipped poorly, the result is probably going to be a cracked screen. When perishable food is packed poorly, someone is going to go hungry or eat unsafe food. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your food makes it to the customer safely.
- Padding: To keep pouches from bursting, eggs from cracking, or cartons from leaking, make sure you have sufficient padding. Bubble wrap, foam, vacuum-formed plastic trays, anything that is soft as well as leak-proof is necessary to keep food from getting damaged or spilling its contents through the packaging. A soggy box is a good indication the food was not packed properly. Your packaging should create an airtight seal not only to preserve the food but prevent such leaks from occurring.
- Modified Atmosphere Packaging: Sometimes food needs more than just an airtight seal. Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) works to eliminate oxygen from spoiling sensitive foods. This can be through gas flushing, which replaces oxygen with inert nitrogen, or through the use of desiccant packs, one-way valves, and even the use of passive barrier films that are less permeable to moisture and oxygen.
- Cooling: For foods that need to be kept cool, ice or gel packs can keep food in a safe temperature range. For foods that need to be frozen, dry ice is the most common method, but dry ice also comes with higher regulations due to its possible dangers.
- Sturdy Packages: Thick, corrugated cardboard and foam can keep your package rigid enough to endure being stacked in a delivery truck with dozens of other boxes and not get crushed.
If you’re focused on hyperlocal delivery, you might be in a position to deliver food the same day as the order, but if you’re even remotely regional, you’ll have to rely on shipping companies to get your food to the customer as quickly as possible.
Make no mistake — food needs fast delivery. Non-perishable foods such as nuts and grains can survive on a stock shelf for a while, but if your customer’s order of steaks gets held up in a distribution center, it can mean spoiled meat that needs to be thrown away. You should be tracking and tracing your food to determine where and when your food gets delivered in case you need to issue a recall or track down a shipping issue. Use shipping channels you can trust. If your food isn’t arriving in a timely manner, it’s time to find another service.
Communication On Packaging
Your labels need to tell the customer exactly what to expect. For example: “Caution: DRY ICE,” “Refrigerate Immediately After Opening,” “Don’t Throw Away the Recipes.” Meal kits are designed to make crafting a meal easier, so make it easier on the customer. Labeling each item keeps people safe from possible cross-contamination of pathogens or allergens. A master list on the front of your box would also tell the consumer that they’ve purchased the right items.
Something else you can communicate through your packaging is safety, proof that it hasn’t been opened. If you’re shipping non-perishables or baked goods that are a little more accessible (e.g., in clamshell packaging), think about how you can prove to the recipient that it hasn’t been tampered with or modified since it left the packaging line. Tamper-evident labeling is a great way to assure customers that the food they’re receiving is safe (and all there).
Alert Your Customers When Their Package Arrives
Whether through your shipping partner or your own alert system, your customer needs to know their package is on their doorstep. You might require a signature for delivery, or you might send email and text alerts. Alerts that give the customer a clear indication of exactly when the food was delivered keeps them safe. If they don’t realize the package was sitting on their porch for 5 hours and they eat spoiled food, your customers can get seriously ill or worse.
Your Packaging Line Matters
As you continue to fine-tune your processes from supply to packaging to delivery, consider how these choices impact your brand’s reputation. Every detail matters. If you’re looking for a way to speed up your packaging line and ensure your food packages are correctly and consistently labeled, consider a labeling machine upgrade. While it may not seem like a high priority, as your business picks up, you’ll find that even labeling can positively or negatively impact customer perception and your reputation.
We’ve been in the food labeling industry for a while. Our years of crafting industry-leading labeling machines have given us a lot of insight into best practices for packaging lines that are efficient, quick, consistent, and profitable. If you're curious about your line's efficiency, take a look at these four problems that can slow down packaging lines to see if any might be affecting you.
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