The super stars of Food Packaging

How often do you think about food packaging? If you answered “never,” you’re clearly not paying attention in the grocery store. The bags, cartons, and heart-shaped boxes on display are constantly being reengineered to keep food safer, fresher, and more alluring.


Thinking outside the (symmetrical) box.

Next time you shop, take a closer look food packaging and the ways it’s bringing new solutions to some old market challenges:

Out with the bad, in with the good

Let’s say you’re a hop farmer and your customer base is growing. Hops need to stay fresh in order to be effective. Stale hops won’t cut it. Do you bag them up and sell them as is? No. You partner with a packaging company that can provide customized solutions.

Your partner will weigh the hops according to industry standards and then pelletize them. Next, they’ll be sealed with a quality food-grade vacuum sealing system, either in a soft or hard pack. That’s how it’s been done for a long time, and in many cases, that’s good enough.

Today, however, your hops may undergo a double-nitrogen flush. Wait, double what?

Nitrogen flushing forces the regular air out and injects nitrogen gas in. Nitrogen doesn’t react with food like oxygen does, so foods stay fresher, longer.

The nitrogen also creates a cushion that protect delicate foods and snacks, like your potato chips. (Notice that flush of air whooshing out when opening a bag of chips, and how quickly your chips lose flavor and break down and crumble once the bag is opened? Double-nitrogen flushing, my friend.)

Canning the can

A recent trip to the grocery store to buy a “can” of tuna may find you staring at rows of tuna pouches not cans. These pouches, called retort pouches, were invented by the U.S. Army in the 1970s for ready-to-eat meals. They made their way into supermarket shelves in the early 2000s. (Ask any army vet about what these meals tasted like!)


Pouches weigh less and saves space on the shelves, while at the same time maximizing label sizes for better brand presence. Source: ​English Wikipedia user Daniel Case

Constructed from a flexible metal-plastic laminate able to withstand the thermal processing used for sterilization, contents (like tuna fish) are first prepared, either raw or cooked, and then sealed into the pouch.

The pouch is then heated to 240-250°F under high pressure inside a retort or autoclave machine, killing commonly occurring microorganisms and preventing spoilage.

The process is very similar to canning, except that the package itself is much more flexible. Nowadays, shoppers can purchase all kinds of foods from these old military standbys, including tuna, soups, baby food and even good ol’ Spam.

Things have changed since the 1950s frozen dinner!

Cool new packaging being engineered today

Classic fresh food packs typically have three key parts: a hard thermoplastic tray with an oxygen barrier, a peelable film bonded to the edge of the tray to create an airtight seal, and a separate lid that clicks to the outer edge of the tray.

The concept is not unlike this tub of cottage cheese.


Typical three-part package, includes tray (or tub), sealing film, and lid.

Some companies, like ANL Plastics, are now pushing the design of these packages even further. ANL is producing the Peelpaq, which integrates the seal with the lid. That means the traditional 3-piece construction is now down to two pieces.

The Peelpaq reduces costs for transport and storage and is just a more convenient solution for consumers, since the film stays with the lid. Watch how the Peelpaq performs:

PTC helped with the innovation by providing the software ANL uses to design and manufacture its new ideas. “PTC Creo Parametric allowed us to automate and integrate design, engineering, and manufacturing,” says Roderich Lemmens, Coordinator Product & Tool Design at ANL Plastics. And that’s helped make production more efficient, leading to significant time savings–the company says that the PTC solution has slashed ANL’s time to market by 60%.


Image courtesy ANL Plastics.

Don’t forget labeling

Sure, there’s the engineering and the science behind keeping food fresh and safe. But if it’s a clear box on a shelf, no one will buy it. Enter: labeling.

As you know, you have many choices at the store. Getting you to purchase a product takes skill and a mixture of price, quality, and good looks. Package labeling, whether you’re shopping for a new yogurt, beverage, or shampoo, has to not only inform buyers like you, but also provoke feelings and communicate emotions.

It has to look attractive and be creative. It’s important because research suggests consumers give it less than three seconds to draw buyers in. Fortunately, designers are responding with labels that are striking, interesting, and playful. Here’s a great example of strong award-winning labels that are not only fun but attractive.

Food packaging has indeed evolved, thanks in part to great design and design engineering. Unless you still like to buy your food from a grocery store in burlap bags (not that’s there’s anything wrong with that), you’re cupboards are already full of these cool, modern packaging and labeling innovations. Pay attention next time you shop, packaging design is becoming more efficient and inspiring all the time.

[Ed. Inspired? You can read more about PTC customers and the remarkable engineering challenges they conquer every day by visiting our Case Studies page. Then sign up for our newsletter, PTC Express, to meet even more PTC customers like ANL Plastics each month.]

Quick Links

Resource center

PTC University
Training options

Find a class