Hot sandwiches and savouries are an important part of the food-to-go market. But with a limited shelf-life and the crucial factor of temperature, getting the packaging right is vital.

Keeping food hot and avoiding sogginess is, of course, the primary purpose of food-to-go packaging. Corrugated card sleeves were adopted by Costa last year for its range of hot paninis and, according to BCP Fluted Packaging, which supplies the chain’s packaging, the corrugated design is drawing attention from many high street bakers interested in offering similar packaging on hot savouries.

"The whole food-to-go area seems to be expanding very quickly," says BCP marketing director Paula Redhead. "Once Costa sets a trend with this kind of product, you get a lot of people wanting their versions of it." The corrugated card "keeps the product hotter for longer and is also greaseproof-lined", she says.

Martin Kersh of the Foodservice Packaging Association says that, as well as developing products that keep hot food in the best condition possible, packaging firms are increasingly concerned with the sustainability of products. "Our members spend huge resources to provide a product that more than meets environmental requirements," he says.

This can be seen in some of the most recent NPD to hit the market. An ovenable bakery tray made from renewable wood pulp is one of the latest environmentally-friendly launches on the market. Nicholl Food Packaging, which makes the new round tray, says it launched the product in response to customer demand for more sustainable options.

BCP is also developing packaging for products stored in heated cabinets. "A lot of bread goes almost rubbery and hard, but if you put the product on a corrugated base, it is lifted off the shelf and that enables you to hold sandwiches in a heated cabinet."

The company also makes corrugated cardboard sleeves, laminated to susceptor material, which enables breads such as paninis and ciabatta to be microwaved and stay crisp. Susceptors are a metallic film laminated to a paper base. "Instead of the bread going soggy, it goes crisp," says Redhead. "So it allows you to heat up sandwiches in the microwave. Those products have been around for a while in retail such as Rustler burgers and McCain microchips but other companies are starting to look at them now as a means to having food-to-go sandwiches heated up."

Other companies such as RAP also manufacture corrugated packaging for hot savoury takeaways. Hot Rap is lightweight film adhered to a profiled corrugated board. It can be microwaved or put in a conventional oven up to 180°C. The board acts as insulation while holding hot savouries such as sausage rolls or pasties in heated cabinets.

Government action

Packaging waste is one of the biggest problems dogging the foodservice industry and, in the government’s recent Waste Review 2011, the intention was clear the problem must be tackled. The government is planning to do this through a voluntary scheme modelled on WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment, an agreement between the major supermarkets and food manufacturers.
The government readily accepts that the foodservice industry "is a large and complex sector" and, in July, it arranged for a group of ’early adopters’ to attend the Footprint Round Table an event designed for businesses from different parts of the supply chain to identify the implications for a voluntary agreement.
John Young, UK foodservice sales and marketing director of Huhtamaki UK, was one of 30 foodservice supply chain professionals invited to take part in the Footprint Round Table. "It is important for large companies like Huhtamaki to be involved with industry events that tackle the issues relating to packaging and waste," he says.