The scene of sitting around the dinner table and sharing a meal has certainly been represented in the art world. You can sense the fun the guests are having in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Other artwork — like John Singer Sargent’s painting of a peasant family at their midday meal, Édouard Vuillard’s painting At Table, or the Japanese portrait of a Family Eating Soba Noodles – portray a more routine dinner time of family gathered around the table. These classic paintings, however, depict a time period before hectic schedules, eating on the run, independent living, the ‘snackification’ of meals… and the rise of technology.
The Hartman Group recently published an article, Evolving Trend in Eating Occasions: All By Myself that discussed how consumers are redefining the concept of ‘meal’ and how eating alone has become a normal part of modern life. A poll taken by the same organization showed that the top reasons consumers eat alone by choice are because they believe they are more productive, they can catch up on reading or watching television shows, it’s easier for them, and they can recharge and indulge in “me time.” Another reason is that many people graze all day on snack foods and avoid larger meals at one sitting.
Eating alone has boosted single serve packaging, which has also boosted concerns for manufacturers. This shift in culture and societal food trends has an effect on food packaging, and food producers need to address this fairly new behavior if they want to increase their bottom line.
Many manufacturers are already offering new products to serve these needs. The grocery store aisles are filled with snack and single-portion meals for one, whether they be mac and cheese in a cup, Asian noodle bowls, carrot sticks and dip packages, hummus and chips snack packs, or a range of other ready-to-eat foods for one. Although frozen dinners have been around for years, this new solitary eating trend is forcing manufacturers to change the way they quality check their products.
New packaging designs and new packaging materials may call for new packaging inspection equipment
High-performance systems need to be checked to ensure they are still fit for finding contaminants such as metal, rock, plastic and glass, and remove them prior to further processing. Snack bags lined with foil cannot be used in metal detector machinery and processors must upgrade to x-ray detection and inspection systems. The best detection results happen when you x-ray individual servings instead of multi-packs or cases, but to save costs, systems can be configured to run multiple lanes.
Checkweighers are becoming even more important to help ensure accurate weight control; an extra ounce added to each single serving multiplied by the tens of thousands of packages going out the door will add up to a lot of lost profit. Even worse, because the portions are much smaller in a single-serve container, a customer will notice immediately if they have been shortchanged in product. And that will hurt your brand. (Controlling underfill and overfill in your packaged food is also necessary to meet legal requirements.)
The Hartman report indicated that “our food and beverage culture is evolving from a traditional, status quo culture to one that is re-imagined, consumer driven and experiential.” If food manufacturers intend to keep up, their analysis, inspection, and control of ingredients and packaging must also be updated.
Norman Rockwell may have painted a different picture if he was alive today. Instead of illustrating the simple family holiday dinner scene of multiple generations sitting around a dressed-up table and a bounty of food, his classic Thanksgiving picture might have depicted an empty table in the dining room, and a lone person in the living room, sitting on a comfy chair with a smart phone in one hand and a package of fully cooked and ready to eat quinoa-vegetable-tofu medley in the other.
What about you? Do you prefer single-serve packaging? Comment below and let us know.
Need help figuring out which checkweigher is best for your business? Here’s a Checkweigher Selection Guide.