Demand for microwavable packaging continues to expand at a healthy rate. A report from Technavio, Global Microwave Packaging Market 2017-2021, projects a compound annual growth rate of 8 percent through 2021 and identifies the primary driver as rising demand for convenient products. 

With busy lifestyles, time is limited for preparing meals and snacks. As a result, many people want to buy frozen food, fresh food and shelf-stable meals, which require minimal prep time. Other forces driving the growth of microwavable packaging include the increase in disposable income and rapid urbanization in developing countries; the expanding popularity of smaller, often single-serving packs; interest in healthier eating and clean labels; technological advances in packaging; and the widespread acceptance of microwave ovens.

Microwavable packaging options for frozen, fresh and shelf-stable products include rigid containers and pouches, which incorporate self-venting or -steaming features and are designed to minimize cooking time. Other designs rely on susceptors to help brown and crisp the product. 

The Technavio report forecasts increasing use of pouch packaging. Pouch packaging scores sustainability benefits with its light weight and offers other advantages such as good economics, durability, customizability and aesthetic appeal while protecting product quality and freshness. 

Sustainability concerns also are driving demand for microwavable packaging derived from renewable resources such as wood fiber or plant-based resins 

Another interest in the marketplace is barrier packaging to maximize shelf life and minimize the need for preservatives. One way to enhance barrier properties is via in-mold labeling (IML). Dulcesol Group, a food producer headquartered in Spain, chose IML technology to protect the shelf life of its shelf-stable Naturcrem single-serving soups. The In-Mold Decorating Association recently recognized the injection-molded, pasteurization-compatible, IML container in its 2018 IMDA Awards competition with a Gold Award in the Best Injection Molded (IML) Package category. 

“… Our new Naturcrem creamy soups are completely organic; there are absolutely no preservatives,” says Paco Olaso, marketing director at Dulcesol Group. “The packaging must tie in with this perfectly, by being visually attractive and maximally guaranteeing the quality of the soup.” 

Eliminating the need for refrigeration saves energy throughout the supply chain. “In addition to that, the look is impeccable; the pentagonal base and round, open top makes the packaging an innovative format in all respects within the ready-to-eat creamy soups segment,” he says. The injection-molded container with the barrier label provides a shelf life of up to one year without refrigeration. The label not only needed to provide barrier properties, but also had to withstand the pasteurization process. As a result, the customized structure consists of a pasteurization-resistant film with an ethylene vinyl alcohol barrier layer, carefully chosen inks and special lacquer. 

“An additional, important requirement for the development was individual portions,” says Olaso. “After all, Millennials want responsible foods with a minimum of trash and food wastage. We are meeting these desires in the form of Naturcrem. Next to that, IML is 100 percent recyclable, given that the packaging and the IML label are made from the same material. Don’t forget that 70 percent of buying decisions are made when the customer is already standing in front of the store shelves. That’s when packaging tailor-made with the modern consumer in mind can really make a difference,” he concludes. 

Microwavable packaging for frozen fish products allows consumers to put restaurant-quality entrees on the dinner table with minimal effort. Characterized as a first-of-its-kind product in Canada and introduced by Findus (part of Nomad Foods Europe, Feltham, U.K.), the Steam Delicious Cod Loins are each sealed in a steam-cook pouch. Four minutes in the microwave results in a moist, white, flaky fish portion with a light sauce that can be poured over rice or quinoa. The film-wrapped product is sold in Metro and Sobeys stores in Ontario in two-portion cartons in Chive and Herb Butter or Lemon Parsley Butter flavors for a suggested retail price of $9.99. 

“Many Canadians are looking to incorporate more healthy, delicious fish into their diets, but busy lifestyles can get in the way of meal planning,” says Katarina Wallentin, marketing manager at Findus. “Findus products allow anyone, from the experienced chef to the non-cook, to prepare and enjoy restaurant-quality fish at home.”  NP